The power of communities

I recently passed the 5 year mark on It got me thinking about all the different communities that helped me along the way.

Back at the start of 2008, I was in a major rut. I was stuck in a job that I didn't much care for, and had been for almost 13 years. I suffer from social anxiety and it was much easier to stick with the same job than to find another one.  Living in a small village, I didn't know any other local geeks either.

I'm not sure how I stumbled across it, but in mid-January 2008, I found the GeekUp mailing list.  I was amazed, there were people similar to me out there after all and I quickly made some great friends on there.  Big thanks go to Andrew Disley for creating GeekUp.

Although I was employed as an electronics engineer, I also looked after the company website.  I'd built it as a static site originally, but as it had grown, it was getting harder to manage.  I'd heard a lot about CMSs and had started looking round for a solution when I saw a post on the GeekUp list.

"Good news! (aka James Panton and Chris Maiden) are running a Drupal workshop at Manchester Digital Development Agency on Wednesday 9th April 2008."

I signed up for the course and persuaded work to pay for it.

Looking back, the 1st March 2008 was a big turning point for me.  It was the date of the first Manchester Barcamp, the first geek event I'd attended.  To say I was nervous about going would be an understatement!  I didn't know anyone else going, but I knew that Chris and James were going to do a talk about Drupal.  Only many months later did I discover that they were just as nervous about meeting me – I was Menusandblocks' first paying customer.  Big thanks go to Paul Robinson and all the helpers for organising that Barcamp.

After meeting many of the people I knew from the GeekUp mailing list, I started going along to the GeekUp meetings in Manchester.  That progressed to me going to NWDUG and PHPNW meetings too.  Getting involved in the Manchester geek community really helped to boost my confidence and helped a lot with my social anxiety.

As 2008 progressed, I was hearing more and more about the upcoming Drupalcon in Szeged.  I'd got no holiday plans, so I decided to book up, together with James and Peter Jones, and see what all the fuss was about.  It was the first Drupalcon for all of us, so we were all buzzing!  It was an amazing experience – the community spirit was incredible with 600 or so Drupal people taking over the town.  I made some great friends that week, including Stella.  We were both thinking about setting up Drupal companies and egged each other on.  Shortly after getting back, I handed in my notice at work and Galooph Industries was born.

On the flight back from Hungary, James and I half-joked about how good it would be to run a Drupal event in Manchester and get the Drupal community spirit going there.  Well, one thing led to another and June 2009 saw about 90 people get together for Drupalcamp Manchester.  It was fantastic to feel I was giving something back to the community that had helped me so much and again I was amazed how people offered to help and give talks.  It was also the only time I've ever ordered £1000 worth of pizza!


Photo courtesy of cubicgarden.

One of the attendees was Mike Bell and several years later he wrote a blog post about Drupalcamp Manchester that still brings a lump to my throat.  In an awesome demonstration of the ripple effect that communities can have, he went on to help organise DrupalcampNW last year and also runs NWDUG together with Philip Norton.

From Galooph Industries, I went on to join Menusandblocks and now Code Enigma.  It's been an incredible 5 years for me and I can only apologise to all those people that've helped me along the way that I haven't mentioned here.  I still fight with my social anxiety, but it's much better than it's ever been.  I've just got back from spending four days teaching a course in Brussels, which 5 years ago I just wouldn't have coped with at all.

One thing I'm certain of though is that GeekUp, Barcamps and the Drupal community changed my life for the better!  So, get involved in your local geek communities – you never know where a chance conversation will lead.