“It would be great if I had someone to teach me/motivate me along the way.”

Have you ever set out to learn something new with the following motto?

“I can figure this out on my own. I’ll just Google around when I get stuck, and I’m sure I’ll be building apps/playing songs/fixing that sink in no time.”

…Only to realize down the road that sometimes it’s not just not that easy.

Have you ever been deep into something, utterly stuck, only to get some advice from a friend that helps you fix the problem almost immediately? First you think:

“Damn! Why didn’t I think of that?!”

And then:

“I really could’ve used your help 2 hours ago…”

It’s easy to work on stuff by yourself, in isolation. And I think there’s plenty of merit in doing just that: hacking away, testing your ideas, and just generally figuring things out on your own. But sometimes I think we take it too far.

Doing stuff on your own and getting help from others don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

In fact, they shouldn’t be. And whenever I manage to keep the above revelation in mind, it pays off in spades.

If you ask others for help or join a community of likeminded folks working on the same things as you, you all help make each other better.

You can all still work on things on your own. But you also then have each other as a sounding board, a safety net. That coach that gives you the kick in the ass to run faster when you thought you had already pushed your own limits.

Here are the benefits I’ve experienced from every good community I’ve ever been involved with:

1. Rapidly learning “one-up” topics

“It helps a lot if you have a mentor, or even a group of friends that you just code jam with.”

Every community is inevitably comprised of members of varying skill levels. There are a handful of beginners, some intermediate folks, and even a few professionals.

The reason that’s so helpful? No matter what your skill level, there’s always someone who’s more experienced than you, who can help you learn “one-up” topics.

What do I mean by a “one-up” topic? Any topic/skill/technique that’s one level above, or “one-up,” where you’re at currently.

And people are almost always happy to help. It makes them feel good to share their expertise to help someone else, especially when you’re clearly eager to learn.

And this saves you from having to search around for an answer (and then debate whether or not the answer you found was actually “good”).

You also typically end up with higher quality information when receiving it from someone one-on-one, because:

  1. The information/advice they give you is catered to your specific situation. This isn’t usually the case when you’re pulling information from random sources on the Internet. But when someone’s “sitting across from you”, they can cater their advice to you, specifically.
  2. It’s also a reflection on the person who’s sharing the information, themselves, so they want to make sure they’re providing only solid, accurate advice. They would hate for you down the road to come back and say “Hey, that thing you told me 2 weeks ago was totally bogus! And now I’m stuck in tough spot.” That only makes them feel bad, and reflects poorly on them.
  3. When they don’t have all the info., most people are inclined to tell you that. “So I know X and Y. And I think Z is yadda yadda, but I’m not 100% sure, so you’re going to want to double-check that one before doing anything else.” This way you have a clear understanding of what to investigate next. You aren’t left guessing.

And the sharing of information goes both ways, up and down the ladder of expertise. Because there are always those with less experience than you.

2. Helping others with your “one-down” knowledge

Just like you can gain “one-up” knowledge from those more experienced than you, you can also share you own “one-down” knowledge with those less experienced than you.

It will make you feel good, because you’re helping someone out. And it will, of course, be helpful to the person you’re helping learning a new “one-up” skill of their own.

"One-up" and "one-down" communication within a community

“One-up” and “one-down” communication within a community

3. Learning a new language

And no, I don’t mean learning Spanish or French. I’m talking about learning the industry jargon of your new community.

And not just because it’s cool. Because it’s extremely useful. When you know “the language” of a community, it:

  1. Makes you feel like you belong (you do)
  2. Helps you communicate quicker and more effectively

When someone can refer to their “dev environment” when talking to you about programming without having to explain what that means, that’s very powerful. It strengthens the connection between the two of you and facilitates the real conversation you’re interested in having, letting you both skip the part where one asks “Dev environment…what’s that?” and the other explains.

As you gradually acquire the more advanced jargon, it lets you have much more fluid discussions, with fewer breaks for explanations. And that helps the flow of the conversation and lets everyone involved stay on the same page without breaking stride.

It lets you dig deeper into the most intriguing topics.

And that, in turn, fuels the excitement…

4. Sharing your excitement and accomplishments

Remember when you first learned to ride a bike without training wheels? Or swim across the pool without floaties? What was the first thing you did? Probably yelled out to your mom or dad, sister or brother, and said:


Sharing you accomplishments is human nature. It’s exciting. It’s validating. And it’s also another magical two-way street in a community.

Not only do you show others what you’ve done, you get to excitedly see what they’ve done, as well. And this fuels the fire.

The excitement builds. You’re all in this together. And seeing the accomplishments of others is motivating. It drives you to do more.

“Oh, look at what X did! What a great idea. I’m gonna add the same thing to my project.”

And showing others what you’ve created is also a great way to get useful feedback to help you keep improving your skills, moving forward, and building more and more complex things.

But things aren’t always unicorns and rainbows. And when you’re struggling, or you feel like giving up, a community is an incredible place to turn to for support.

Getting support and inspiration

“I’ve felt that not only is [this group] a great place for help, but it is also an excellent place to find inspiration and reassurance in how I can sometimes feel about my abilities.”

“It helped me when I started to doubt myself (I still do sometimes).”

Have you ever felt like this (probably right in the middle of being extremely frustrated):

“Fuck it. I’m just not cut out for this.”

I’m pretty sure we all have. Because learning something new can be tough as hell. You’ll always run into plenty of “fuck this” moments. The key is not giving up and being able to bounce back.

You can lean on a community to help you get through your “fuck this” moments.

You’re not alone, and other members have almost certainly experienced similar problems. So they actually know where you’re coming from. They aren’t just your friend delivering the typical “Yeah, I hear ya.” Your fellow community members have, for real, run into the same issues before. So they can provide you with useful advice and feedback. Not like your friend’s meaningless “Just keep plugging away!” Woof.

Want to join a community of other likeminded self-taught programmers like you?

As part of my new course, I’m working on building a new community of programmers like yourself, driven by all of the core values discussed in this article.

Because being a part of a community is not only extremely useful, it also makes the process much more fun. We’re all in this together. When you’re a part of a larger group, there are always:

  • people to push you
  • people to encourage you
  • to help you when you’re frustrated
  • and challenge you to accomplish all kinds of things you never imagined you could possibly do

The course + community, From Idea To Launch, is now open! I hope to see you in there :)

Alex Coleman helps others learn to build web applications with Laravel. His articles and courses have helped over 10,000 developers level-up their PHP web development skills and learn to build and launch their own web applications to the world. If you enjoyed this article, then join his free newsletter.