The Developer Nexus: How Online Communities Help You Learn More In Less Time From Direct Sources
Did you google it?
Did you check Stack Overflow?
I've heard this advice parroted since I started my journey as a developer. To be fair it's not bad advice. You can solve a lot of problems this way. Honestly, I still use this method today.
But is this the best method to learn?
Probably not. I've spent countless hours searching for answers on many occasions without any luck. The problem is obscure enough that it's not clear what to search for.
At that point, you can try posting a new question on Stack Overflow.
But who knows how long it'll take before someone sees the question or even answers it? You're blocked and you need an answer today. Stack Overflow is excellent. But unless the question exists or you can afford to wait for an answer, it starts to become less valuable.
So what can you do instead?
You can create a Developer Nexus
What's a Developer Nexus and why it's important
A Developer Nexus is a personal community a developer creates around shared areas of interest that promote growth.
Lately, I've been finding more of my answers from online communities.
Two great examples of this are Discord and Twitter. If used intentionally, these resources can fast-track your growth. The reality is that there are a lot of people out there who know more than you. The trick is to find them.
The best way to find them is to go where they spend their time.
Discord is interesting because there are servers dedicated to most things. For example, Reactiflux is a popular server around ReactJS. If you're learning React, it's a great resource. There are thousands of people on the server, so your questions have a better chance of being noticed.
That's the key.
You want to be able to reach the most amount of people. The more you reach, the better your odds of learning. Someone on that server probably ran into the same issue you're experiencing.
Even if that isn't the case, it's still valuable to post the question on the server.
Someone will respond. They might ask what you've tried or ask you to provide a Minimal Reproducible Example. Once that happens, others will join in the conversation. More ideas are exchanged which leads to more opportunities to learn.
Novel questions spark conversation.
What's more interesting is servers that are built by creators.
Many developers build communities around the technology they created or helped create. I recently switched from Create React App to Vite for an internal work project. Both are tools that help you build Single Page Applications. I made the switch because Vite is faster. Here are my results from switching to Vite.
While Vite is excellent some kinks still need to be worked out.
I wanted to make sure that I stayed on top of any news, so I joined the Vite Discord server. This server has the same benefits as mentioned above, but there's one subtle difference. The maintainers of Vite moderate this server.
All of a sudden, you have direct access to developers who have the most knowledge about the tool.
Another member could answer your questions. But if the question you ask is novel, the maintainers will recognize that. You may not get an answer immediately, but you've put the question in front of the right people.
Twitter is similar but more general purpose.
You have direct access to the creators for the tools you use, blogs you read, and YouTube videos you watch. I've noticed that Dev Twitter can be a great place to learn. A lot of creators want more engagement with their content, so they're happy to answer questions. It drives long-term engagement and gets their content in front of more people.
The reverse is also true for content creators.
I don't have much of a following on Twitter (you can find me here 🙂), so I can't speak from experience. But I've noticed that developers with a big following have a huge advantage over others. They can ask any question to their followers and immediately get responses from all kinds of people.
You could be a:
- Frontend developer learning Postgres
- Backend developer learning React
- Developer learning Kubernetes
It doesn't matter what you specialize in because everyone has different experiences than you.
How to build a Developer Nexus
Ok, that's great, but how can you build a Developer Nexus?
You need to be intentional. The biggest problem is that there's too much information out there. A lot of it is either bad or too basic. It can be overwhelming trying to find good resources.
That said if you're careful about who you follow on Twitter or which Discord servers you join it gets easier.
If someone is negatively impacting your growth on Twitter, unfollow them. If a Discord server doesn't have much activity then leave. You want to surround yourself with active quality resources. Don't worry about cutting things out that don't further that goal.
For example, here are a few Discord servers that I've joined:
- ThePrimeagen: A Discord server for (neo)vim and other Primeagen content.
- Vite Land: A Discord server for Vite.
Establishing yourself on Twitter is a bit harder.
You're not going to get much response when you first start. You need to build a following and start communicating with other developers. A great way to get started is to engage in conversations with other people that follow the same people you follow.
Creators tend to discuss problems or decisions they're working through in the open.
Even if you don't have a big following. You can ask questions and get answers in real-time. Developers who build tools and services want people to use those tools and services.
As long as you respect other people's time, they're usually willing to help.
There's a bit of a caveat with this approach.
It means asking questions that other people might think are obvious. It means being okay with being wrong in public. None of that matters though. No one is going to remember the questions you asked, but you'll still have a better chance of getting an answer.
It takes time to build up a network of resources. It means being active even when you don't have a question. It means answering other people's questions. It's a slow process but can lead to better results.
Next time you need a question answered, you can just tap into your Developer Nexus.