Volunteer Developer Community Organizers: What motivates them?

Chukwuemeka Afigbo
7 min readDec 18, 2023

On April 27th, 2023, Meta announced the shutdown of the Meta Developer Circles (DevC) Program after 7 years. This article is dedicated to the DevC Community Leads. Thank you for the everlasting fruits that love you sowed into your communities continue to bring forth.

During my career, I have been fortunate to be involved in developer communities as a participant, organizer, and more recently in support of community programs. In this capacity, I connected with many community organizers.

Who or what is a community organizer you may ask?

Well, to understand this you need to understand what a developer community is.

To define it in the simplest and broadest terms, A developer community is a group of people who come together and interact based on a shared interest in a certain developer technology, tool, or platform. They connect through various means like shared code repositories, online forums, mailing lists, and of course events whether they be physical virtual, or hybrid. The goal of these interactions is typically to share knowledge and work towards a certain goal e.g. some code-related project, or just for networking and social reasons. Developer communities vary in size and complexity from two people hacking together in a classroom to tens of thousands of people spread over all the world’s continents.

So who then is the community organizer? The community organizer is the person (it could also be a group of people) who makes sure that the community functions and serves the needs of its members.

This could entail things like:

  1. Managing and moderating all communication channels used by the community, including code repositories and online forums
  2. Organizing events (strategy, logistics, content, refreshments, etc)
  3. Sourcing and managing funds to power events and other community initiatives.
  4. Being the culture carrier of the community, preventing and managing disputes, etc.

The list is endless and yes, it is a lot of work.

As I always say, the biggest success factor for any developer community is the community organizer or team of organizers.

But here is the kicker: most if not all developer community organizers are not compensated directly for their work. It is done strictly on a volunteer basis. This is the part that confuses people who are familiar with communities.

One question I always remember getting from people who were not directly involved with developer communities is: If these volunteer community organizers are not compensated directly, then why do they do it? What is in it for them?

Well, that question is not so straightforward to answer, but I will attempt to do so here.

In my experience, I have seen people do this for the following reasons. Note that folks do not typically do it for just one reason, they do it for a combination of reasons. However, I have seen that usually for every individual there is a dominant reason, and usually, that reason plays the biggest role in determining the type of community organizer and by extension, the community.

Here are some of the reasons I have found that motivate community organizers

For the clout

Being a community manager puts you in a position of responsibility. The bigger and more influential the community is, the more influential the organizer. Let’s say for example I am the organizer of the only Python developer community in my region, then I will not only be known by the Python developers in my community, I will also be known by everyone who wants to connect with Python developers in my community. You would agree that this is a very influential position to be in. It is even more influential if the said community is sponsored or supported by a big tech brand. Then some of that brand equity reflects on the organizers of that community because they are probably the closest that members of that community or people close to that community will ever come to having direct contact with that brand. This could potentially open many doors for the community organizer in terms of career and increasing their network. It’s a strong reason to want to be a community organizer. The thing to note here is that if this is your primary motivation, the amount of influence you can amass is directly proportional to the success of your community (note that the success of a community does not necessarily equal the size of the community.)

For the growth

In case you didn’t get it when I said it earlier, being a successful community organizer is hard. Very hard. But like most very hard things, it helps you grow by stretching you in many ways. Developer community organizing is one of the surest ways to gain leadership skills. Skills like project management, conflict resolution, budgeting, and communications to mention just a few. These skills make you ready for leadership positions later in your career. The key thing about it is that you end up building these skills in a low-risk way because it is a volunteer position and you are not likely to get fired for making a mistake (I can’t promise that you will not get yelled at though :-D ). Time and again I have seen community organizers transfer the skills that they gained in the community organizing role to the workplace with amazing success. Those who have discovered this secret are usually the first to volunteer for tasks in the community.

For the cause

Some people get into community organizing because they believe in a particular cause and are motivated to do what it takes to convene and sustain a gathering of others to further that cause. Some of the earlier open-source communities are an example of this as they were run by people who wanted to further the FOSS movement. Another example of this is some of the crypto communities that are run by people who are motivated by the gospel of decentralized economies. These people did whatever it took to rally like-minded people to push the agenda.

For the people

Some take on the stress of community organizing because it is a way to ensure that they spend as much time as possible in the company of their tribe. If you feel at home among Java enthusiasts, what better way to ensure that you spend time with Java enthusiasts than to take on the responsibility of making it possible for Java enthusiasts to get together? Many community organizers I know got into community organizing because they attended an event or joined an online forum and ended up enjoying the experience so much that they kept coming back to the point that they were willing to do whatever it took to keep the feeling going to the point that they took on responsibilities to help with organizing and before they knew it, they had become the main community organizers.

For “MY people”

A lot of communities are run by people who take on the responsibility of community organizing purely out of a desire to attract certain benefits to their community or “their people”. You would see examples of this in many regional or city-focused communities. I have seen many communities that were started because the organizers wanted to create a space where “their people” could come together to take advantage of the latest trends from cloud technologies and open source to crypto and artificial intelligence. You can define “your people” here in any way you see fit. It could be people in your city, neighborhood, race, your region, gender, or any demographic you can think of.

The above are some of the motivating factors I have encountered. Like I said earlier, it is rare to find a community organizer who is only motivated by just one of these factors, most of the time it will likely be a mix of all of these, but you will typically find that there is one motive that towers above the rest and it is that one that ends up shaping the culture and nature of the community.

If you are (or aspire to be) a developer community organizer, I think a worthwhile exercise would be to (re)examine your motives using the framework I laid out above to see where you land. If there are other motives that I missed out on, I would love to hear about them in the comments.

I will close this article by sharing a few unspectacular stories from different developer communities and regions to celebrate community organizers

I remember a woman who led a developer community in Guadalajara (Mexico) who used to run developer events. Sometimes she would be able to get sponsors for these events and one thing she did was to get one of the sponsors to pay for professional childminders at the event. That way parents with small children could still attend and get the most out of the event.

I knew developer community organizers who routinely used to translate developer communications and documentation (including emails and blog posts) so that “Their People” could get the content in their language.

I knew developer community organizers who risked overnight long-distance travel by the dreaded “night bus” to attend a national developer event, just so that they could take the learnings and content back to their remote communities.

I remember some developer community organizers in the Congo who spent hours (maybe even days?) at the airport with a homemade welcome banner to welcome a speaker whose arrival was delayed by 48 hours.

I know community organizers who took it upon themselves to organize internship programs for junior developers in their communities to give them a greater chance at landing that first job.

I know developer community organizers who routinely use their funds to make up the event budget whenever sponsor funding falls short just to make sure that they create the best event experience for the most people possible.

These are just a few memories. Unspectacular perhaps but memorable for me. A fitting way to celebrate the impact of developer community organizers all over the world.

Thank you for reading this far. Here is something for your pain :-D



Chukwuemeka Afigbo

Tech Community Fan(atic). Dev Ecosystem Cheerleader . Believes that talent is evenly distributed. Views expressed are mine.