Community Builders: An Interview with David Silva
David Silva is a web developer, originally from Colombia he's currently in the New York area. He's also a founder of Techqueria, the largest community for Latinx in tech.
Panion: Can you tell me a little bit about your background? How did you end up in tech?
David: I graduated high school a bit early, and ended up testing a couple of things before ending in tech, I went to art school, and after that went to a Yeshiva (seminary) in Israel. I had started coding when I was a kid, so at some point when I had to get a job, I found one as a web developer in a small agency.
Back then there were not many startups in Colombia, and anything tech-related was still very niche, but I was lucky I joined a startup as their first technical hire, and have been working on startups since. I moved to the Bay Area, CA in 2013, hoping to be closer to the US tech companies, and have been in the US since.
P: How did you end up co-founding Techqueria? What inspired you to create this community?
D: We started Techqueria as a meetup, the main inspiration was the many other communities that existed for underrepresented minorities in tech; we wanted to connect with other Latinx but we couldn't find an existing community we liked, and as most founders will tell you when you really want something and it doesn't exist it means you have to create it!
Techqueria has been very popular, and it keeps growing at a great pace, there are chapters in several areas of the US, including Los Angeles, Miami, and New York. Most of our interactions with the members are online, in virtual events, forums, and we used to host in-person events with the support of our fantastic sponsors, but we had to stop because of the virus.
P:Can you tell me about the Latinx tech community?
D: The Latinx tech community is my favorite! I'm a little biased but it really is a beautiful and amazing community, mainly because of the energy and diversity of the members. As a community, it is a little recent tho, and there's still a lot more to do. Currently, the community concentrates in cities with big tech hubs like San Francisco and New York, and most events and conferences are in the same spaces.
The percentage of Latinx in the tech industry is still very small but is making a big impact, with many tech companies courting them more, to increase their representation numbers, and hoping to break into the consumer market and the elusive Latin American market.
P: Why is community important?
D: We rely on communities all the time for practical purposes, for us, the community brings a lot of benefits; the most common one is when interviewing, finding a person that is currently working at a tech company to chat and learn more about the opportunity, and potentially getting a referral, will make a big difference in your application.
In our day to day too, there are so many experiences that can be too hard to deal on your own, and being a part of a warm and welcoming community can give you the tools to understand and do better in many of the facets of life.
P: What makes the Techqueria community unique and special and what are the benefits of belonging?
D: Techqueria is a very warm and welcoming community, we have had a code of conduct and inclusiveness in mind since the beginning; there's a space in Techqueria for everyone that also wants space for the rest. It allows for very honest and interesting conversations that are hard to have and celebrates the diversity and wonderful culture of our community.
Belonging is a human necessity, many folks that fit in the standard, think they don't need to be a part of a special community, but is just an illusion, we all need communities, and we all participate in communities. Being a part of an underrepresented minority in tech in the US tho is harder to find belonging, a community like Techqueria brings that belonging to new folks!
P: What are some of the challenges people face when building a community?
D: Perhaps the biggest challenge is seeing the growth or activity of your community, community growth needs to happen organically, as an organizer you try to facilitate communications and create space for the community to bloom, but at the end of the day, it is outside of your hands to create it. I think of it as gardening, it's important to do your part, but understand and be humble to know your reach.
P: What are the biggest mistakes people make when trying to grow a community?
D: The most common big mistake I have seen is related to communities with a profit motive. Like user communities, or communities are driven by some marketing goals. You can't force the creation of a community, and when the members realize what is going on, many of them will flee or open up a new community. Is very important when creating a community to involve the members, and have a sincere commitment to their advancements and interests.
P: What are your 3 top tips for people trying to build a community?
- Volunteer in a community before starting your own
- Treat community work like any other work, read and study and practice, and don't underestimate the effort
- Don't over commit, things can wait, your health won't
P: How can allies help support communities of people of color right now?
D: Listening and donating helps the most, another great way in which folks can help our members a lot is by contributing time to resume reviews, interview coaching, and mentoring is valuable too.
P: How do you see the future of community building in the context of changing technology and the “new normal”?
D: The newer generations are more digital-ready than we were, I imagine that a lot more things will continue evolving towards online communities, or with more online components. The changing times will be harder for the people and companies that have refused to adapt, the virus is only speeding up the inevitable, but we all knew it was coming.
Good community builders need to learn more about digital tools, tracking, metrics, etc, thankfully every day new tools and tutorials are coming out, so it shouldn't be that hard for the ones that decide to learn.
On another hand, this heavy reliance on technology for work and our day to day activities push some folks into more in-person events, and seek better quality, so the pressure is on for those organizers to find ways to increase the quality of their events.
David is a senior web developer at Slingshot Health and the founder of Techquiera, a non-profit that empowers Latinx professionals with resources and support that they need to become leaders in tech industry.