How Facebook Developer Circle Delhi became a thing

As most of you might know already, I lead the developer community in Delhi known as Facebook Developer Circle Delhi, NCR.

And today, 18th March marks yet another milestone in the history of this community.

We officially became an online group on this date, in 2016! 🍻

A lot of people have asked me over the years about how I became a chapter lead for this program, especially at a time when it was not even official. I have always given a half baked answer to people, and some even pushed me to write a blog post about the whole journey. But I was a skeptic about it adding any value to anybody.

But on this 3-year mark, I guess I can drop my procrastination and go for it! So here goes:

Let’s jump back to October 2015:

Or, Let’s have a preface about my community management endeavors before that! A flashback in a flashback, inception style 😉

I had been involved in a lot of communities since college. It all started with Google Technology User Groups (GTUG), which got migrated to the now popular Google Developer Group (GDG) branding. I was super involved initially as an organizing team member (and became a manager later) at my college level and at Delhi level as well. I was also a Microsoft Student Partner, involved in the ISTE division of my college, participated in Firefox communities and similar open source ones in the region.

I had had my fair share of hopping in all kinds of communities and let’s just say I loved being a part of them, meeting like-minded individuals, learning from them and having a blast while organizing events.

But at this point in time, I had left mostly all of them due to different reasons and had decided that hackathons were going to be the next big thing if executed correctly. I was trying to start a hackathon organizing community called “Hackulture”. And yes, you guessed it right, the idea was to make hackathons a culture in the country and spur innovation across the region. We were working hard, had a good team who was trying to get sponsorships in for our first leg of hackathons.

Also, at this point in time, React.js had not gained the vast amount of popularity it has today. But I had had my introduction to it and the concept was super intriguing for me. React native was also a super interesting concept which I wanted to dive into. But there weren’t much support forums around the technologies and the documentation was not that great either.

The moment when it all began

Now that you have enough preface, I was attending a round table conference hosted by a couple of Facebook employees in Gurgaon. I had never heard of a developer event hosted by Facebook in the city, and the Facebook event that was created did not seem to be an official thing. Even though I had my doubts, I still decided to go and check it out. It turned out to be an official one and not many people turned up for it. My best guess would be they had similar apprehensions as I had about the authenticity of it all. Since it was a limited people only event, we got the chance to interact with the Facebook employees one on one and have discussions about the ecosystem.

I initiated talks about why Facebook does not have a developer community initiative even though it is getting in that space and all other major organizations do have a developer program at the very least. There was a developer evangelist present there who got seriously interested in that discussion and we talked at length about it and he told me that they would think about it and get back to me. We exchanged emails, I dropped one to him and did not get any replies back. That conversation died there.

Fast forwarding to November 2015:

There was a FB Start event in Delhi and being the meetup buff that I was, I decided to go and attend it. There were people from the global partnerships and platform team present at that event, along with some other senior folks. I repeated my question that I had portrayed in the previous meetup, mentioning that something similar to what was currently being done for entrepreneurs should be done for individual developers too. This time, my thoughts resonated with some of the folks present there and they told me that I should (yet again) drop an email regarding the same. I did the same, and guess what? I got a reply, I was excited to see things moving forward!

There were a few emails exchanged and then they told me that they will discuss internally and get back to me. A month passed and I did not hear from them.

I made a mistake!

No story is fun to tell if there is no climax, and mine has a pretty stupid one. I was not using my Gmail id to communicate with the FB folks but was using my Wisdom Geek id for doing so. I was playing with Cloudflare at the same time and had migrated to it. But what I forgot was that I missed redirecting the MX records to Cloudflare. As a result, I had missed emails during the duration that it was misconfigured, and also the senders did not get a failure message saying their emails were not delivered.

I did not find out about it until a long time after and then I fixed it later. But it was at the point where it kept me anxious if the Facebook employees had replied or not. I did not want to respond back saying I had made a technical error on my server. I thought it was the stupidest thing to tell a tech giant that I made such a half-witted mistake.

January 2016

I waited for a week and got a reply (this would have been sometime in mid-January of 2016). Luckily, thanks to threaded emails, I had some of their previous replies in there and I got the hang of the conversation that had been going all along. They had sent a bunch of emails saying they were discussing it internally and also something similar was being set up in other cities of the world to start a pilot of such a program.

Essentially, I had not missed on much, but my own silly mistake had led to me overthinking in the meantime for no particular reason. My previous bad experiences from some other communities had started creeping in my head and the “no reply phase” had made me question if this was even a good idea.

I was introduced over email to someone who had led community programs for other organizations and it also stated that they wanted to have a discussion about it with me. It was more like an interview and this person wanted to understand my beliefs about community and why such a program should even exist. A long-dead drop silence followed after that which amplified my concerns about this being a good idea.

February 2016

I talked to a colleague of mine and then decided to send an email asking for the status of the whole thing. After the first one, I asked her to proofread my email so as to avoid me sounding desperate in the next one. Even though the folks on the other side might have been ironing out the details for going ahead with the program, this huge gap of silence was enough to spook me out and I wanted to pull the plug on the whole thing and focus on Hackulture instead.

Mid Feb, I got a response from the folks from the FB team saying that they wanted to start a pilot program, it will not be anything official. They would just start a group, see how it goes and then plan further steps. I was skeptical of this approach and my thoughts had already taken over my head and I did not respond to the email. I was still contemplating on what I should do and spent a long time in the process of figuring out what I should do. I spent most of February confused and baffled, unable to make a decision.

March 2016

I had spent a considerable amount of time thinking and not making a decision. So I decided to sit down with myself, and make a decision and get done with it. I did a SWOT analysis kind of a thing.

The positives were that I realized was that I was super happy and energetic when I was organizing events earlier. Also, my office work was not that great at that time, and organizing events would have been a great way to get back some meaning to work and also learn newer technologies.

The negatives were that I would have some expectations set up in the process and if they were broken this time, it would probably break me beyond repair.

But I wanted to do it because of the energy I used to have when I was an organizer, and I made a mental note about expectation management on the inside. I decided that I was doing it, firstly for my own happiness, and second that the city needed a developer community that was neutral, and not biased/dictated by discussions around a particular technology. The second one was not something I could control, but since the program was not in place yet, I communicated my intentions regarding it to the Facebook employees. They were okay with the community being a neutral one, with the leads deciding on the agenda and heuristics of the communities.

That was the day that I jumped on board, and Hackulture died that very day. I met another Facebook employee, this time in person to discuss the group and creating one. He explained to me that a couple of groups had already been created in other cities, and Delhi would be one of the first 3 cities in the pilot program. We had some more discussions about the specifics, and he created a group with no branding on 18th March 2016! And it was showtime 💪

From there, started an amazing journey of exploring and shaping the program, having countless discussions about what works, what does not and treating the whole thing as your own startup.

We did not have a meetup for a significant number of days and I was eager to get started with the offline piece of the community since nobody engages in a group without knowing one another. The Facebook folks were still thinking about it, but I had gone all in. So, without anything in place, I conducted an offline meetup in ad hoc mode and decided to give a talk myself since I did not know anyone else who would have been willing to be a speaker.

I did not wait for the green signal from anyone, and even though there were other communities across the world, I think Delhi was the first one to conduct an offline meetup. Then the folks from strategic partnerships team flew down to Delhi for our second one, and we had an amazing dialogue about shaping the program. I think that meeting laid out the foundation for a lot of things that were to come in the near future and laid a solid foundation for a community that is (almost) an 11,000 member group as of today. I am super proud of it having grown so huge, and glad about it being second largest developer circle in the world right now too! 🎉

And all of this would never have been possible without the most important people in the community -> the members. Thanks to everyone who helped along the journey and made it a memorable one. I would like to thank every member to have contributed in some way or another and this whole journey has just been a brilliant memory that I will cherish for ages! Cheers to everyone! 🍻💗

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saransh kataria

For over and over, I have failed & in the process of losing it all, I realized that I might actually win.