A little over 5 years ago I decided to put myself out there and try something I hadn't done before: organize a meetup. Now that it's something I've done several times it's easy to look at it as "not a big deal", but at that time it was a huge deal. I was nervous about it, to say the least, but I _wanted it.
You see, at the time, there were no meetup groups for web developers in Wichita. Yet I knew this phenomenon existed in many other cities (thanks to the internet), and I saw others connecting over their shared interests and passions and working on projects together, and it looked so great.
Growing up, none of my friends were interested in computers and the internet the way that I was, so it was always a sort of solo hobby for me. That fact alone made the idea of a developer community much more enticing.
So one day while in a Shop Talk Show episode live chat, I was discussing the lack of dev community here and happened to be in the room with another developer from the area making the same complaints.
Naturally, we decided to do something about it! I was teaching classes as an adjunct at Butler Community College at the time, so I had space we could use. We both prepared short presentations on front-end topics (we actually started as UpFront Wichita, intending to be front-end focused, but decided to be more broad in order to build a larger community later).
Thus began devICT.
The rest is history. The community grew, people came and went, and a natural sort of organization emerged. People stepped up into leadership positions, and the community thrives to this day. I may have been one of the original founders of the group, but it's existence and quality is credit to the awesome people within it. I am honored to have my name associated with such a great community.
Somewhere along the way, I decided to step down as director. It couldn't have gone more smoothly, thanks to the amazing Jacob Walker being there to take over and bring a level of care and commitment that I never imagined. To say I'm forever grateful for him would be a gross understatement.
The reason I stepped down is pretty simple -- life.
I have a family, and a job, and some hobbies I keep forgetting I enjoy. I have a tendency to try and do way too much all the time (anyone that knows me would probably agree). Every once in awhile it gets to a tipping point and I start making tough decisions to get my life back into balance. Stepping down from devICT was one of those decisions (even if made much easier thanks to Jacob).
The other part of this story started on June 6, 2015. I did it again. I saw something that existed in other cities, and I wanted it to exist here. Code For America had local communities around the world. These groups of "civic hackers" were getting together and working on open source projects that had real local impact.
Around this same time I was coming to find myself unmotivated by the work I was doing. Building software for private sector businesses that I had no real interest in was not engaging, and did not feel meaningful to me. I came across the idea of civic hacking during this time and decided to commit my tech abilities to public good. Thus began Open Wichita!
When Open Wichita first started, our attendance was great, our energy was high, and despite being a relatively smaller community, we had multiple projects going. It was great! It seemed like everything was going as planned, and everyone was enjoying themselves. We even had to city directly involved! (They reached out to us, which I'm still very grateful for).
Over the last two and a half years, Open Wichita has accomplished a lot:
- Working with the city to establish an Open Data Policy.
- Participating on the Open Data Committee to help guide the efforts.
- Celebrating 3 National Days of Civic Hacking.
- One of which was a collaboration event at Riverfest.
- Saw a number of projects through to various levels of completion.
- An app to speed up the accident reporting process.
- A website to visualize city budget data.
- Showed United Way of the Plains a better way to provide resource information.
- An AR game to promote the city.
- Publishing police accountability data.
- A website to locate local Little Free Libraries.
- A website to find local public civic meetings.
- Built connections between citizens, technologists, and public workers.
Needless to say, we've been an ambitious group. But the time has come again for me to make a difficult decision -- I'm stepping down as an organizer of Open Wichita. It's been an awesome two and a half years working with an amazing group of people, but life is dealing me sign after sign, once again, that I need a break to focus on family, work, and myself.
I would very much like to see Open Wichita live on and be successful, but that's going to take time, effort, and leadership that I do not have the capacity for anymore. Open Wichita deserves that time and attention, it would be irresponsible for me to try and continue on. It's been a very difficult decision that I have made slowly over the last few months, and it's about time for me to act on it.
I've been incredibly grateful for the numerous people who have played in various leadership capacities along with me over the years, and every other person who has volunteered their time for civic good. Trying to create a 100% volunteer run organization shipping technical solutions to civic problems is a massive endeavor, and we've accomplished an incredible amount all considered.
As of this writing, there is not a person set to take over. If someone expresses interest, I am more than happy to help with the transition period, hand over the keys to the castle, and get them fully acclimated to the position.
In the event that no one decides to take over, we'll come up with a plan to shut things down in a way that they can be revived again later, should someone decide to pick things up and run with it. I'm going to wait a few weeks before any sort of shutdown starts happening, in case someone speaks up.
I intend to keep working with the city on their open data efforts as an individual, and plan to see #comport and #openbudget through to their launch. There is still a great need for civic tech efforts in Wichita, if anyone is interested in ways to continue to contribute as an individual, I'm happy to talk and offer advice. Projects (current and future) can live on (somewhat informally) within the devICT community, and everyone here is invited to be a part of devICT (if you aren't already), our local technology meetup group. It's very active, and the people are great. Join us in slack!
We've had a lot of successes during our time, and there's a lot of potential for more! But it's time for me to be honest with myself and do what's best.
So what next?
A lot of awesome things are happening in my life. I have another daughter on the way in March, I'm now engaged to the greatest person I've ever met, and our work at the Open Gov Foundation is growing legs and taking off in incredibly exciting ways.
On top of all that, I'm planning to start prioritizing some more time for myself as well. It's easy to neglect your own personal growth and well-being when you're busy with so many things. I've been guilty of this for way too long now.
I miss spending time learning a new interesting topic, reading a book through to completion, simply speaking at an event or teaching a class (as opposed to running the organization), and simply spending some leisure time doing nothing at all. I've always known that I can't do real good in the world if I don't take care of myself, and I've been bad about putting that into practice. Now's the time to change that.
I'm really looking forward to this next period in my life. It's sad to part ways with something I've put so much time and effort in to over the years, but also exciting for the possibilities that change can bring.
If anyone has any questions, comments, or concerns, please reach out!