Summary: There are a wide variety of career paths available in community building, and prospective group organizers should not feel that their career success is completely tied to the success of EA.
I occasionally hear that people are hesitant to start or organize EA groups because the career path seems too narrow and tied to EA: if you spend your free time learning some programming language than there are a wide variety of tech companies you could work for, but if you spend your free time organizing EA meet ups then the number of career options is more limited.
There is some truth to this, but I worry people underestimate how many career paths there are in community building, not just in EA or nonprofits more generally, but also in the for-profit world.
And of course in the nonprofit space there are many community organizing opportunities, a career path that sometimes culminates in becoming leader of the free world.
Building Intellectual Progress
An important task for EA community builders is sharing important ideas and creating engaged discussion about them. This is somewhat different than what, say, a WeWork community manager does, but does have analogues in the for-profit world.
Technology Evangelists are one example. Apple’s success is sometimes credited to their “software evangelists”, who were responsible for explaining the principles behind the Macintosh operating system to third-party developers and encouraging them to write software for the platform. Many technology micro celebrities have worked as paid evangelists: Robert Scoble (Microsoft), Guy Kawasaki (Apple), Vint Cerf (Google). A cursory search finds current openings at Facebook, Twilio, Apple, and most other major tech companies.
These positions often involve things like “travel to different meet ups and talk about some database theory principle which just so happens to argue in favor of using your employer’s database product”. Of course, this is fundamentally about promoting some product, as opposed to the (hopefully) objective discussion nurtured at EA groups, but skills like “create engaged discussion at meet ups” and “clearly explain complex topics” are transferable.
Other Similar Careers
Group organizers also play roles similar to science communicators (e.g. this job) and headhunters (e.g. this) but I am less familiar with those career paths so I’m not including them here. I would love if others who are more familiar with them could comment or make their own posts regarding the feasibility of transferring from being a group organizer to one of these careers.
If you are interested in understanding what jobs are available in this space outside of EA, the major community management industry organization is having a career fair at the end of this month. You could also join community management slack groups like this one or listen to podcasts like this one. David Nash has also written a list of community building career paths you might find interesting.
Note: this is a personal post. My views are not any of my employers'. Thanks to Manuel Allgaier for the link to David's list of career paths.
I feel like this post wants to talk about organizing as a side project, but is better suited to professional community organizing. As a side project it could give connections and within-movement credentials that can be quite useful in other altruistic endeavors.
(Speaking as a Software Engineer with 3 years professional experience, and a casual EA organizer in Washington DC for 1.5 years)
It's worth thinking about how technical a community-building role is. My impression of tech evangelist roles is that companies want your engineering skills to be top-notch, but are less strict about your community organizing skills. In that case, EA organizing would make sense as a side project but not as much sense as a full-time job.
The other caveat that comes to mind is whether EA offers opportunities for large-scale organizing. I can't think of that many EA groups with >50 regulars. But I can easily think of few tech meetups, local political chapters, and social groups with >100 regulars and enough engagement to have active Slack channels + multiple ongoing projects.
can't think of that many EA groups with >50 regulars
Agree that most EA groups are small, but those lead by full-time organizers such as London or (to a lesser extent) Berlin can reach those dimensions, see e.g. the EA London group directory. Berlin has 200-300 members who have been to an event at least once, an active Slack workspace and multiple meetup groups and projects running in parallel (mostly private, only some are public).
Contrary to what seems an implicit premise of this post, my impression is
- most EA group organizers should have this as a side-project, and should not think about "community building" as about their "career path" where they could possibly continue to do it in a company like Salesforce - the label "community building" is unfortunate for what most of the EA group organizing work should consist of - most of the tasks in "EA community building" involve skills which are pretty universal a generally useable in most other fields, like "strategizing", "understanding people", "networking" or "running events" - for example: in my view, what can an EA group organizer on a research career path get from organizing an EA group as a side-project are skills like "organizing event", "explaining complex ideas to people" or even "thinking clearly in groups about important topics". Often the benfits of improving/practicing such skills for a research career are similar or larger than e.g. learning a new programming language
There are exceptions to this, such as people who want to work on large groups full time, build national groups, or similar. In my view these projects are often roughly of the scope of founding or leading a startup or a NGO and should be attempted by people who, in general, have a lot of optionality in what to do both before working on an EA group and eventually after it.
Vint Cerf seems actually more of a counterexample toward "community building and evangelism" as a career objective: anyone who wants to follow this path should note he wrote the TCP protocol internet is still running on first, co-founded one of the entities governing internet later, and worked for Google on community building only after all these experiences.
Another reason I'm sceptical of the value of this argument is my guess is people who would be convinced by it ("previously I was hesitant about organizing an EA group because the career path seems too narrow and tied to EA, now I see career paths in for-profit world") are people who should mostly not lead or start EA groups. In most cases EA group organizing involves significant amount of talking to people about careers, and whoever has so limited understanding of the careers to benefit from this advice seems likely to have non-trivial chance of giving people harmful career advice.
Potential downside of community building (CB): Slower professional development if working alone --> I'd recommend CB teams, training and/or mentorship
I feel like I learned a lot in my past 1.5 years as full-time community builder , but one major downside was working mostly alone without a "co-founder", proper training or an "incubator" (as start-ups often have), and while I did have some advice & support from CEA and fellow professional CBs, I could have learned a lot faster if I had a co-founder, more training or more mentorship. I also initially underestimated the complexity of CB strategy (there are infinite possible projects and no-one really knows what works best for your specific group..) and the importance of mentorship. Now that I'm more aware of that, however, I found it not too difficult to get high-quality feedback from senior EA CBs.
For people starting out in Community Building, I'd recommend ideally having 2-3 committed people running a group rather than just one, or else maybe "interning" at an established group beforehand to learn faster and getting good mentorship right from the start.
(Full-time) Community Building as a way to build (charity) entrepreneurship career capital
I've been working full-time on EA Berlin & Germany since 1.5 years thanks to a CEA CB Grant, and I feel like the work is quite similar to (charity) entrepreneurship, with tasks like:
Developing vision & strategy
Building products, events & services (e.g. career advice or conferences)
Communication / Marketing / "Sales" (all my meetups and career advice are free of cost, so I don't "sell" anything, but I still need to write engaging newsletters, websites etc. to convince people new to EA that it's worth their time)
Operations: "Customer" Relationship Management, Event management, etc.
Budgeting, measuring impact, communicating value to donors, possibly legal stuff etc.
In terms of career capital, I do think that credentials like "grew community to 200 engaged members", "inspired x people to donate x%" or "helped x people to get higher impact jobs, be more productive, happy etc." are worth something outside of EA as well, albeit CB does scale less well than tech start-ups who can easily get thousands or millions of users. I don't have any data on that, though, so if anyone here has data or a better estimate, please let me know!