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  • Writer's pictureAlexandra Wong

CTO Comments: Why developer communities benefit developers AND tech firms

Mouhannad standing with a big grin on his face. He is wearing sunglasses and a blue button down shirt.
Mouhannad, current organiser of KLJS (Kuala Lumpur Javascript Community)

"If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."- African proverb

Life as a developer is exciting. Every day, new languages, frameworks and devices keep your adrenaline running and drive conversations in meetups, forums and chats. But keeping up in the ever-evolving field can be lonely and daunting, unless you are connected to a pool of experienced and helpful talent.

Enter the developer community.

Mouhannad Alshamali, Orgtomic CTO and Kuala Lumpur JavaScript (KLJS) community leader was hitting a stonewall at work until he met a member at a community event a few years ago. "While doing my networking rounds after I delivered my presentation, I overheard someone mention he was working with the integration team at iFlix with other providers. I approached him and told him I was having similar issues. He was like ‘Oh yeah, we had this issue last year and it was really hard until I discovered this open source project that you can just plug in and it has JavaScript support. It might work for you.’ Problem solved, in literally less than a minute!”

“It’s all coincidence and networking, but these serendipitous interactions really give you a lot of insight that help you connect unexpected dots,” Mouhannad says. “When you are connected to a forum, your problem becomes everyone’s problem too. Others see it with fresh sets of eyes and may suggest ideas that have not occurred to you.”

The developer philosophy

Mouhannad's story is not unique. Developer communities attract people of a certain ethos: along with pushing the limits of tech, developers are motivated by altruism, or what some call a “builder mindset”.

That’s because developers know for people to use the things they build, they have to be worthwhile and provide true value. This philosophy drives builders to create the best digital experiences for customers. If they believe in something, “they are willing to fiercely defend their view”, says Mouhannad.

So why are some newbie developers hesitant to join developer communities? Mainly because of the fear of being called out by others.

Mouhannad sees it differently. “Developers are very opinionated - and for good reason. You cannot, in my opinion, really innovate, or create something really useful or become better without risking being wrong. When you put yourself out there and make presentations at community events, you take that risk. I’ve seen people make mistakes. I've also seen some people who presented opinions and ideas that were somewhat controversial from a technical point. But no matter how controversial your ideas may be though, members don't call you out in the middle of your presentation and say, ‘you're wrong’ – they listen.”

In other words, if you're being your authentic self, you're not trying to do anything offensive on a personal level and you're just explaining your opinions, developer communities are a really good place to share your capabilities.

“From my own experience, people are very graceful and understanding in these communities,” he asserts.

An inclusive and diverse platform

Developer communities started as coding bootcamps back in the early 2010s. In first world countries, these groups can command huge followings and the more popular ones enjoy strong corporate support. The Berlin-based, for example, was able to raise €2.2 million to unlock community-led growth for open-source companies.

The 100 or so developer communities in Malaysia cover everything: from front-end to back-end and cover a wide range of languages, with KLJS probably being the most high profile and active. Founded in 2012 by Jonathan Lin, before being passed down to Tevanraj Elengoe and eventually Mouhannad himself - the community has grown significantly, with hundreds of members and a wide range of activities, such as meetups, workshops, hackathons, and conferences.

“Obviously, a big number of them are software developers but I’ve also met people who are in architecture and design, and are just really interested in programming.”

As their new leader since November 2022, Mouhannad’s mission is to show there is a lot of value in joining a community. Top of his agenda is to increase meaningful participation from more members. He shares, “One of the biggest challenges is to get speakers.”

Mouhannad wants to create a safe and supportive space that empowers people to ask questions and contribute fearlessly. To do that, he plans to lower the bar for participation so that members at all levels can engage. “I want to do some activities that don’t necessarily need a speaker to speak for 20 minutes - We can try lightning rounds where people share five-minute stories on what they’ve worked on before.”

Don’t underestimate the value of your experience, he says. “Some may say they are not an expert or whatever, but if you spend a few years working in a specific small domain like data visualisation and know how to use JavaScript to visualise charts and visualise data points effectively and efficiently, that counts as an invaluable niche skill. You can’t ask ChatGPT to do these things.”

Opportunities for companies and brands

Developer communities can be a fast track for brands to expand their mindshare, Mouhannad points out. “For example, the first time I spoke at a KLJS in 2018/2019 was one of their biggest turnouts, with almost 200 people. When I asked some of the attendees why they came, their answer was almost unanimously, ‘Oh, I've never been to Microsoft and this was an opportunity to see it for myself!’ So yeah, marquee brands are a big pull factor. " A recent KLJS meetup, which TRIIIO co-hosted with German market research giant GFK also had a terrific turnout.

By creating an open, collaborative, and inclusive environment for developers across various experience levels to network and geek about their interests, developer communities bring developers and users closer to the brand/platform/product and vice versa.

History is littered with stories of now-famous companies that grew from ground up and thrived because of the active communities they built or supported - think Facebook, Stripe, Slack and Canva.

Now imagine the good that can come out of developer communities if properly scaled.

Malaysia’s Promising Future

A lot has been said about brain drain and talent retention issues in Malaysia, when in reality the solution is hiding in plain sight: Developer communities are a goldmine of talent and resources. Harnessed properly with enough support and backing, they can potentially help address the talent shortage issue - and more.

Together with his experience as the KLJS lead, Mouhannad is a huge believer in Malaysia’s potential as an innovation hub. As a key talent with enviable credentials, he could have chosen to work anywhere in the world. Instead, he chose to stay in Malaysia after graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Software Engineering from Limkokwing University, and went on to co-found Orgtomic, a start-up that aims to unlock the potential of their clients’ distributed talent.

“Malaysia has a fantastic emerging market with all the infrastructure and ingredients in place. Now, you just need to take advantage of the amazing talent pool that you already have.”

Curious to find out more about developer communities? Come join KLJS’s next event on 20th March 2023 at Xendit’s KL Sentral office! Sign up for the event here:

Looking for your next dream role? Check out some of the hottest developer jobs in the market on!


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