Slack is absolutely life-changing for developers. Regardless of your experience level, there isn’t a better way to improve your coding than by joining relevant Slack teams. Slack Technologies was recently valued at $3.8 billion and Slack itself has gone from 16,000 to over 6 million daily, active users since February 2014. In other words, the hype is very real! As a drastic oversimplification, Slack is the modern chat application. Its payment model allows communities— both small and extremely large (nearly 10,000 people)— to freely utilize the communication tool by creating teams for all sorts of purposes. While many companies pay to use the service (largely due to the helpful “Slack app” integrations), its true value pays dividends to those who wish to learn.
At any given moment, I can reach out to senior developers and engineers for hands-on assistance with problems at any layer of any tech stack. Take a minute to process that... I never thought that I’d be able to chat with hundreds of professional developers for help with my latest assignment or personal project. Full stack web development? No problem. Virtual machine setup? Somebody will walk you through it. Machine learning? No, we’re all learning. Do you need your resume looked over? A Senior Engineer with 20 years of hiring experience will jump at the chance to hand-edit it and give bonus advice in the process — they may even be working at the company you’re applying to!
At this junction, I’ll go ahead and acknowledge that IRC has occupied a similar niche space, but come on! It’s 2017 and I want nice fonts, okay? If you’d actually like to compare Slack to IRC for differences, here’s a nice table for that. In summary, what Slack lacks in hardcore security it makes up for in ease-of-use, file-sharing capabilities, simple audio/video calling, guest accounts, a native mobile application, an API, application integrations, and — above all else — a full range of emojis (you can even create your own).
I’m currently signed into 16 different Slack teams. Some of them are for classes, or mini projects that will never come to fruition, but there are a few larger Slack teams that have passionately reignited my love for code. Some of the teams I found via Buzzfeed-esque Google searches such as “10 best slack teams”. I’ve also joined many teams solely because of random interactions with other programmers. Many people are on more Slack teams than I am. Some just sign up for one or two teams; but — as far as I’m concerned — there’s no reason to limit yourself because you can heavily customize notification settings to make Slack as pervasive or transparent as you’d like.
Slack differentiates itself from other communication tools in a few ways. For one, the ability to seamlessly integrate multi-functional chatbots and other services into your team not only makes for a powerful chat application, but it also helps save time you might spend on other automation tools. Some of the most popular integrations I’ve seen in action include GitHub, Trello, SimplePoll, and blog feeds — essentially, people love making Slack into a central notification hub. Many think that it can even replace work emails — how nice would that be?! After acquiring ScreenHero, Slack also has the potential to completely replace your conference call system. It’s a useful communication tool for people in many fields; however, Slack is especially helpful for developers because of its ability to easily share and edit code-formatted snippits.
Below are just three Slack teams that I’m very actively involved in and learn from daily. I’ve also asked the creators of each team to say how they think Slack differs from other communication tools and learning resources:
It’s simple, easy to use, and accessible from everywhere. There is nothing special about the collaboration or communication here, but Slack teams are so simple that everybody can get involved.
— Mustafa Abdelhai, Founder of Devolio
Slack is a much more interactive tool than many other platforms. Since it’s based on realtime chat, the atmosphere tends to be friendly and more natural than longer forum-like platforms. Questions tend to be answered more quickly, though not necessarily as thoroughly; however, since it’s easy to ask follow-up questions, it ends up being a very effective medium.
— Eden Segal-Grossman, Devolio-Devchat Admin
A non-profit organization dedicated to helping Vets become developers. I learn and teach an equal amount in this team, but there’s an unbelievable willingness to teach from the dozens of high-speed mentors around the world.
Bar none, Slack is at the tip of the spear for scaling teams to get on the same sheet quickly and collaboratively due to their unique public and private channel setup. At Operation Code, we have seen unprecedented growth and in no small part due to Slack.
— David Molina, Founder & Executive Director of Operation Code
This Portland-centric Slack team acts as the single greatest networking tool and job board for developers who want to live in Rose City. Don’t let the name fool you — there are thousands of hard-working developers signed up on Slack.
“What I appreciate most about Slack is its ease of use. They’ve managed to take online communications concepts that have worked well for decades — like IRC or Twitter style chat — and wrapped them in an interface that makes them more approachable, engaging, and elegant.”
— Rick Turoczy, Founder of the Silicon Florist and Co-Founder of the Portland Incubator Experiment
Slack integrates well with cool technology, it gives you total control over notifications, and it lets thousands collaborate for free. It’s easy to love Slack. The most pivotal characteristic of Slack is the caring nature with which all of its members interact with each other. It doesn’t matter what team I’m chatting with — everybody is polite, patient, and immeasurably helpful. I’m addicted to joining Slack channels, and I am very surprised if you’re not.
Comment below if you have any personal experiences to talk about or have a cool Slack team to share!
edit: October 19, 2022
I no longer frequent Devolio or PDX Startups. Beside Operation Code, I'm now involved in dozens of communities between Slack and Discord. On Slack, I also am a member of PuPPy, La Techqueria, Portland React.js, and NomadSphere. On Discord, I'm in 12 different servers, and I don't want to list them all. All of this article still holds pretty true, even in the middle of my career.