The Pot-Luck Community

I never imagined I’d be sitting here writing this.

Starting in about the 6th grade, I started noticing a gradual increase in my social anxiety. I had no problem making friends, but any instances where I needed to get out of my comfort zone became increasingly difficult. By the time I was a “professional”, with a wife, couple of kids, and a great job, I found myself barely able to order food at a restaurant, pay for groceries, or even meet up with friends I hadn’t seen in a while. Living in the greater-Seattle area, I was feeling claustrophobic by all the people and trees and traffic. While it wasn’t the only reason, our family made perhaps the best decision we’ve ever made; we moved back “home” to the Tri-Cities.

The wide-open spaces of Eastern Washington were like a breath of fresh air. I felt human again. But this wasn’t the same area we had left over a decade before. It had nearly doubled in size. What was before fields and dirt roads were now thriving businesses and pavement. We had spent nearly as much time as city folk as we had as small-town folk, and we didn’t know exactly where the Tri-Cities fit in that spectrum. Or where we did, either.

I was telecommuting to my same job in Bellevue, working out of my home, so meeting and interacting with locals on a daily basis wasn’t a requirement. While I still had much of my social anxiety, I found a local meet-up of web and software developers (Doctype Society) and showed up to a meeting. I was terrified to speak to anyone, but everyone was really nice and blew me away with all the cool things they were talking about. And while I made excuses for the next several months to not attend again, I kept in touch with many people from the group on Twitter which helped ease my anxieties. Several of these members then started a new venture called Room to Think; a co-working space for freelancers (or anyone, really) to come work together in a shared space instead of individually or in a coffee shop. Showing up a couple of times allowed me to see a wide variety of projects and experiences these people all had, and the ideas and passions that drove them.

The flicker of passion had sparked in me, but it wasn’t until TriConf that the flicker grew into a flame. TriConf is a completely free conference for designers, developers, and entrepreneurs where the attendees are also the presenters. Volunteers handle all aspects of the event. You’d never know it from attending, though. The presentations were all great, and the experience was fantastic. Seeing all of these people volunteer their time to share their knowledge without expecting anything in return. On top of that, the original organizer of Doctype Society asked me to take over as the primary organizer. I remember all of my anxieties rising during that phone call, but I forced myself to say yes. I still get butterflies from time to time, but I’ve grown so much in my time as organizer.

The afterglow of TriConf sparked a thought: how can we spread that spirit of sharing and volunteering on a more regular basis? Holding a conference every month wasn’t feasible, and people had a lot more to offer than the narrower focus of the conference. I started thinking of a way to get people’s knowledge out in written form, allowing it to serve as a reference and be shared to a wide audience. I struggled for months to develop a great way to do it, but even after many discussions with others, it was still just a good idea that had no structure.

It was about this time that I discovered The Pastry Box Project; a collaborative blog project where influential web designers and developers shared their thoughts on the overall web community. It hit me like a punch in the face; this was the format I was looking for. The flame was now a full inferno. The “pot-luck” idea came soon after, which just fit perfectly. All that was left was to invite a bunch of writers and launch the site. So the guy who once hated going to the grocery store because he might have to talk to the clerk was now organizing meet-ups and inviting people he’d never met to write blog posts. I’m still in shock. But hearing the excitement of the other writers for this project gives me more fulfillment than anything I’ve personally done for it. I’m much more excited to read their posts than to write my own.

I never thought I’d be here. But man am I glad I am. I know there are many other communities out there just like the ones I’m describing. They’re local to me, they’re local to you, they’re local to everyone via the internet. They can change people’s lives. They can lead to extraordinary things. And they all start with one thing: people. People coming together for a common interest and a desire to learn and/or share. By bringing these various communities closer together, they can learn from each other and spread their passions to a wider audience. Fostering passions is contagious. A passionate person is more likely to inspire someone else to find their passion, and passion leads people to overcome obstacles and make great things happen.

A pot-luck community. Bringing together the things that make us different to share and benefit everyone.


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John Higley

John Higley

I'm a software developer, working remotely from Richland, WA, working on solving the many issues of managing financial services products on the web. I'm fascinated by the user experience of web sites and applications and read way more than I should. Working on effectively sharing knowledge and ideas has become a recent, but burning, passion.

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  • Sara Taylor

    This project is a fabulous idea, John, and we are lucky to be participating in this endeavour with you.
    By now it’s clear that this is truly a potluck (and not the unfortunate kind, where everybody brings potato salad).