You can reach pretty much anyone from Philly’s tech scene via Slack DM.
It’s something I learned early on when I first started covering this community eight months ago. Just as often as someone hands me a business card, they’ll tell me to find them on Slack.
“Shoot me a message on Slack, we’ll set something up.”
If you’ve worked for a company of any size in the last five years, you’ve probably used the colorful, module messaging platform, which both offers organization-wide communication and channels for specific teams, departments or interests. (We here at Technical.ly have a #v-good-animals channel, a place to share pictures of our pets along with, well — any other v good animals.)
You’re also probably familiar with the direct message option, a feature oft-used by remote workers to chat with their managers, or even just by people who sit directly across from each other in open-air offices.
1 new message pic.twitter.com/H09WcuYYoJ
— Alex Engelberg (@alex_engelberg) October 31, 2018
The app’s signature hashtag-like logo and distinct notification noise are familiar to most, and when Slack goes down for a minute, or an hour, everyone knows.
When slack is down your coworkers start saying CRAZY things. pic.twitter.com/d7fBhAeoPo
— AJ 🖤 (@AGonzalezJunior) February 5, 2020
But over the last few years, Slack has become a platform not just for employees at the same company to talk to each other, but for people in the same city or even around the world to connect.
Philly’s tech community exists on a myriad of Slack workspaces — that’s the official name for each Slack group out there. But many of these workspaces function less as an actual work place, but as digital communities.
For this story, this reporter talked to people who work in offices, remotely or for themselves and found that various Slacks give many a sense of being social with coworkers or with others, even when they’ve never met IRL. Others use Slack to share side projects they’re working on, or discuss a new movie or trade lunch spot recommendations.
“My workplaces have never used Slack, so it has always been something I’ve done on my own for personal enrichment,” Michelle Colón, a global implementation manager at FCM Travel Solutions told me.
I talked to Colón on We Evolve, a Slack with more than 600 members that formed last year and has the goal of “supporting and encouraging women, trans men, and non-binary adults in and around Philly in their tech journeys,” per its code of conduct.
That mission lives on in channels where active members and moderators post daily writing prompts, chat about professional development opportunities, share open jobs and muse about Philly’s tech scene. Colón said her experience in We Evolve has been “absolutely worthwhile.”
"Lots of friendships have been born of Slack."
“There is lots of love and support offered across the board,” she said. “You’d be hard-pressed not to find someone who has had a similar experience to you and is willing to listen and help.”
Colón and other members, Shyanne Ruiz and Arielle Tannenbaum, both technologists in Philly, have created an IRL quarterly meetup to discuss their goals, accomplishments and challenges.
“We get together and eat falafel, have laughs, and heartfelt conversations,” Colón said. It’s a great group and an opportunity to connect with other slack members IRL that you might talk to all the time. Lots of friendships have been born of Slack.”
And every once in a while, something a little more than friendship can blossom on the platform.
Brian Meenan, an architect for Johnson & Johnson in West Chester, told me on the public Technical.ly Slack about how he and his now-romantic partner knew each other in real life, but used Slack as their main form of communication when they were coworkers at Zonoff.
“We used to call one another work spouses,” he said. “We were platonic friends.”
“Ultimately, she and I often joke that we found love on Slack,” he wrote. “The platform has HELPED us to communicate and ‘hold on to one another’ at times when we couldn’t in person but it’s also presented some very unique communication challenges” — though nothing more than your usual writing-versus-face-to-face talking, he said.
Meenan, who is a member of many Slack groups, said he and his partner still use Slack to communicate all the time. His story is unique — most people do not find romance on Slack. But many are looking for a connection of some kind.
Melissa Scatena, a remote worker I talked to on the Philly Startup Leaders Slack, said that the groups she’s a member of offer a sense of community, which can be hard when running your own business.
Scatena’s the founder of Scattered Solutions and offered Remote Year, a work and travel program for professionals, as an example of online Slack community (of about 2,000 people) who are all in situations like her.
“They have channels for literally every single hobby or interest professionally and personally you can think of, so it is so simple to find like minded people,” Scatena said. “They also have channels for almost every city in the world so if you are traveling somewhere it’s so simple to find people in the city or find tips/recs.”
Some Slack communities are so prevalent that when one shuts down — as PHLDesign Co, a community for visual and UX designers, announced it was doing recently — others braced for a slew of incoming members.
PHLDesign moderators said in a message to the group that as of late, the forum had become more of a place for causal chatting than its intended purpose of sharing work and giving feedback.
“I know we’re getting a bit of an influx from PHLDesign and the new link tweet – HELLO new members!” a We Evolve moderator wrote in the general channel on Jan. 30. “Feel free to post intros here and check out the myriad of channels to join.”
And of course, there are folks I talked to who leaned on Slack communities for gaining professional development, job hunting or getting the word out about their new venture.
I first heard about the BENgineers, a quickly growing professional org for Black engineers at Comcast, last September. The group was born out of an internal Lab Week project, where a handful of the group’s organizers including Justin LaRose, a senior software engineer, and CXHub Manager Mumin Ransom realized there needed to be a place to bring Black engineers together.
They launched the BENgineers (which stands for Black employee network of engineers) during that Lab Week, making the group official on Slack with the mission of enhancing the pipeline for Black talent internally and externally at Comcast; creating channels between Black technology employees, upper management and community leaders; and showcasing Black talent to create representation.
“That was sort of our coming out party, highlighting this group,” LaRose said of the project, “to get the recognition that engineers of color have something to add to the value of this business.”
While a lot of the folks I talked to for this story found professional development opportunities or IRL meetup invites, one CEO told me she actually found someone to hire at her startup in a Slack group.
Jake Wallace, who works in partnerships and alliances at AWeber, said he, too, sees Slack as a resource for professional development. His company uses the application for internal communication, but Wallace is also the moderator of a Slack group called Cloud Software Association, for which he spends a few hours a week setting up IRL meetups or prompting Q&As and AMAs with partnership folks in leading SaaS companies. The group has about 1,000 members.
It’s definitely challenging at times to create engaging content,” he said. “Especially when we’re all volunteers.”
The group’s main goal is professional development and relationship building in the cloud community, and he thinks it’s extremely effective in meeting it, even if it is time consuming for him and the two other moderators.
One of the most surprising parts of moderating?
“The amount of DMs daily is off the the charts,” he said.
ClipDish app cofounder Joe Cotellese, who works from Doylestown, uses various Slack communities to bounce ideas off others the same way he would with colleagues if he worked at a big company.
“It’s just another communication medium,” he said. “It just happens to be where people are hanging out.”
While a lot of the folks I talked to for this story found professional development opportunities or IRL meetup invites, one CEO told me she actually found someone to hire at her startup in a Slack group. Adriana Vazquez, cofounder and CEO of Lilu, a startup that created a hands-free pumping bra with breast massage, said she is a member of at least 12 Slack communities.
Because Lilu’s five-person team is split across time zones and occasionally continents, they lean on Slack and other communication tools like Zoom to get work done.
And thanks to Slack — specifically the Philly Startup Leaders community — Vazquez was able to meet and hire Shahir Salyani, Lilu’s head of business development.
“I saw he posted about himself in the intro channel, and his background in medical devices and healthtech in general seemed really impressive and interesting so I just reached out to him on direct message,” Vazquez said.
That DM lead to a LinkedIn connection, then phone call, then an in-person meetup at a healthcare conference and eventually, Salyani met the Lilu team and came on board.
Vazquez said that out of her many Slack groups, she’s most active on about four or five of them. They’re time consuming, she said, but ultimately worth it.
“There’s a lot of great Slack groups for entrepreneurs,” Vazquez said. “And it’s a matter of just putting in the time and effort to build up your network through Slack as well.”
For this story, we talked to folks IRL and in these Slack communities; click to join: