EgyGeeks: on Building an Online Community

A little over two years ago, a group of techies got together for a Skype conversation. Mohamed Meligy tells the story. It was a great talk and we really enjoyed it, he says and I remember.

What started as a group of people “geeking out” on Skype transformed into something that is a little bit more. “Let’s have some sessions where someone tells us about a topic they know”, someone said and it so it was. It continued for a while. There are few things I think I learnt from that phase:

Over time, those who are more vocal in their participation wanted to make this online gatherings into a community. EgyGeeks, we would call it, and lots of activities would be part of it.

One activity stood out as: long lasting, easy to start, and kinda cool is podcasting. In the Arab tech world, there’s one podcast that I know of: Dot Net Arabi for the always-delightful Emad Alashi who’s done a great job of maintaining that podcast. He models it after the Hanselmintues podcast for Scott Hanselman. It’s short to-the-point interview with a developer and is strictly about specifics of technology. “You’re here to learn something” is the idea.

We wanted to offer something a bit different. Less of technology specific, or about technology specifics, and more of a community building exercise. Less about “what we do” and more about “how we do it”. There’s a lot of good developers in Egypt. There’s a lot of mediocre developers who can be good if given the chance. But one thing I’m sure of is: there’s a bad software industry in Egypt (and in the Arab world by extent). Wrong practices, bad motivations and incentives, and no meaningful community. (Individual exceptions exists, but they’re still exceptions, and individual). This podcast would be about replacing bad habits with good ones by informing people about what’s out there and how it’s possible, and how it relates to you as a local developer.

One idea that comes to mind when listening to one of these technology podcast is “Well, they work in Silicon valley” or “That’s not how we do it here” or whatever other idea brought to you by the inferiority complex in each of us. But if you start talking to other people, you’ll find that they have the same problems, they’re looking at the same solutions, they’re having the same obstacles, and in your conversations you can remove them. We’re willing to listen and participate of these American podcasts, and communities but not in our own and that should change.

A lot of thinking went into the format, length, style, and other aspects of the podcast. Let me tell you a little bit of what I learnt:

This post comes after following a long Facebook thread on the Egyptian Geeks group by Mohamed “Bashmohandes” Hossam  discussing the idea of starting a podcast of their own which I think is a great idea. There was a discussion of what happened to EgyGeeks podcast. What happened simply is, the Arab Spring. Last EgyGeeks episode was published on January 20, 2011, five days before the revolution in Egypt. Since then, no one was really in the mood to geek out. We certainly weren’t. Things are now coming to a relative clam (I hope they are). We’re not committing to anything yet but before Ramadan we were discussing the idea of coming back. I hope this happens soon.