Magdalena Jackiewicz
Editorial Expert
Magdalena Jackiewicz
Reviewed by a tech expert

How to foster internal employee development through tech communities?

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One of the decisive factors for employees who consider leaving a company are lack of development opportunities. If those ambitious devs feel they can’t advance their career and learn with you, they will call it quits. That’s why ensuring your staff can nurture their interests at work is one of the strategies you can use to boost your employee retention rate. 

More development opportunities = happier employees = higher retention rates.

There are different ways you can provide development opportunities for your devs and one of them is to build learning and development systems around transferable skills. To make this happen, we focused on allowing tech communities to flourish inside our company and it works – we have a solid retention rate of 89% and 73% of our devs are seniors.

We’re convinced our employees enjoy being part of these communities and find value in them. Attendance rates, employee feedback and the fact that none of these communities were created by the management – all confirm it.

For this article, I spoke to Justyna Neiwer-Słowińska, our HR Guide, and wrote down the tips our HR team uses for enabling tech communities that actually work for the benefit of the entire organization. But let’s quickly look at the definition first.

What is a developer community?

You can also call it a Tech Community or Community of Practice (it's not about the name, but purpose). By definition, such communities bring together individuals who share common goals and interests, to facilitate knowledge exchange between them. In this employee-to-employee learning model, members of the community share useful resources, and solutions to specific problems, so that others could benefit from that knowledge and expand theirs. They also discuss innovations, trends, and new developments within a given field.

We currently have seven active communities at RST: Community testers, Community frontend, backend, DevOps, React Native, Design and AI.

As such, these communities:

  • foster collaboration within the organization,
  • allow to reuse company assets, since developers may be able to exchange e.g. reusable code to speed up development,
  • help to find optimal solutions to problems,
  • help increase the overall quality of your projects.

Now that I’ve explained what these communities are and what purpose they serve, let’s see what makes a well-functioning community.

How to create a tech community that facilitates employee learning?

You may think that building a community isn’t a difficult task, but building one that’s active and serves its purpose within a company isn’t as easy as it may seem. You cannot just call it a name, organize meetings and invite people to attend on a regular basis. Here’s what we’ve learned while building our own, functional communities:

Make sure it’s initiated bottom-up

There’s no point in enforcing any tech community or creating it top-down. For a community to work, it must be created by people who want to be part of it.

At RST, every community was initiated by at least one developer. For instance, our front-end community came to life when one of our developers realized that more people in our company work on frontend solutions in different divisions and do different things in their products. They thought it would be beneficial to communicate with others and exchange knowledge on the frameworks, solutions and tactics they use.

Ensure the organizational culture encourages it

How else can you make sure tech communities are created bottom-up? At RST, the entire HR department encourages employees to form such communities, or suggests creating them if they think it could be an answer to some issues or benefit certain teams.

Just by planting the idea of creating a tech community in employees’ heads, you get some people to think about it and eventually, someone sees it as an opportunity to take. We make sure during recruitment, that we employ people who are eager to learn and develop their career with us.

‘Employing the right people is also important. When the russian-Ukraine war broke out, some of our employees came together and built a system for the Ukrainian Consulate in Wrocław to help speed up the process of filing applications for asylum. This is something they built for free, after hours. I wasn’t even working at the company then, but I find this an impressive example of a spontaneous, bottom-up initiative,’ says Justyna.

Provide space and resources for community development 

For a community that enables employee learning it must remain active, so your devs must know they take active part in its meetings. That’s why we try to provide our devs with enough space and time to take part in learning activities important to them.

Of course, client projects always take priority, but in general, we make sure employees understand this entire picture: if they have time, they can attend a community meeting.

RST is committed to planning workloads in such a way that would allow employees to take part in internal learning initiatives. 

Have an expert lead it

In our case, the community’s leader is usually the person who also initiated the community. The leader will be moderating the community meetings and will set the pace of its overall activities.

The leader will be listening to what the developers need or will act as a person who will be collecting ideas for topics to be discussed, problems that require solving or any other topics that the community would find useful. The institution of the community leader is to ensure that the community runs at the pace required by its members, and is occupied by those issues that are currently of interest to the community. The leader doesn’t manage the community, doesn’t assign any tasks but rather encourages its members to share their knowledge with others.   

Allow members to steer it

A community is created by people and it is supposed to serve their needs. The members should have the freedom to suggest topics or questions to the leader, so that they could subsequently organize a suitable session for it to be discussed.

Such an initiative is possible within organizations whose employees are proactive and who, colloquially speaking, do not see work as punishment; who do not come to work just to pay off their 8 hours. These are only possible organizations that create such opportunities for people to want something more, and challenge them to prove themselves at something. It works well at RST because we make sure to hire individuals who would want to take advantage of such opportunities.

Have a streamlined communication mechanism

We won’t give you a recipe for a successful communication system, because it’s more about finding out what works for your specific community. What works well for every RST Tech community is having a dedicated channel on Slack, where the members exchange resources, ask questions or simply share their knowledge on an ad-hoc basis. With a dedicated channel, someone will always answer questions, unless nobody has an answer.

In addition, some of our communities meet on a regular basis. The schedule of meetings and other activities depend on the size of the community and its current needs. These meetings are so popular that they set schedules, topics to be discussed and the speakers in advance.

Be open to everyone

Occasionally, someone from another project joins a specific tech community meeting and that’s also very refreshing for other members. It’s possible that someone who works in DevOps comes to make a presentation about a new tool they’ve just discovered that other teams could benefit from as well.

Our internal communities aren’t of equal size. The frontend and backend communities are the most active and they’re also the largest, so people from other communities will also attend some of their meetings if the topic is of interest to them.

Don’t interfere!

Just let everyone do what they want to do. You should be focused on knowing what the communities are occupied with at a given time and encourage relevant participation among the devs. The community meetings themselves should be conducted and led by the initiator or designated moderator. The point is to ensure these meetings fully serve the needs of your employees, so let them take the lead.

Fostering employee learning through tech communities

The communities at RST are valued by our devs – it’s evident from the number of hours they spend on these learning activities, as well as in the annual employee satisfaction survey where they rate this initiative positively.

Tech communities are also a great way to boost the overall quality of the projects and vital to ensuring our staff augmentation services are of the highest quality.  

If you’re thinking you’d like to hire one of our developers, you may want to see if software development offshoring to Eastern Europe would work for you, and these tips on building successful teams with augmented staff may also be useful.

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