There’s something that most people’s parents taught them from the beginning – to share. You’re supposed to share your toys and be nice to the other kids and they’ll share with you. So, you’re all grown up now – do you still share?
I’m talking about knowledge in this case (of course. though sharing toys could be fun too) and how you share it with those around you. As a developer, you have two charges in your professional life – to make the best damn software you can with the time given you and to spread what you’ve learned through out the rest of the community. No one person can know everything – sure, lots try – and so they have to stand on the shoulders of giants and glean what they can from those around them. Thankfully, the web is flowing over with tutorials, articles and comments in general about the development methods and languages of your choice.
I want to focus on the PHP community here – I know it best. So, what can you, a member of either the general web or PHP community do to help the cause? Here’s a few suggestions:
- Share a tutorial – just learned something awesomely cool as a part of the work you’re doing? share it! Trust me, you don’t have to be eloquent to make a good tutorial author. All you have to do is be willing to copy and paste a bit of code and explain it. No, really – it’s that easy, I promise. Post it and they will come, especially since Google Finds All. The best part about sharing knowledge is that it keeps it from dying. If you keep all the cool stuff to yourself, the community as a whole suffers. What to make the community flourish? Spread the word!
- Share the code – this one’s pretty obvious…write some code and share it with the world. This can go hand-in-hand with my first example, but doesn’t always have to. To coders, sometimes how the code all works together is more interesting than reading an article about it. They’re the ones that immediately download the source of a new, cool application just to see the pieces mesh. The comments in the code are enough for them to know what’s going on (you do comment your code, right?) and they like it that way. Put your code out there for the world to see – it doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it’s usually better if it isn’t…more room for contribution!
- Be a mentor – believe it or not, there’s a little bit of a mentor inside each developer out there just begging to get out. The second you switch from writing the code to showing someone else how to use it, you’re being a mentor. Most people think that mentors have to be experts in their field and know-it-alls. The real truth is that anyone – and I do mean anyone – can be a mentor. This goes hand-in-hand with the two previous points in my list and can provide the human connection between them. Write the code, write the tutorial and be there when others have questions – either via email, in-person or on something like IRC. Everyone has something to give back because everyone has different experiences. You may know the best practices for combining Oracle and PHP while another developer might know the ins and outs of your PHP-based content management system. Join forces! All of a sudden the knowledge grows and you both are learning from each other. Thankfully there’s groups like the PHP Women that have forged the way and have set up formal mentoring programs to help spread the knowledge around.
- Share yourself – Don’t feel like you’re qualified to be a mentor? Think your code isn’t quite where it needs to be to release it? You can still contribute! Trust me, there’s a lot of developers out there that can do some good works just by being there and being themselves. It takes all kinds to make up a community and not everyone can be all about the code. Yes, I know that PHP is a language and that it’s really all about the code (or is it?) but there’s plenty of room for those members of the community that focus on the community. They’re some of the glue that holds things together and can most easily be identified by keeping an eye out at conferences and other social gatherings (like your friendly neighborhood PHP user group) for the social butterflies. They know their code and they know the community – they’re just happy to bring the two together. Becoming one of these sort of people is easy…don’t try to. Just meet people, talk with them and enjoy being around them. All it takes is one “hello” and you’re on your way…
These are just four points out of a long list of ways that you can give back. There’s a huge list (maybe I’ll add another list in the future), but this’ll give you a good place to start. Don’t be afraid to put you and your code out there!
A note about sharing tutorials: there are many many useful tutorials scattered around the internet on blogs and personal websites. While they are very useful, finding them is not always easy, identifying their age (which can sometimes be very relevant) can be impossible, and many tutorials come and go with the internet efforts of their creators – becoming dead links when a site gets redesigned/repurposed, or going away forever when a site shuts down or fails to archive old material.
If you’re going to share your PHP experience in a tutorial or in-depth technical article, take it to the people, don’t make them find you. There are several good PHP tutorial collection sites, which is a pretty good option. A better option, in my opinion, is to support your local user group directly by allowing your tutorial to appear on their site, even if you simultaneously publish it on your own. Pave the footpaths, building centralized points of reference for your area users to go for information. Build community. Make sure they give you prominent credit and link back to your original site as a source for even more good info.
Also, always include the version of PHP you created the tutorial under and the date of its creation. PHP is an ever-evolving language, an occasionally commands are replaced by better options.