Melvin x Michael: Singapore’s Tech Developer Influencers
Melvin Tan is the organiser of Singapore’s iOS community and Meetup ‘iOS Dev Scout’, as well as the annual iOS conference ‘iOS Conf SG’. He is the Mobile Engineering Lead in the National Digital Identity (NDI) Team at GovTech and he also represents WorldSkills Singapore as an Industry Expert in Mobile Applications Development.
He is a pioneer iOS Engineer (Objective-C, Swift) with over 15 years of experience in delivering mobile and enterprise solutions. To date, he has published over a hundred submissions to the App Store.
Michael Cheng runs the Singapore PHP User Group, co-founded the iOS Dev Scout, and is the organiser of PHPConf.Asia. His latest passion project is Engineers.SG, a non-profit community initiative to document and archive both the tech and start-up scene in Singapore.
Michael is a Full Stack Developer with over 10 years of experience building dynamic websites. He is a Zend Certified Engineer/Trainer in PHP development. Currently, he is working with Ruby, a high-level programming language.
QUICK TIPS FROM MELVIN and MICHAEL
- The size of the group does not really matter. If you have a keen interest in it, it will all go well.
- Join the other communities and tap into their contacts to expand your network.
- Be regular and consistent with your meetups, even with a low attendance rate.
Why is community-building important to you?
Michael: As software engineers, we tend to be very isolated. When I first started, I was the only tech guy in the company. Hence, when I first started community work, it came from a yearning for community support and the desire in meeting like-minded individuals who shared the same passion for the technology I was working on.
Melvin: Everyone comes from different walks of life and each has different skill sets and specialisations. If we look at the current landscape of tech communities, most aim to gather like-minded individuals. That is why we created a space for current and aspiring developers to share their experience and knowledge. More importantly, to hang out and get to know each other.
“Joining other communities and talking to their members helps you get started, especially when you are planning to enter a new area of technology or a new community.”
How did you build and grow your communities?
Michael: Firstly, I created a Facebook group so that users could easily search for and join the community. Next, I went to an event organised by Entrepreneur 27 (E27), a student group interested in technology and requested for the microphone to announce my community. From there, I organised the first Meetup at SMU where my friend and I were the speakers. Since then, we relied on word-of-mouth to grow the community. I think that when you have an interest in something, there’s bound to be someone else in the world who does too.
Melvin: When iOS Dev Scout first started, we had very few members because there were only a small number of iOS developers in Singapore. As such, a major challenge we faced was getting speakers. Another key factor we discussed within the team was to always conduct Meetups, even if there were only ten to twenty attendees. When we did not have enough speakers, we would try to convince our friends and colleagues to speak at our events.
“When you want to start a community, do not be discouraged by the small numbers in the early days and ensure that there are no similar pre-existing groups.”
What are some online platforms you would suggest for beginner community leaders?
Michael: Gather.town, Discord, and Club House! We had a mentoring program for JuniorDev Singapore and we used Discord breakout rooms as it allows auto-roaming across different rooms.
Melvin: We’ve been using Facebook, meetup.com, and Slack and in recent times, we are also starting to look into Gather.town, which provides for better interactivity among the attendees and is a step closer towards virtual gatherings in times where physical meetups are not possible.
What are some big changes from then till now?
Michael: Non-physical Meetups are a bummer. There are three key elements to a good community event – good food, good venue, and good speakers. Good food ensures that people stay till the midpoint of the Meetup and a good venue provides attendees with the opportunity to visit different companies and offices. We also have the “hallway track” where you meet and talk to other attendees and network, building up the community spirit. People attend Meetups for different reasons, but they keep coming back because of this community that has been formed. With a virtual Meetup, you still get good content, but we have not quite figured out how to replicate community mingling and networking.
Melvin: Virtually, there is less interaction, and thus towards the end of each Meetup, we run interactive Kahoot quizzes with small prizes to encourage participation. Prior to the start of the presentations, we will also engage the attendees by asking them to introduce themselves and share their iOS experiences freely. iOS Dev Scout maintains connections with other iOS meetup groups around the region, and we saw an increase in overseas developers attending our virtual meetups, which was previously not possible with physical meetups. With this good mix of local and overseas attendees in recent meetups, we had some shipping nightmares as the winners of the Kahoot were from India and Myanmar! This was something we rarely experienced during our physical Meetups.
How do you form relationships and camaraderie within your community?
Melvin: Before COVID-19, we maintained relationships through regular Meetups. We usually have four organisers attending each event, so we try to mix around and get to know the members better. When we first started the iOS conferences in 2015, the motivation was to go beyond Singapore as there were no iOS conferences in Southeast Asia. Several of our members and organisers also attend Apple’s WWDC event and when that happens, we hold a get-together with our members at the event venue.
Michael: For JuniorDev Singapore, we have a small team of co-organisers and we catch up with members one-to-one to get to know them better and provide some coaching. When COVID-19 was not so bad, we would catch up at least once or twice a week. We could have done more, but it is increasingly difficult because of video conferencing fatigue.
How do you manage difficult members/partners and keep your community safe and open?
Michael: The first type of difficult members are the “freeloaders” who mainly attend for the food, but we generally leave them be unless they go overboard with the freeloading. The second type is the harassers. We have a zero-tolerance policy for harassment. For JuniorDev Singapore, we have banned two members on accounts of harassment. Most community events have a code of conduct to let people know that the community is a safe space, and that harassment is not tolerated.
Melvin: For iOS Dev Scout, we have not faced such cases. For organisers, we do take note of who is blacklisted in the community and if they do turn up for events, we keep a close eye on them. For both conferences and Meetups, we also have a code of conduct in place to remind attendees of unacceptable behaviour.
“For our community, a lesser-known fact is how we organise the admin team. We have a good mix of genders to organise every Meetup to ensure that we are well-prepared on all fronts to handle any issues.”
Last updated 24 December 2021
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