By Chris Nelson 05-13-2021

The Momentum Developer Conference is currently running its month-long Call for Proposals (May 1-31, 2021). This seemed like a great time to share how being involved in the tech community of Cincinnati played a pivotal role in my 25 year (and counting!) career.

My experience with the Cincinnati tech community goes back to before I graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a CS degree in 1996. At that time, Java was very much a hot new thing. Far from being the old-school choice for CS program intro courses, it was so new that the only class to cover it was a "Special Topics" course that taught whatever was new and "cutting edge" at the time. During this course, I was also working at the computing lab doing some informal research projects for a professor using Java as well.

I heard about a local Java users group that had formed in Cincinnati, so I decided to go check it out. I don't remember if there was a speaker or not, but at some point there we went around the room to share anything interesting that we were working on. I wish I could remember more specifically what I was doing with Java, but I do remember that I shared it with the group, not really thinking it would be of any interest to a group of Professional Programmers while I was but a lowly student. To the contrary, they asked me to get up in front of the group and tell them more about it. I remember I was a bit intimidated, but also that they were friendly and welcoming.

After the group officially ended, I was talking with a friendly person named Eric about what he was working on. He was maintaining the website for a local engineering software company called SDRC, and looking for someone to help him. The web was just a couple years old at the time, and I was fascinated with it's potential. Even though I had accepted an entry level offer with a large consulting company, I decided to turn it down to go learn from Eric. I got a chance to jump into web development at it's very infancy as a result, and it's a decision I never regretted. I would never have heard about this opportunity had I not shown up at what eventually became the Cincinnati Java User's Group and been willing to share what I was doing.

This was just the first example of meeting people at local tech meetups leading to career opportunities. Every job I’ve had since then has been through a friend I met at a meetup. Eventually I founded a company with several people that I met at a tech user group. That was over 11 years ago. I can say confidently that our company owes our existence to the Cincinnati Tech community.

In addition to the Cincinnati Tech community being a welcoming place I love, one of the other things that I take away from this is that it’s never too early in your career to jump in. Even if you are new to software development you likely have something interesting and valuable to share. Our field is perhaps unique in the dizzying pace at which new ideas and technologies are adopted and old ones become obsolete. This is a blessing and a curse, but one thing it does mean is that if you are excited to be learning something, you have something worth sharing with the rest of us. It doesn't matter how new you are, or that you might feel unqualified to be standing in front of a group talking about it. There is most probably a group of like minded nerds here in Cincinnati who want to hear what you have to say :)

If this sounds like you, I'd like to invite you to check out the Momentum CFP. We're specifically interested in new speakers, and would be happy to give you feedback and suggestions for your submission if you would like.