The Newbie's Guide to Slack

When I was first dipping my toe into the tech world, I was told I should join certain Slack channels, but I was nervous. Was it an online community where it will feel like I’m intruding? Are there certain cultural expectations? Are there certain emojis that mean something different than I think they do? (Actual concern of mine). I’m going to write out some basics of Slack so maybe you won’t have the same anxieties as I did!

First, Slack is an app (basically a piece of software) that allows group to work together quickly and easy. It’s kind of like a big group chat room, but with way more bells and whistles. My company uses it to have team discussions, talk about tasks and projects, get updates on people’s and project’s statuses, and just get to know each other, among other things.

Any given group, company or team can create a Slack account and then invite people to it or allow people to request to be invited. Then within an account, a team can create different channels that may be specific to a subset of people or a certain topic.

You can open slack as a website and sign in, but you can also download an app for your computer or phone.

 An examples of a Slack channel on the desktop app version

An examples of a Slack channel on the desktop app version


Joining Slack

  • Step 1: Find the link on the team’s website or ask to be sent it or directed to it.
    • For Girl Develop It Philly, go here!
  • Step 2: Enter your name and create a username.
    • Most people that I’ve seen choose a username that either is their name or is a variation of it. I’m usually @meghan but some people do an initial with their last or first name, or some other variation. I know someone with the last name McDougall who goes by mc_dougs and it’s adorable.
    • Some people also do a more obscure name like an old school screenname but I haven’t seen too many.
    • You choose a username for each team, but you can use the same one for each if that’s what you want to do and if no one else has it. For me, it depends on the group. If I know a lot of people, I’ll do @meghan. Otherwise I’ll do @meghankelly. It’s kind of like having multiple identities.
  • Step 3: Choose a password.
    • Each team that you join requires a new password, though you can certainly use the same thing for each one, if you want. Basically, when you sign up for Slack, that first name and password does not carry through to every team.
  • Step 4: Edit your profile by clicking on your name under the channel’s name and then “Profile and Account.”
    • Add a picture of some kind –  I use a headshot, but you can also use drawings or symbols if you’re more comfortable with that. For professional purposes, though, I recommend a headshot.
    • You can also put a little blurb about you: maybe what you’re doing now…”learning HTML and CSS” or “looking to be a Javascript master.” I just have my title and company.
  • Step 5: Add channels (if you want) – there are usually more channels that you can belong to, depending on your interests. See the next section for more information.
  • Step 6: You can download a Slack application on your phone or computer, or open it as a website. It’s easier to use an app so you can switch back and forth between teams quickly. To download an app, you can go to and in the bottom right, there should be a link to download the desktop or mobile app.

Communicating on Slack


There are two types of channels: public channels that anyone can join and private channels that are invitation-only. For example, Girl Develop It Philly has a public channel for opportunities for when someone wants to post a job. A team may also have a private channel for specific people, like a weekly-event-planning channel for people organizing events with Code for Philly.

  • When you join a team, you will automatically be put into the “general” and “random” channels. After that, you can request to join other public channels by clicking on “Channels.”
    • When you click on “channels, you’ll see a full list of what’s available. If you want to join it, you can click on it and it will give you a preview. If you still want to join, click the green “Join Channel” button on the bottom. If you don’t want to join, just click on another channel and it will disappear.
  • To get someone’s attention in a channel, use their slack name… like @meghankelly omg hey!
  •  To alert the entire channel (and I do mean the entire channel – you can see how many people are in it at the top left) use @channel but do NOT use it unless you’re 100% sure the information is pertinent to everyone. Using @channel is usually frowned upon. If I’m on a small channel and absolutely need group consensus, I’ll use @channel but it's literally only on private channels with less than 5 people.
  • To alert just the people who are in the channel at the moment (logged on), you can use @here, but the same general rule @channel rule applies. It’s kind of frowned upon unless you really need everyone’s attention and I’ve never used it.

Direct Messages

  • If you want to talk to just one person, or even a handful, but it’s not something that needs its own channel, use a direct message.
  • Find people to DM by using the plus sign icon next to “Direct messages.” You can add more than one person at one time in the search bar.

Messaging Terminology

  • ping: send someone a message
    • Examples: “LeeAnn pinged me about tonight’s event.” or “You should have pinged me!”
  • dm: pronounced dee-em; direct message (a private message with someone)
    • Example: Send me a dm if you want to chat about it.
  • pm: pronounced pee-em; private message (again, a private message you send someone)
    • Example: Pm me about it!
  • slack: basically just using the application’s name as a verb.
    • Examples: “Michelle slacked me last night to ask about the party.” or “Just slack me.”

Emojis, gifs and images, oh my!

This is the fun stuff  – don’t be afraid to get creative! Emojis and gifs can be a big part of the Slack culture.



  • Use emojis to react to other people’s posts (by hovering over their comment and clicking on the smiley face) without having to write a full comment. It’s a nice way to ease into a slack community.
  • Use the smiley face icon to choose an emoji when you’re writing a message.
  • Despite my initial concern, there aren’t any universal slack emojis that mean something awkward and you’ll embarrass yourself with ::that I know of::. There are some that are really common, though.



  • Sometimes, a Slack team will have a gif integration built into it. That means that when you’re writing a message, you could write /gif or /giphy (depending on what the team calls it) and then a word and a gif for that word or phrase will appear. You can’t control which one pops up, (unless that feature is activated) but you can minimize them with a little blue arrow at the top of the gif.
  • If the Slack team doesn’t have the integration, you can copy and paste a gif link from or wherever else you get your gifs from.


  • You can  copy and paste an image into slack and press enter, to just send it right away.
  • You can also drag an image from another location on your computer into the window.
  • Or, you can choose the plus sign where you put in a message and upload something from your computer.

Newbie pro tips

  • Get a feel for the team you joined. Some teams may be more open than others and more open to questions. Some are more focused on discussions about topics or upcoming events. Unless you’re in a hurry to ask a question, just get a feel for it.
  • Respond to comments with emojis to ease your way into a group.
  • Use Slack channels for local tech groups to follow up with people you meet at an associated event. You can usually find them under “Direct messages” by searching their name and send them a private message.
  • Join the channels that have job opportunities if you’re looking for a position! That’s how I got my new job!


Wow. That’s a pretty extensive post on Slack and there’s still so much more to discuss, but this will get you started. I might do a follow up sometime. If you have questions about Slack or any other newbie question you might be too nervous to ask, please let me know or ask in the comments!

Meghan Kelly