Kat Connolly is a Lighthouse Labs web development bootcamp graduate who works as a software engineer at Neo Financial, a Calgary-based FinTech company.
Calgary is slowly shedding its reputation for being just a one-trick oil pony, and starting to make a name for itself as a real competitor in tech. It’s been named the most affordable housing market in North America, has plenty of VCs with keen eyes for technology, and the local tech ecosystem is doing an amazing job of attracting some of the best tech talent. Whether you’re new in town or new to your career as a developer, it can be intimidating to jump into a new community. I’ve put together some great advice on breaking into Calgary’s tech community.
Where Do I Start?
To start, it’s important to be mindful that this is a tech community, not just a tech job board. When seeking to get involved, you shouldn’t just be looking for your first gig. It’s important to give back and become an integrated part of the city’s growing tech scene.
There is a great book called The Rainforest, by Victor Hwang and Greg Horowitt, which explains that a tech ecosystem is more successful by becoming more like a rainforest than like a farm. To borrow from Rainforest Alberta:
‘The Rainforest does not seek to eliminate the farm, but to create a co-existing ecosystem that can support the input of ideas and creativity to innovate.’
In other words, no matter how experienced you might be, everyone involved in a tech community needs to give as much as they take. If you are more experienced that translates often into mentorship opportunities, and if you are newer to tech then the best thing you can give is time. Below are a few groups that you can get involved in who always have projects and events on the go for people to participate in, regardless of your experience in the Calgary tech scene.
What Are Some Ways to Get Involved?
Despite the pandemic, Calgary remains a host to a great tech ecosystem just waiting for you to get involved. Here are a few ways to start breaking into this community:
This is a Slack-based community that contains a ton of great channels and conversations to get involved in. Have a question specific to a language or library you are using? This is my go-to place to ask nitty-gritty questions. They’ve also got the most active job board that I’ve seen.
I don’t know where I would be without the Rainforest! This is a community group that hosts regular meetings to connect people of varying experience in tech. Their weekly Lunch-Without-Lunch (normally in person, but currently virtual) is the absolute best place to keep tabs on what is going on in Calgary’s tech ecosystem and start making meaningful connections. Rainforest facilitates informed and meaningful discussions, and even hosts a great podcast about people in the Calgary tech scene!
Two of the main players in the tech ecosystem, Platform and Startup, just announced that they are joining forces. Their new consolidated platform is a great place to get informed and involved. Startup Calgary’s events calendar has long been the absolute truth for where to be to network in the Calgary tech scene. Startup Calgary runs the local Startup Weekend events, and regularly hosts hackathons in partnership with other groups. One of their most popular regular events is the currently virtual Startup Pitches and Beers, where people come to share their new startup ideas and get feedback from the community. Attending one of these events for fun is actually how I met my current boss!
A great way to meet other developers and participate in coding for good causes! Code the Change is a worldwide movement to use code to help more charitable causes like NGOs and charities. This is a great chance to give back and to beef up your resume with some interesting work. Check out some of the past projects they built during their regular hackathons and get inspired.
Bonus: A lot of what Code the Change does is opensource, so you would get to jump in on another very important worldwide community.
Hackathons and MeetUps
Diving head-first into hackathons and meetups can be a great way to start integrating yourself into the Calgary community. While a lot of these events have been put on pause because of the pandemic, there are still a lot of things happening virtually! Sweating over an intense 24-hour hackathon can be a true bonding experience that will not only give you resume points, but a lifelong bond with your teammates as well.
While Hackernest is currently doing global online events, there is no doubt that they will get back to their Calgary roots as soon as they’re able. In 2018 and 2019 they hosted some of the largest tech meetups in the city with their unique ‘super connector’ format. A lot of head hunting happens there from what I’ve seen.
This is Calgary’s longest serving tech meetup. Former Lighthouse mentor Tony Grimes started Pixels 11 years ago so that he could drink beers and talk tech with people, and the monthly meetup has gone strong ever since. This meetup is definitely more casual and fun, so you don’t want to miss out. Once it’s safe to be outside again you’d better get yourself to a Pixels and Pints event.
Okay, But How Do I Actually Get a Job?
Getting your first job in tech is a very scary thing to do.
I’m a big believer in networking and participation as a means to finding your next opportunity. This can be more difficult with lockdowns and no in-person events, but all of the groups that I just mentioned still have thriving virtual communities and events to take part in. Maybe you jump in on a Code the Change project with an intermediate who works a company that’s looking to take on new juniors. Maybe you introduce yourself at the Rainforest Lunch Without Lunch event and give a quirky fact so niche and bizarre that someone with a brand new startup strikes up a conversation and becomes a connection. Networking isn’t just a one-way street to finding a job, but a complex and often fun way to join a community with purpose and meaning. Going through a list of employees at Benevity and adding them to Linkedin isn’t going to help you find a job, but engaging with the right employee during a tech event just might.
Engage, participate, discuss, repeat.