A colleague of mine approached me the other day; wondering how he might be able to get out of the trend that he's found himself in. The issue he approached me with was the fact that he's a tenured developer for his company and is often approached by his peers and managers to field questions and to help out when times are tough. He has no issues with such; however, he finds himself drawn to newer technology than what he's working with on a daily basis and also loves helping people with their development questions. In essence, he wants to become more than just the developer he is currently. He wanted to know what he can do to expand his knowledge with new technology and project the information to others.
Like my friend, I had similar feelings in my job and career a while ago and looked at my options on how to branch out and grow outside of the mold that I found myself in. Both of us wanted more than to come in to work, do our job, and then go home and do anything and everything. In order to address my friends question, I decided to post some of the things that I would recommend based on my experience on going from a mind set of "just a developer" to acting on a desire to reach out and do more than code for a single company.
Finding Your Passion
So, you want to branch out and spread your wings. Where do you start? In order to answer this question, I have to ask: What are you passionate about? The biggest advice that I can give to anyone looking to go beyond their daily developer routine is to know where your passions lie. If you love designing applications, perhaps your passions surround UI designing or software architecture. If your passion is a particular technology like Windows Workflow Foundation, perhaps focusing on such a technology, and similar ones, is your passion. The reason why finding your passion is important is because you'll find yourself more motivated to follow through with various actions about such a topic. Find your passion to find your subject matter.
Research Your Passion
Now that you have your passion identified, do a little research on it. What are other people saying about your subject? What resources are out there for you and others to learn about the subject? If there are forums or a community around your subject matter, spend some time in there to see what everyone is saying about the subject. While you're researching and tinkering with examples and such, don't be afraid to ask questions. Everyone that learns something has questions about it at some time, and asking questions can yield to some good contacts and other opportunities (more on this later).
Something else to consider while researching your passion is to also look into attending local development user group sessions. While the topics in question may not always be associated with your true passion, it does allow you to meet people, meet the organizers, and to somewhat get a feel for what others are looking for in such sessions. Something else to keep a pulse on is the various development podcasts that exist. These are invaluable since they can give you not only ideas but also lead you to new resources to expand your vision.
Finding a Starting Audience
Now that you have your subject matter that you are passionate about, who can you talk to about it? There are many options with this. You can, and probably already do, talk to your peers at work about this passion. You probably talk about it more than you realize (I've been told that I do). By talking to your peers you begin to generate a small buzz amongst your colleagues about what you're up to. They may not know exactly what you're talking about all of the time; however, they know that it's important to you.
In addition to basic conversations with peers, you may find yourself in a position where a question that you asked is being asked again by a new community member or another person on a forum. If you have the answer to the question, pipe up and share your knowledge. Doing such will help others as well as help to build your confidence if you're concerned about giving the wrong information. This also helps in showing others, including those that helped you, that you are learning the technology and enjoy it enough to help others with it.
Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone
While everyone's comfort zone is different, taking a chance and changing things up a bit can be very beneficial to your desire of going beyond your typical routine. One of the easiest ways to expand how your information and passion can be shared is to talk to your peers to see if they are open to the idea of spending their lunch hour learning about your subject. Advise them to bring their lunch to the meeting and while everyone's eating, discuss your subject matter by providing some examples of such. I'm not advocating "Death by Powerpoint" here since it's a sure-fire way to cause people anxiety about coming to your next one; however, having some key points to discuss and to show off the subject can help drive others to truly be interested in the topic. From my own experience, I would recommend writing very little code on the fly and trying to keep the actual presentation to about 30-45 minutes to allow people time to get there and eat and to relax a bit since it IS their lunch hour. If you keep doing these sessions (and you're presentation skills WILL get better if you listen to the feedback of your peers), you my find yourself presenting and helping out with different topics or even moving into "on the clock" training sessions that include more than just your immediate peers at the office.
Personal Sites and Blogs
To go a step further, look towards getting a domain name and having a personal web site and/or blog. If you want to start out small, there are a number of free blogging solutions out there (i.e. Blogger, Live Spaces, etc) where you can write about your experiences as you are learning about your passion more. Make sure to publicize your blog and make it easy for people to subscribe to you. The more you publicize the more people that you could possibly be helping.
Taking the Next Steps
At this point, the best thing I can suggest is to keep doing what has already been suggested. Keep presenting to your peers and company, keep researching, keep answering questions, and keep getting involved. After you feel confident in your skills with your passion, look towards possibly doing a presentation to your local developer's user group. Seek out different user groups and events in other cities. If you don't have a local group, look into possibly starting one. Get involved in Twitter and other social web sites to connect to those that you have been following - you never know when they be begin looking in your direction. As for the forums, if you are on there enough and build a good reputation, perhaps you may find yourself moving into a moderator position for that forum. Eventually, your passions will lead to others as well and you'll be returning to researching and everything becomes cyclical.
Nothing's wrong with being a developer and doing the typical coding, day in and day out. However, if you are like my friend and myself, you may find your passion for coding transcends the code and you want to look into sharing your knowledge more. If you're one of these individuals, I hope that some of these suggestions help you accomplish your goals and assist in voicing your passion.