So… tomorrow is the end of me volunteering at Fronteers. As of then, I am no longer part of Fronteers’ workshop team. With that, I am officially no longer volunteering at Fronteers. Time for a round-up!
Fronteers is the professional association for front-end developers in The Netherlands. It has about 500 paying members. Some of those volunteer to put up conferences, workshops, meetups, a job board and a Slack community. It was founded in 2007 by PPK, Arjan and Tom and has grown and changed in many ways since.
In this post I will look back at my volunteering for Fronteers, and share some things that I learned.
The cool thing about Fronteers is that it is an organisation that is bigger than its individual volunteers. Although it often heavily depends on the spare time of specific people, stuff can go on. Even when people leave and new people come in. Fronteers history shows this is not always easy and not every detail survives. Often, new, awesome details come into existence, too. Progress happens.
For those who find it interesting, I’d like to share a bit of my history at Fronteers. With my apologies for what is sort of blowing my own trumpet – quitting after all those years is quite a big deal to me.
- I volunteered at six conferences (2008-2013), of which I was in the organising team of three, one as the chair. I was able to add a few new things to the mix, like subject-first speaker selection and a practical case studies session.
- I organised meetups about the semantic web (with SETUP), healthcare and online news (with Lable), RequireJS and MVC (with VPRO), Progressive Web Apps (with Dan and Bran), accessibility (with Thomas and Michiel) and music (with Thomas and Michiel)
- I was involved with about 12 workshops (some in 2012, some in 2016/2017), including one about CSS with one of the inventors of CSS
- I had two sets of accounts prepared as treasurer and transitioned us away from the accountants that did not deliver many of their promises (it was quite the chase)
- I worked on getting 61 of our conference videos captioned (with Krijn and Janita)
- I chaired the marketing team from 2011 to 2013 (and was team member from 2008), which produced legendary pens, notebooks, promotional slides, as well as BEERS with the Fronteers logo on
More recently, in August last year I revived the workshops team. With the support of Rachid and Sharon back then, joined by Tim later, we managed to put up a one day workshop every month from September (with one cancelled). This is still happening, with the April one sold out and an exciting one for May in the pipeline (soon to be announced). I found it a lot of fun to be involved with this. It’s all volunteer work, but you get to spend the association’s money on good teachers to provide affordable workshops for all. What’s not to like?
I learned things
I’ve really enjoyed doing all of these things! My feelings about my recent stint at the workshops team is a general theme in most of the things I’ve been able to do at Fronteers. It is an organisation with international connections (and goodwill), money to pay for activities that aim to improve front-end development, and an endless stream of ideas waiting to make it into reality.
Working for Fronteers I learned a lot, although hardly about front-end development.
I learned, for example, that you can try getting things done by yourself, but working together with people who complement you makes it a lot easier.
I discovered that work in an association like Fronteers involves a lot of politics. It takes time to convince people of your ideas, and to learn who needs to be convinced most (this can be the oppposite of what you expected). This takes patience.
On the subject of politics: at times, there would be different ideas at how to go ahead. If we would be working together at a large business, strict hierarchy would have dictated the decision making process. With a group of volunteers that all put lots of love (and time) into their work, debates can be more heated. At these times it is extremely important to look at the bigger picture, because the heat is usually only within the team. Outsiders, or attendees, will likely just see an awesome conference, meetup or workshop.
I found it’s so hard to get it right (we often did not), and that sometimes the best ideas come in hindsight.
I learned to live with not realising ideas, because of time constraints. I tried setting up a system to manage contacts between Fronteers and the outside world, organise more meetups outside of Amsterdam, redesign all of the website with Krijn (we even had one of the best Dutch agencies on board to help), present the financial budget in a way that is less boring and organise meetups specifically to bring volunteers together to work on organising shared activities. Time was a constraint.
I also learned that me being personally delighted about a subject or speaker would not guarantee lots of attendees for an event. Especially in the week before Sinterklaas.
Or that it is important in volunteering to learn to say ‘no’ before it is too late. This helps with focus, and with being able to meet promises and expectations.
I’ve gotten to know this fantastic feeling that goes with putting on something that people enjoy to attend, whether it be workshops, meet-ups or conferences.
Thanks and goodbye
I’m very grateful to Krijn and Arjan for inspiring me to start volunteering at Fronteers, and to PPK, Tom, Sander and Jaco for trusting me to organise things within the professional association they chaired. They were always encouraging as well as very forgiving and patient with regards to my mistakes.
I should also thank all other volunteers that I had the pleasure of working with, many of whom who have become friends. You know who you are.
I’m going to be focusing on other things now, and become a consumer of Fronteers activities. It has truly been a blast!