The Umbraco community welcomed me all the way back in 2015 when I had the good fortune to attend my ‘Level 1’ training with Doug Robar and a roomful of budding Umbracians. I was there to do a bit of learning and what I didn’t expect was that while I was there, I’d be introduced to people who would become a part of my professional life even to this day. I knew that there was such a thing as a meetup but a ‘tech community’? I wasn’t sure the two words even went together.
Fast forward a few years and here I am working as a Developer Advocate. Supporting and nurturing the community is literally in my job description.
The Umbraco community isn’t only my day job though; it’s also the reason I stayed in this industry. I had people from all walks of life, with all different reasons for calling themselves Umbracians, help me in all different ways. People from this community gave me technical support, encouragement, invitations to events, tickets to events, nudges to apply for talks, job opportunities and, perhaps most importantly, a place to hang out and make a few friends along the way.
This community is, for the most part, a friendly community. It has always worked hard to ensure that we are open, welcoming, and fair. However, mighty though we were in 2015, we were also smaller than now. Behind the scenes, people from HQ and the community have been working to ensure that this friendliness scales as the community grows. And the results have been encouraging.
What have we been doing?
We’ve been doing lots! In recent years, community champions have been quietly ensuring their events are inclusive in a number of ways. They’ve provided subsidized tickets to help ensure that all who wish to attend, can. They have offered speaker packages to ensure their lineups can be representative of the audiences they address. They have written detailed codes of conduct to ensure the safety of the attendees and have acted promptly on any breaches that arose.
Throughout the rest of the community, folks have been hard at work too. Our online spaces have been voluntarily moderated to ensure that all who contribute are engaging kindly with each other, and that those who engage or just drop by will know they are safe to ask questions to get the answers they need.
I really can’t list it all. There are countless acts of kindness spurred by empathy that we will never know about that go on between people in all parts of this community, just like the ones I experienced.
There’s always a but, right? Our community is not immune to the inequalities that afflict the wider industry.
If you read that statement and wondered what I’m referring to, I can point you to the Weforum article “8 charts that show the impact of race and gender on technology careers”, let you enjoy the reading, and sincerely wish you all the best on beginning your learning journey.
If, like me, your lived experiences make this an understatement, you’ll appreciate that we can congratulate ourselves for doing a lot of work but that we’ve still a fair bit of work ahead. We still see articles go out that are heavily gendered with a male bias. In the meantime, we are still intermittently debating the need for less gendered language in general. Our conferences are incredible at showcasing the great minds we have in this community but every now and then, we see a lineup released that’s entirely male. Or white. Or able-bodied. We have a lot of diversity within our community, so we need to see it represented on our stages too.
These examples are just a snapshot of the bigger picture. They are taken from my own experience in my corner of the industry and, like anyone, I’m shaped by my own inherent bias. For instance, I am quick to notice a lack of representation when it concerns gender or race. I’m able to see some of the problems but for the others, I need to listen and learn.
A Strategy is Needed
Since it came to our attention that the best way to foster that friendliness on a grander scale was to have a strategy, we have made sure that we start by working on what we see as the foundation of an inclusive community.
We enlisted community members to help us to write a Code of Conduct (CoC) for our event organizers that, we hope, shows our attendees - new and not-so-new - that we prioritize keeping our spaces safe for all who wish to participate. It was a project we began knowing that if we were going to do it well, we would need to involve people from some of the most vulnerable groups in our community.
And we didn’t stop at the CoC. We also ensured that the people listed in the CoC as respondents had access to training specifically for that role. We know we are not experts. We are learning, and to do that, we have had to invest in education. Going forward, we will be making that education available to others who perform the same role at their Umbraco events.
We Want to Hear From You
In light of the success of the collaborative CoC project, we decided that we were in a really good position to look at other ways the community could be involved in cultivating diversity and inclusion.
There has always been informal chatter and the odd nudge coming from community members who are committed to making spaces more accessible, and that has generally happened using back channels; whether by sending a Slack message to a person you know at Umbraco HQ or boldly approaching the CEO at the afterparty, it has happened plenty but it also requires access. Those without the pre-existing relationships are less likely to come forward to raise concerns or lend ideas, and sadly, more likely to just take themselves somewhere they feel more comfortable. We felt that it was time to encourage those people, ideas, comments and all, to come forward.
In summary, we are looking to form a group of people interested in diversity and inclusion, in learning and questioning, in supporting others and each other, and who are committed to keeping this community a friendly space for ALL who find it.
This might be the most exciting part. With a thriving, happy, safe community, we will see innovation. Technology and happiness are not distinct ideas - on the contrary, they are inextricably bound together. Happy technicians share their ideas. They collaborate and they build incredible things.
We don’t just look to build a friendly, safe, and diverse community because it is ‘nice’ or it is ‘right.’ We do it because we all need it to thrive. If you’re interested in seeing how this can work, check out the McKinsey Report on the positive effects that Diversity and Inclusion have on entire communities.
What will we actually do?
Our aim is to build a group that provides support around diversity and inclusion to individuals and events around the Umbraco Sphere. What this will look like, we have yet to decide. Given the nature of the group and the previous admission that we are not experts, we will not set out our specific goals until the group has been formed and has worked hard to learn what the specific challenges are for our community. And naturally, this will evolve with time.
In terms of timelines, we’d like to grow into ourselves a little so we will get together in the coming weeks and spend until the new year discussing those aims, building a strategy, and learning about the task at hand. We hope to ‘launch’ officially in January, fresh and ready for the new year and whatever it has to offer.
How can you be involved?
We need to hear from you.
Umbraco is an open-source project. Its very existence is a testament to the power of tech communities, to collaboration, to cooperation. If you have an interest in this work, we want you to reach out and let us know that you’d like to work with us.
In terms of time commitments, we are not asking that you are always on - we want you to prioritize your energy, so we would not expect you to trawl through Twitter or moderate a forum. What we’d ask is that:
- you are available for async comms (platform TBD) on a weekly basis for a check-in
- you’d be able to ‘meet’ with the rest of the group quarterly (over Zoom). We appreciate that this work can be exhausting, especially for those who are part of marginalized groups in this industry, and so, while we want engagement, we also want that to be on your own terms.
If you are interested in joining us, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know why you’d like to be involved. Equally, if you know someone who is already out there doing the work, tell me all about them and I’ll be happy to reach out.
For this project, we have decided to forgo the traditional application process because it’s hard to boil down our interest in these things to a few answers on a form. It is more fitting that instead, we look to engage in a conversation to see if we’d be a good fit for each other and go from there.
We realize that this endeavour can only be successful with the right support from Umbraco HQ. It is with this in mind that we have committed to providing the group with the virtual spaces they need for comms, external training so that the people can learn and adapt as the community needs change, and access to an HQ staff member (me!) for anything else they might need. Going forward, this will evolve too.
To the future
We are really excited to get started and we have already asked two people who have been helping us behind the scenes to join us in this adventure. We feel that these community members, Carole Logan and Matt Brailsford, embody the attitudes that create the friendliest of spaces - curiosity, empathy and passion.
We look forward to learning from you.