Giving Back: Getting Involved in the Design Community

by Mel Choyce

This post was written by Mel Choyce, a Fresh Tilled Soil apprentice.

“The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” ~ William James

Web skills are often self-taught. College can give you a foundation, but it’s really when you get into the industry that you start learning how things really work. In the web industry, there is an incredible amount of self-education. You can look up almost anything you’d want to do, whether it’s how to run a user test or how to write a complex JavaScript function. Until this point, I have scraped most of my skills together through a mix of self-education and trial-and-error.

Once you’re in the industry, there’s very little structured guidance or mentorship. This is a major problem for junior designers and developers. I feel like I’ve spent the past several years fumbling by with little constructive feedback. This is where Fresh Tilled Soil has stepped in with an amazing mentorship program. They’ve given me the opportunity to work with a team of incredibly talented designers and developers. It’s essentially an accelerator program, speeding up the rate at which we can absorb new skills and techniques. It would have taken me at least another year to gain what I’ve learned in the past two and a half months.

Why Give Back?

“It’s not about what I can get, it’s what I can give.” ~ Marie Forleo

Some people have called Fresh Tilled Soil crazy for offering this program. Why, they asked, would FTS want to train their competitors? But FTS has realized something incredibly valuable: giving back to the community improves the industry for everyone. Everyone benefits. Standards go up, and clients are more willing to pay a premium for our services. Competition can be healthy, spurring innovation and growth. By running this program, Fresh Tilled Soil is leaving a positive mark on the industry.

One-on-one: Become a mentor

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

There are numerous ways to give back to the industry. You don’t need to run an apprenticeship program, but you could pair up with a beginner designer or developer and provide them with mentorship. It doesn’t need to be a formal arrangement, even one-on-one critique is helpful. There are countless young designers and developers craving mentorship, and it’s one of the biggest areas where our industry falls short.

If you’re a business owner, take the risk and invest in a junior designer or developer. Put in the resources needed to help them grow their skills. Reward them for learning. When you’re a junior designer or developer, there’s this incredible stress to get everything right the first time, but that’s rarely possible. Foster an environment where failure leads to growth and development, not anxiety (or termination).

Push the web forward: contribute to open source

I’ve been a WordPress fan for a couple of years now. Last year, though, I decided I wanted to get involved in building it, so I joined the UI team and started contributing. Seeing my name in the 3.5 credits was incredible.

WordPress 3.5 Credits

There are countless open source projects and even more countless ways to contribute to them. Many projects are always looking for new people to help design, develop, document, and test. Find something you’re interested in and get involved.

Want to get involved, but unsure where to start? Check out http://movethewebforward.org/.

Get local: Run events for designers and developers

There’s no substitute for rolling up your sleeves and working with the people who can make a difference. They get the benefit of your participation and you gain a direct understanding of the real problems and potential solutions, which makes you a more informed giver. – Michael Milken

Have a problem you want to solve? Put together a hackathon! These types of events are a great way for designers and developers to investigate new ideas and techniques without the pressure of failure or underperformance that often comes with work. It’s a safe space for exploration.

Two weekends ago, I helped organize the first Boston WordPress Hack Day. I got in touch with lead developers Mark Jaquith and Andrew Nacin and asked them to give an introduction to the current release cycle (3.6) and what we could do to contribute. We then we spent the rest of the day working on tickets. It ended up being really productive, and we got a handful of new core contributors.

WordPress Hackday Photo

Designers and developers love free pizza & beer. We also tend to enjoy networking. Why not help facilitate that? There are many kinds of events you can put on to help bring designers and developers together. Gather some speakers and run a Meetup! Meetups not only help you learn new techniques and practices, but also are a great way to bring people together.

Whether you’re mentoring a young designer, contributing to WordPress core, putting on a hackathon to improve your local community, or running a monthly jQuery meetup, your individual contributions to the community are needed and appreciated. The web community has done a lot for each of us. Isn’t it time we started giving back?

About Fresh Tilled Soil

Fresh Tilled Soil is a Boston-based user interface and experience design firm focused on human centered digital design