We started Tech Community at Sombra in 2015. Nowadays, Tech Community Sombra brings together engineers from three branches: Front-end, Back-end, and QA at regular technical meetups, which employees arrange themselves.
How it all started
One significant benefit of working at an outsourcing company is access to diverse projects from radically different customers. For instance, Sombra is now collaborating with approximately thirty customers, each having from one to five running projects. Even when two projects have one stack, they will still have their peculiarities in architecture, component design, API integrations, development and delivery processes, teamwork, etc.
Sombra Tech Talk with Jack Crews – CTO Legal Monkeys, USA
“At a certain point, we realized that we lacked an established system for inner project discussion. We needed something more structured than an occasional discussion over coffee or lunch.
Since 2015 the Sombra engineers have started gathering regularly to discuss curious situations at their projects, ask questions and brainstorm. We used to call these gatherings “Sombra Talk”, they took place in the form of meetups with full-fledged presentations and a Q&A session.
Later on, we began to invite professionals from other companies to share their insights and experience. Such format has allowed the engineers of Sombra to get acquainted and learn from each other for eight years now.” – tells us Chief Technology Officer Yuriy Nakonechnyy.
What made us reconsider the format?
During this period, we have faced a variety of non-obvious problems:
- First – the events were irregular. We could have 2-3 meetups in one month and no meetups in the next two months. The planning was as follows: if we had a volunteer eager to share his experience and elaborate on a hot topic, we would arrange a meeting. However, we had a limited number of volunteers and inner topics because to prepare a full-fledged presentation, you should have time and resources.
- The second problem was that despite having regular meetups, the audience was bored of the same format (e.g. only reports, with one speaker sharing his insights on a topic for 45 minutes). Even a powerful speaker with a burning topic was losing the audience’s attention after some time. These demotivated speakers took time and effort to prepare for their speeches.
- The third problem was that one person was coordinating the community: planning meetings and choosing speakers and themes of their reports. It put a lot of pressure on both event planners and speakers alike. Despite all participants putting their best foot forward, we had to cancel or postpone several meetings due to unexpected circumstances.
Therefore, at the end of 2019, we began searching for a new approach to arranging technical meetups.
“We gathered all interested engineers and agreed on alternative forms of our meetups: code battles, live coding sessions and short free discussions on professional topics.” – recalls Yuriy Nakonechnyy.
We have reviewed the format of meetings and the engineers’ level of involvement in events planning. Several engineers, an event manager, and an HR marketer were engaged in creating this new concept.
As a result:
- We have changed the name “Sombra Tech Talk” and switched to the concept “We are the Tech Community” since this new name presumes closer collaboration between the participants.
- We switched from an evening to a morning format. “Java Breakfast”, and “JS Breakfast” takes place at a time when all of the participants are still energetic and can engage in discussions while drinking coffee and tasting sweets.
“Moreover, we chatted with the other meetups planners and realized we have similar problems. Based on their experience, we decided to form a pool of 3-4 key engineers interested in advancing the technical community. So, we can arrange meetings regardless of the workload, sick leaves, holidays, or other personal matters. It also allowed us to identify new ideas and topics for future events and discuss the details.” – notes Yuriy Nakonechnyy.
Afterward, we formed an organizational core. More than one person coordinates each event, and each tech direction has its lead. We rotated different formats of our meetups and changed the approach to selecting a theme. Now, engineers suggest topics, do their research, and select the most debated, up-to-date subjects.
We formed four types of events:
- discussion meetings – usually several people elaborate on one topic and prompt others to active communication and discussion;
- meetups with a lecturer – when a topic demands more profound investigation. We invite speakers both from inside and the outside;
- coding challenges;
- joint attendance of conferences and their discussion afterward.
We are planning the events for the upcoming months and making an effort to support each direction and rotate them. We are meeting with the organizational core of each direction weekly to discuss the current state of affairs.
Mykhailo Voitovych, Java engineer
“I’ve seen the development of the Tech Community at different stages, probably from the beginning. As for me, the basic format remained the same: speakers sharing their experience and insights on a topic they are familiar with. However, over time, the form has expanded. Now we are discussing technical meetings/conferences, share our experiences, individual projects, architectural solutions, etc. The format has also changed, today we are discussing back-end topics over breakfast and coffee.” – shares Mykhailo Voitovych, a Java engineer.
Yuriy Nakonechnyy, Chief Technical officer
“These days, we conduct 2-3 meetups each month where we raise and discuss interesting technical topics, which is the most important thing. In the future, we are planning to attract more engineers and expand the number of participants, create new formats, and select even more exciting themes.
First, we need to increase the number of engineers, willing to spread their knowledge. We also need to work on assisting them with the preparation of their presentation. What is more, we plan to turn the most engaging themes into reports and present them at various conferences.
We also intend to involve speakers from outside, because it is a great experience to communicate with engineers from large product companies, such as Google, Facebook or Amazon, and hear about their experience.” – Yuriy Nakonechnyy.
Natalia Makarchuk, JS engineer
“We always consider only topics of interest to us, so every event is beneficial. It is cool when a discussion unfolds and everyone shares their thoughts and experiences. It is what motivates you to participate every time.
What is my role? – To share knowledge. Also, Vova, Svyatoslav, and I choose relevant topics for each meeting. The greatest hope is that our events will never end.” – Natalia Makarchuk (JS direction)
“What motivates me personally to develop the community is the desire to improve in interesting and promising areas and to share knowledge with people who are interested in it.” – Mikhailo Voitovich, Java engineer.
How has the quarantine changed our Tech Community?
Interestingly, in January/February 2020, we focused exclusively on live meetings, whereas in March, we had to switch to an online format due to the quarantine restrictions.
We were nervous at first whether the attendance would be high and whether the participants would be actively involved. Eventually, these meetups during the crises were a powerful integrative tool. Engineers had a chance, though online, to meet their colleagues from other projects.
Since 2020, we have arranged around 30 meetings.
During this time, the themes were quite diverse:
- discussion of interesting reports at JavaDay 2020
- development of Telegram bots on Java
- deep-dive on a large e-commerce project
- discussion of Microservice patterns
- detailed analysis of working with GraphQL
- peculiarities of work with CKEditor at the front-end
- Online Algorithm coding challenge among our engineers
- intricacies of engineers switching from Java to Node.js stack
- QA engineers career development
- case analysis of blockchain technology, where it is required and where it is not.
We have also invited experienced engineers from other companies who shared their knowledge about error handling at Node.js, testing process improvements, and more.
“Very often engineers take part in meetings of other direction to listen to speakers and share their own opinions, for example, Java engineers attend JS and QA meetings and vice versa.” – Yuriy Nakonechnyy.
We already have more than a dozen people who support Tech Community Sombra and are working on its development. It is a great result.
Is everything working perfectly? Or have we reached our desired result? – The answer is no.
We are on our way to reaching goals, which may change with time, with new challenges, projects, and company growth.