I live and work in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Grand Rapids, for those not familiar with the city, was the home of Gerald R Ford and his wife Betty – Yeah, the same Ford who was President of the United States.  They renamed the airport for him – Gerald R Ford International Airport (yeah, the same one of Parkcalc fame).

My colleague Matt Heusser refers to Grand Rapids as the “silicon alley” of software testing.

There are some really outstanding boutique development organizations doing top-flite, world class work.  The first one that pops to mind is Atomic Object.  These guys rock. 

There are also a whole crop of small start-ups in niche markets doing good work and making their world better.

Then there are the really small “shops” – the one and two person outfits doing work on their own or in conjunction with others, or with other development teams that need a little help.  Then there is where they are doing stuff.

Those of us who have spent most of our working careers for companies, large or small, that had a central office where we worked – the sense of community, the water cooler, coffee station, cafeteria , break room, where ever, was part and parcel to what we did.  We’d chat and chill and hang out and bounce ideas off each other.  But when you don’t have an office to go to – well, what do you do? 

If you’re in (or around) Grand Rapids, you can hang out at a coffee shop, or your home (house, apartment, whatever) OR – you can find a co-working community.  A what?  A Co- working location!  A place to go, work, develop, think, drink coffee, bounce ideas off other folks, hang and learn. 

Like, The Factory.  These folks.

What is special about them?  Well, they do stuff that seems pretty cool to me.  Like, provide work spaces and meeting space and classes and training and coffee and an amazing space to hang out during the day or into the evening. 

They are regular hosts of several meetups, including GRTesters – the meetup I’m involved with.  Its pretty cool.  If you need a place to meet, and they have space available – and you ask them nicely – things can generally be worked out – at least from my experience. 

We’ve had folks join the discussion, presentation, whatever, simply because they were curious about what we were talking about.  Well, and we had pizza and wings.  That may have helped. 

The thing is, most of the time people are pretty good about things like, learning and sharing ideas.  Most of us like it when people express an interest in what we’re interested in.  I expect a fair number of people would be happy if we asked them about what they are interested in.  Places like The Factory kind of make that easier. 

Classes on iOS development, JAVA development, database design, general design – stuff that helps people learn and grow.  People who want to be involved in something new to them is what helps to spread knowledge and ideas.  It is how we invigorate and reinvigorate our practices and our selves.

This is what helps build community and communities of practice. 

And this is what people at The Factory are good at encouraging. 

I don’t know if you have something like this where you are.  If you do, that is great.  Get to meet them.  You never know who you might meet.  They might be pretty good folks to meet.  They might be folks who can help you learn and develop and grow.

They might be like the folks at The Factory.