(Editor's note: This post was actually published Monday, June 30th, 2014, but now I don't want to change the url. Herp derp Jekyll.)
It's been two and a half years since I moved to San Francisco, and going to the Google SF office is no big deal anymore.
That was a funny realization -- it used to be such a big deal. But I walked in to a meetup last week feeling like I belonged there. And I did. I've visited the Google SF offices a few times; I've been to bunches of meetups at this point; I've been a professional front end engineer for nearly four years; I can hold my own in a conversation; I have no problem helping myself to free snacks and wine.
So I was hanging out with my SO, eating snacks and drinking wine, and I looked across the room at the woman who had ridden the elevator up with us. She was sitting by herself, studying her phone. A singleton to whom no one paid much attention.
In that moment of hindsight, I realized what I should do. I got up without thinking too much about it, walked right over to her, and introduced myself. I asked her if she wanted to sit with us. She said yes without hesitation.
It takes a huge measure of doing to walk into a new place and go up to any random stranger and just start talking. Especially if you're a student, a newbie, a rando who's never proved herself or written anything of consequence. (At least, that's what you might think about yourself.) It's enough to go to that strange place and take a snack or two and then just sit by oneself in the corner. That's more than enough for one adventure.
Offering someone your name, inviting someone to join you -- it's more than a courtesy. It's a direct introduction into what feels like a very closed and very exclusive world.
A few more people joined us; friends of my SO, and their friends. When I saw another woman sit by herself, I went and gathered her into our group too. Both of those singletons lit up when I spoke to them; there was relief and excitement. They wanted to talk JS and meetups and living in the Bay Area, all the normal things one talks about at a meetup. They just needed a handhold, an opening. A single introduction. The feeling like they belonged. It was a simple gesture for me, but I think it really made a difference in both of their experiences that night.
I think it's important to remember the immense amount of courage someone needs in order to come to a meetup by his or herself. I think it's important for established members in a programming community to make the next step easier: to welcome these singletons into our small groups, kickstart their senses of confidence, and teach them that they, too, belong.