I remember the moment I felt like I might actually belong. Before that moment, I was never fully aware of the importance of community in web development. For years, I was just a web developer; after that moment, I was part of the web development community.
JS_Cheerleader followed thousands of other people, but I didn’t care; I was among them. I was part of the community. If I could get one person to accept me, why not two, or one hundred? I started tweeting more and more about development and, for the first time, my follower count crept over the sacred 100 mark.
Then, I started to wander. I began tweeting more about writing and less about web development, and eventually I stopped tweeting altogether. Every couple of weeks, when my follower count would take a small dip, I would check to see whether JS_Cheerleader was still following me. Sure enough, every time, she was still there.
Each time I saw the label informing me that @JS_Cheerleader still “FOLLOWS YOU”, I felt a mixture of pride and shame. I was proud that I still had something I could point to and say, “See? I belong! I’m still a legit developer!” Yet, I also felt like a fraud. I had stopped earning the right to be a member of the community.
I haven’t tweeted about web development in over 5 months. While Twitter holds little jurisdiction over who gets to be a developer, it’s been a very important part of my personal growth. Today, web development is a communal practice. If you try to do it in complete isolation, it’s very unlikely that you’ll make anything that matters. So, while I’ve found that, even after my hiatus, my web dev skills are well intact, I don’t feel the same sense of fulfilment I once felt. I’m on the outside. It’s like I’m the new kid all over again.
Whenever I try to think back to the moment I met my friends, I often conclude that we never officially “met” at all. In most cases, we just spent so much time around each other that we built a familiarity that, at no specific moment, became a friendship. If you want to stop being the new kid, all you have to do is keep showing up.
A few weeks ago, I was reading over a copyediting assignment for a freelance job and my client requested that I provide feedback on her website if I didn’t mind the extra work. She thought I was just a writer/editor, so she wasn’t expecting the full page of feedback I sent her.
I was a little reluctant to give her feedback on the website, because I’d been away from web development so long that it felt almost insincere. I couldn’t help myself, though. She had a big ol’ pop-up ad on her homepage that I just had to tell her she should get rid of if she wanted to boost her conversions. That same week, Google announced that they were going to start deranking pages that used disruptive pop-ups.
I stopped looking for copywriting jobs after that. It became clear to me that I can’t stop being a web developer. I’m still trying to crawl my way back to where I was before, but it just feels…right. I’m the new kid again, but that feeling is as exciting as it is intimidating. Time to get back to work.