Benjamin Aronov

Vonage Team Member

Benjamin Aronov is an online community manager at Vonage based in Tel Aviv, Israel.

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Re-Building a “Dead” Tech Community

Last updated on May 31, 2022

In 2018 I wrote a blog post about learning and teaching Ruby long after the (local) tech world considered it a dead language. For all my love for Ruby and Rails, one thing that was sorely missing was an active, local community in Tel Aviv.

Fast forward to 2022, and a few weeks ago I attended the first in-person Israel.rb meetup. There were 2 amazing talks, food and drinks at a gorgeous office, Ruby job openings, and 30+ very much alive Rubyists.

So what happened in-between? I helped build the community (with two amazing co-organizers!) that I so desperately wanted. So let’s celebrate this milestone with some thoughts, observations, and hopefully lessons for someone, somewhere.

Speakers and attendees from the April 2022 Israel.rb Meetup, a great success!
Speakers and attendees from the April 2022 Israel.rb Meetup, a great success!

Background

The Problem

Back in 2018, I finished the Le Wagon Bootcamp. I had signed up only a couple of weeks before moving to Tel Aviv, knowing that my basic level of programming was not enough for the competitive Israeli industry. I had a feeling, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. I thought Le Wagon would give me that network.

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize Le Wagon had only opened a branch in Tel Aviv 3 months prior to my arrival. Fortunately, at the Demo Day graduation ceremony Le Wagon TLV’s GM offered me a job. The mission? Build a community to ensure student success. This required both an internal and external push.

Internally, improving student happiness was pretty straightforward: listen, brainstorm, fix, repeat. Externally, I was at the whim of the Tel Aviv tech ecosystem. How was I, a guy who just arrived in Israel a few months prior and didn’t know anyone, a guy who had almost no professional coding experience, going to build a network? I hit the pavement.

A 2019 excursion into the Tel Aviv tech community with former students and colleagues.
A 2019 excursion into the Tel Aviv tech community with former students and colleagues.

For the next year and a half, I was attending 1–3 meetups or tech events a week. I was cold calling organizers, speakers, startups, programmers, product managers, designers, VCs, and basically anyone that I thought could provide even a bit of value for our community. It yielded many amazing results. Sometimes students were attending events with me. But most of the time we were hosting meetups ourselves with a wide diversity of profiles and topics. We had some events that were literally overflowing, with 130+ attendees squeezing in the door.

But time and time again, there was one big problem. We couldn’t connect in any meaningful way with current Rubyists or companies actively developing in Ruby. Online I would read that top local companies like Fiverr, Monday.com, WeWork, and others were Ruby shops. WeWork in particular seemed like a great place to connect as some of their engineers ran a Ruby group called Ruby Underground with 1300+ members!

When I reached out to the organizers to offer a location, to handle promotion, to basically do everything possible if they could bring some Ruby speakers….no answer.

A few months later I was ecstatic when Ruby Underground announced a meetup. I made sure to clear my calendar and attend. The talks were super interesting, the two alumni I dragged along met with WeWork HR looking to hire, and I even got a few minutes to talk to the meetup organizer. It all seemed to be falling into place. That is until I followed up with the organizer. Again, radio silence. In hindsight, this was 2019 at WeWork as the company was in a period of flux with an upcoming and then canceled IPO.

It became clear that Ruby was no longer a priority for even top Ruby organizers in Tel Aviv.

A Meetup Is Formed

The Co-Stars

By the fall of 2019 something amazing happened that changed my life. I attended a meetup.

To be specific, I attended the first DEV IRL meetup in Tel Aviv. It was organized by Ben Greenberg and Avital Tzubeli. Avital had spoken at Le Wagon and we were quickly becoming friends. Ben was one of the few locals talking Ruby on the internet, so obviously I was a big fanboy. My coworker at the time Clara Morgen had been accepted to give a talk and I rallied the troops to support our lead teacher.

After spending all of 5 minutes on Vonage’s rooftop, I was sold! I was the one now getting in contact with HR. Within 6 months both Avital and I would join Ben at Vonage, and Israel.rb would be set in motion.

The Four Speakers at DEV IRL: Jonathan, Ben, Avital, and Clara.
The Four Speakers at DEV IRL: Jonathan, Ben, Avital, and Clara.

I started my new position at Vonage in February 2020. Yes, that February 2020. The one with the beginning of a global pandemic. Great timing!

Even as we entered uncertain times, my boss at the time Olia continued to encourage me to find ways to make work meaningful and meet personal goals. There was one big, obvious opportunity here: exploiting my new access to one of the coolest Ruby devs in Israel (and now colleague) Mr. Greenberg.

It didn’t take much convincing. Ben was in!

Ben had a great insight; “let’s bring in a third organizer so the group wasn’t 100% Vonage”. And so Ariel Caplan, Ruby Backend extraordinaire completed our trifecta. At the time Ariel was at Cloudinary and had already spoken at both RubyConf and RailsConf multiple times. Oh, and that one last Ruby Underground I attended? Ariel was a speaker so I knew he was equally brilliant and intelligible for all levels.

Ariel Caplan, Ruby speaker extraordinaire
Ariel Caplan, Ruby speaker extraordinaire

So the A-Team was:

Ben Greenberg: DevRel, API Builder, Community Organizer, Twitter Superstar

Ariel Caplan: Master Programmer, Living Proof That Ruby Can Scale

Me: Makes Ok-ish Graphics, Social Media Spammer, Knows Ruby Juniors

The Metrics

Ok, so that’s how we got started. So, what’s actually happened?

3 Online Meetups:

  • July 15, 2020

    • 30 attendees
    • Speakers: Ben Greenberg, Allison McMillian (Github)
    • Sponsors: Vonage, Cloudinary
  • August 12, 2020

    • 25 attendees
    • Speakers: Jonan Scheffler (New Relic), Ariel Caplan
    • Sponsors: Vonage, Cloudinary
  • October 12, 2020

    • 12 attendees
    • Speakers: Dan Moore (FusionAuth)
    • Sponsors: Vonage, Cloudinary

Allison McMillian at our very first meetup!
Allison McMillian at our very first meetup!

1 Hybrid Mini-Conference:

  • EMEA on Rails
  • June 9, 2021

    • 30 in-person attendees, 120 online attendees
    • 12 speakers
    • Sponsors: JetBrains, Signal Wire, Le Wagon, Vonage, Cloudinary, Orbit, Zerus & Ona

1 In-Person Meetup:

  • April 11, 2022

    • 30 attendees
    • Speakers: Yoel Blum (Tailor Brands), Maya Shavin (Microsoft)
    • Sponsor: Tailor Brands

Lessons and the Future

Start Now!

Like studying or exercising, the biggest hurdle of building a community is getting started. You might think of all the reasons to put off building a community but at the end of the day, you are definitely going to make mistakes. The sooner you get started, the quicker you can make those mistakes and iterate your way to success.

As you can see, I had a few advantages to get off the ground. But the basics of any (dead tech) community are always the same:

PEOPLE + CONTENT + PLACE

The great thing about trying to revive a dead tech community is that there is probably already lots of groundwork laid for you. In each of the aspects of a community (P+C+P), you’re just a few google searches away from finding troves of help.

Finding people interested in your specific language or framework that are also in your location is probably the hardest part of reviving a community. The good thing is you probably already know a few. I highly recommend asking one or two of them to join you in forming the new community, even if the work is divided unequally. Each person brings their own network and the difference between starting with a potential network of 5 versus 10 or 15 can be critical early on.

In addition to relying on your network, become an internet sleuth! First, make sure there aren’t any old dormant communities that maybe were alive in the past. Were there any local conferences? Start with organizers of meetups and conferences. If they have moved on from the technology, they might still point you in the direction of the most enthusiastic members. Next, try to connect with the speakers of those old events. Are they still relevant to the community? And finally, you can post about your community. Dormant meetup pages, Facebook groups, and Slack workspaces are still frequently visited by other people who haven’t given up on your “dead” tech.

Beyond online, you can see if there are any local bootcamps or courses still teaching your technology. Are there any companies that are known as an Xtech-shop? You’ll definitely want to make a list of them.

While looking for people you’ll also be killing two birds with one stone; finding people will lead you to your sources of content. As you research those former speakers at meetups and conferences, google their name and look for their Dev.to/Medium pages, are they still actively writing content? Have they given talks recently? The best and easiest thing for a content creator is if they can repurpose content for multiple events. “Oh, you gave that talk at RailsConf? Can you do it again for your local fans?”. Think about recording the talks. Recorded talks which can then be shared on YouTube make events more attractive for speakers.

Maya Shavin with Front End tips for Ruby Devs
Maya Shavin with Front End tips for Ruby Devs

If you can’t find any past local speakers, look for new ones! Search for combinations of your tech and location. Look on Twitter. Is anyone talking about the “dead tech” in your local language? Look on LinkedIn. Who’s working in the “dead tech”?

One more secret to finding great content in a post-2020 world is that remote life is no longer stigmatized. Israel.rb was able to really take advantage of this, bringing in world-class Rubyists that would have never been able to make it to Tel Aviv from around the world for a meetup. Now with in-person events opening up, you can get the best of both worlds. Meet with your local group in person and bring in a top expert for a live watch party!

Lastly, you’ll need a place. That means a place for meeting. Is it in person? Try coworking offices, incubators, and programming bootcamps. They all usually have everything needed for meetups and are happy to host for free. Even better is to find a company working in your tech stack and let them use some HR budget on you. It’s best to set expectations ahead of time about turnout. Many eager HR reps might not realize that dying communities may mean 10–20 attendees is a good result. If they are expecting 20–50+, there may be ill will and you can lose one of your best potential partners.

Going Hybrid

You can also opt for virtual/hybrid meetups; we learned a very big lesson with our hybrid event. It turned out that while the local community of Rubyists was small, there are still many loyal Rubyists in our region. We thought we’d be able to split in-person and online duties between the organizers. What we found out was that it’s really like running two separate events. You need one set of organizers/moderators for the online and one for the in-person.

Consistency

One area that we struggled with was consistency. We had our second meetup one month after our first. Then the third was two months later. Then the fourth one was 8 months later! I know I said the biggest and best thing is to just start and get going. But if you can, have a plan when you launch. How will the first event link to future content? Maybe you won’t have monthly meetups. Maybe it will only be quarterly, that’s OK. But how will you keep the energy going in the meantime? Will you be posting content online in between? Will you be doing outreach for future speakers at your first event? Can you have easy, ready-made objectives and ways for attendees to get involved from the get-go? We tried some of these but we didn’t really have a plan and we were really inconsistent in the way we organized meetups. As you can see, at the beginning there is always a lot of excitement for something new. How will you channel that into longevity?

Tools

Along with consistent planning, you'll need to agree with your co-organizers from the beginning on consistent tooling. Each organizer in our A-team had a different preferred method for communication. We also had different preferred methods for engaging the community, and it caused a lot of problems.

At first, we opened a Slack workspace, thinking this would be the home of our new community. But quickly realized that it didn’t fit our community. Slack is too cumbersome and if our maximum potential community is in the dozens, how many will actually remember to open it often enough? In the end, it became our place to organize meetups, with more friction than function.

You need to think about your local community and find the best fit for each function. How will you communicate with community members? Twitter? Facebook? Email? Telegram? Will you create a specific community hub like Discord or a web forum or a Facebook Group? How will you handle event registrations? Meetup or Eventbrite or Luma?

I highly recommend checking out the Orbit community tools index.


So you’ve wrangled a friend or two into helping you revive this tech community, together y’all have made some lists of potential community members, and some potential speakers, and you’ve even lined up a venue with a date and time. So what’s next? Launch!

Rocket ship launching
Rocket ship launching

Photo by Andy Hermawan on Unsplash

After the launch

So remember how I said you should be all planned and prepared before? Yeah, we didn’t do so much of that.

So this advice can be seen as “After Launch” but it’s also what I’m using as a blueprint for Israel.rb version 2.0.

  1. Schedule regular check-ins with the organizers. Once a month, every other month, etc. Make sure everyone is clear on the state of the group and what needs to be happening for the next event. Always good to try to include more people in this process after meetups. Each new member helps rejuvenate the motivation.
  2. Understand your main stakeholders. Since launching Israel.rb, the biggest new, unexpected community member type are small to medium companies that are looking for new employees. We created a simple Job Board but are thinking about how to better incorporate them into our community.
  3. Create a landing page. As we found, jumping from tool to tool, the “frontpage” of our community was inconsistent, and hard to find valuable information. Having a single source of truth landing page that then points to all your different initiatives will help attract new members. You can use the Israel.rb landing page mockup for inspiration.

Have some clear community initiatives that they can find on the landing page, these are ours:

  • meetups: pictures of former meetups will provide proof that this is an active community. Adding videos of past talks will provide instant value and show the quality of the group.
  • discussions: link to an online space for discussions and sharing news between events. We use a Facebook group as Facebook continues to be popular in Israel. job board: this may be the single most valuable initiative you engage in, helping folks in their career.
  • state of your tech in your location: create a list of companies that are using your technology in your area. Identifiable logos will provide a lot of social proof that this is still a cool area to be in.

Ben Greenberg being warm and welcoming at the last meetup.
Ben Greenberg being warm and welcoming at the last meetup.

Do it!

If you’re thinking about meeting with others in your field, there are probably others thinking the same. The feeling of bringing together the no-longer cool kids in developer land is honestly incredible. Stop thinking and just do it! All those companies running legacy code are relying on you!

If you have questions about tech communities, the Vonage Developer Relations team is full of very talented tech community builders. Join us on Developer Community Slack!

If you are interested in building developer communities professionally, the Vonage Developer Relations team is growing! Check out our job openings.