September 15, 2015
Finding the Right Fit
(Building An Exceptional Team)
Part of my duties in my day-to-day life involve finding the next great talented person to join our team. I don’t think by any means I am an expert at this, but I have been told on numerous times that we have a great team. (That’s not me, that’s the team believing in what we do). Remember these are not just empty chairs floating around and in need of a warm body. These are highly important positions for your team. Every single team member is important. When it comes time to build a team or fill seats, whether that is for a business or for a community there are several things I think are incredibly important. Some of these qualities might be surprising and some may be noticeably absent. I would like to share with you the five qualities I seek most often when looking to build a team.
These might be different for you and you may find mileage may vary depending on the industry or the focus of your company or organization. But I believe the following five qualities are a great place to start when building a team. I’ll give them each to you quickly and explain why I feel they are important.
Of course everyone is looking for an honest employee or co-worker. No one wants to think they are working with someone that will lie, cheat, or steal (remember though: if it’s in the refrigerator and unlabeled- that’s fair game). But in seriousness, an outstanding team member must have outstanding character. They should be not only honest and trustworthy but open. No, not the type of person who blabs every little detail about their personal life. But rather, they are quick to share their concerns, their potential problems and their work struggles. They are open and transparent in both successes and failures. I believe this is one of the most important character traits you want to find.
I love determined people. I am highly determined. I’m motivated. I love to work with people who are determined. They take the tasks they are given and they “make it happen”. Sometimes today that feels like an overused phrase but this determination to accomplish things is important. Immediately you may think the opposite is laziness, but I disagree, the opposite of determined is disinterest. They may be present and performing their job but without determination they are not the outstanding team member they could be. Determined does not mean working long hours every day either. Determination may require an occasional late night or at the least the willingness to put in extra time when the situation arises, but being determined is not being a workaholic. Being determined is more about a state of mind.
A great team member will be proactive not just in doing what is required of them but seeking out other ways to help the team succeed. This state of being proactive means being a thinker. Proactive team members are always interested and engaged, they want to see great things happen because they believe in what they are doing. But more about that deep down belief in the next point. Proactivity isn’t just doing more work or finding more work to be done. Proactivity means a sense of alertness to the team environment and the outside community. What does that look like exactly? I’m glad you asked. Here is a simple three word phrase that I like to use to describe this concept. Proactive means listening. Many consider listening to be a reactive or passive activity. But if you are actively listening to what’s being said what you’ll find is you are essentially hearing what could be next. If you are actively listening you are proactively building the future.
Yes, an outstanding team member needs to be caring. I don’t mean a touchy-feely, let’s all hold hands and dance through the fields type of caring. But the outstanding team member needs to care deeply about the team, the organization, and the community. How does this happen? Simple. When you build a team surrounded about a shared belief system. When you find those team members who see, understand and share the vision of the team then you will have found an individual who will care. Let me describe this quality by sharing another opposite. The opposite of a caring individual is an apathetic person. They show up, they do their job, and then…then they leave. They only punch the clock; these individuals lack determination, they lack the proactive understanding about the underlying foundation for why you do what you do. They don’t care. A caring individual must be deeply motivated by the reason why.
The last character quality I like to seek out when identifying exceptional team members is their ability to get excited. Too many times I think the idea of excitability gets a bad rap. People label someone as excitable if they are easily agitated, that’s a completely different word. When I say excitable I mean someone who’s passions can be stirred. They are caring, they understand the vision and they are compelled by the vision to accomplish the mission of the team. And this excites them. This drives them and gives them determination. to be proactive. I love to see someone get excited about what they are doing. This speaks to me. I see their passion and this passion, this excitement, is contagious. It spreads throughout the team. If you have a team member that does not have the quality of excitability then the team as a whole suffers. But when excitement works its way through a passionate team then each person feeds on that excitement and the passion builds, and builds, and builds within the team.
And those are five of the key qualities I like to look for when building a team. When I find someone with those traits I have a pretty good feeling they will fit within the team. They will share in the culture of the team. There are some great examples of company culture and team culture which I follow but I will refrain from commenting or sharing my thoughts on that aspect of hiring in this post.
You may have noticed a few qualities conspicuously missing from this post. No I haven’t neglected the importance of formal training, potential salary requirements, or the hard-working nature of a team member. But these are secondary qualities. They play a part but they are not what I look for first. I want to build a team that will last, a culture that inspires, and a community that grows for years, and decades to come. When I meet someone with the five qualities I listed above the result is usually someone who will not only fit into an amazing team but become an amazing part of the community.
June 4, 2015
I know you’re probably thinking when you read the title that I’m referring to socially unacceptable or perhaps profane talk. That’s quite far from what I’d like to share with you though. I’m referring to the differences of languages around the globe and the impact that these languages have on communication, growth, and community.
As most of you know I am deeply involved in the Mautic community. This isn’t the first community I’ve been a part of and I doubt it will be the last, but Mautic does hold a special place in my heart. Recently I witnessed something that gave me chills of excitement. You know what I mean, those raised goosebumps on your arms that tell you something big is happening, something way bigger than yourself and something so exciting your body reacts physically to its revelation.
You may be wondering what triggered this response. Language. Specifically the wonderful, beautiful Thai language. Not too long after the Mautic community was formed and began to grow I received a contact request from Akarawuth Tamrareang. He was very polite, very friendly, and very excited. He was excited because he saw an opportunity. He saw a young, vibrant and growing community that could be thrust forward to an entirely new level as a result of his direct influence and skills. He reached out for confirmation and support in his effort. His undertaking would not be a simple one. Krit, as he is affectionately called, wanted to translate the entire Mautic website into Thai.
I have to pause here and give you just a bit more personal information. I am an American, more specifically, from the United States. I took the required foreign language courses during my educational years but sadly I am no proficient in any language beyond English. (Unless, as I like to joke, you count code as a language and then I know a couple more). I travel extensively around the world and it never ceases to amaze me how many people speak multiple languages. I admit I am always left in awe at their ability. I respect and appreciate the skill this requires and the dedication of so many to be able to communicate in multiple languages. Now you know just how incredible I find Krit’s request and his ability.
Of course the Mautic community encouraged and supported Krit in his task and recently I was excited to reveal https://th.mautic.org as a translated version of Mautic.org. This is what gave me those chills. This is incredible. Almost overnight the Mautic community has been expanded in a mighty way. Now every native Thai speaker can experience and learn the power of Mautic in their own language.
This is the kind of thing that grows a community. It starts with one. Mautic is blessed to have Krit. But this is just the beginning. And I am excited to share that there are others following already! I will share each with you as they are announced!
And if you read Thai (and even if you don’t) you should take a look at this beautiful site.
February 23, 2015
Scaling Applications for Global Communities
Below is a transcript of the talk I gave recently in Oman at their Free and Open Source Software Conference (2015). If you want to watch the talk instead you can do so on YouTube starting at the 1:18:44 mark (Here is a direct link to my talk on scaling applications for global communities). Or if you prefer to download and read later, here’s a PDF version.
1. The Personal (about me)
I know you probably aren’t too terribly interested in hearing my entire life story so I’ll keep this short and sweet. As you may have seen, or read in your pamphlet, I am deeply involved in open source and several different projects. I spend an incredible amount of my time both creating code (I love to write code) and also telling others about open source code. I truly love speaking about open source and sharing the power of those communities with others.
Let me give you just a little bit more information about what I work on. I am extremely proud to share that I am the founder of an open source community for marketing automation, called Mautic. But I contribute to a number of other projects also. And one of those roles, in fact, the very first open source project I ever had the privilege of working in was Joomla, an open source content management system. I started my journey in Joomla just as a user and a developer (remember, I love to write code). But over time I became more involved with the community until today. Now I’m the community development manager for the project and am a frequent speaker, project evangelist for Joomla.
2. The Project (about Joomla)
This is without a doubt an incredible community. Joomla has been around since 2005. Fittingly enough Joomla and I share a birthday, August 17. Many of you probably know that Joomla was a fork from a previous open source project called Mambo. Since 2005 Joomla has continued to grow and expand and is now recognized as the second largest, and most downloaded CMS in the world. That’s pretty big news. It gets even more exciting. Joomla not only holds the second largest CMS market share but is the largest not for profit, community-driven CMS project. No other CMS platform has this type of honor.
So that’s a pretty nice introduction to Joomla, but maybe a few more specific examples will help to put the true size of the Joomla project into perspective. And you’ll see later how this all ties in together.
- Joomla is multi-lingual
- Joomla is accessible
- Joomla is convenient
Great ideas? Well Joomla is much more than just a few impressive statistics. The Joomla community focuses on an aspect much more important than just the lines of code. Something deeper. Joomla focuses on people. The individuals who make up the Joomla community. These unique and special people all play a vital role in the success of the project. Here are some numbers related to the growth of the Joomla community.
- Joomla has been downloaded over 60 million times
- Joomla has more than 2,000 forum posts every day
- Joomla has more language translations than any other CMS
Again these are some fine examples of the size and scale of the Joomla community. This also demonstrates the growth rate for the community. I mentioned that Joomla focuses on people. I want to return to that in a second. But before I do that I want to touch briefly on just a couple more areas related to the Joomla project.
These two areas are often the most difficult to bring up when sharing Joomla with others. It’s not always pretty. And it’s not always easy. But the truth is Joomla is just like any other community and any other project. It has struggles, it has problems, and it ultimately has successes. Let’s take a minute and look more closely at a few of the struggles which face the Joomla community. Perhaps you can relate to some of these.
Joomla has grown quickly and has struggled to maintain order. Obviously anytime you see the type of amazing growth that the Joomla community has seen you will have difficulty maintaining order and avoiding chaos. It’s almost inevitable you will find yourself struggling with keeping that easy-to-understand, easy-to-get-involved nature you often find in smaller communities. When projects scale to huge sizes the simple act of getting involved as a new volunteer can be an incredibly difficult task (and sometimes an impossible one). This struggle for order is even more of a potential failure when the project is completely and totally community driven. Without any single entity supporting the community, helping to make the tough decisions, and ultimately ensuring the project’s forward progress it can become difficult to avoid confusion and chaos. I’m not saying it’s impossible, Joomla has worked very hard to show that this is a possibility. What I am saying is that it can be difficult and it’s certainly a struggle.
Joomla has struggled with adapting to change. Just as you will find in many large and established companies (Think Microsoft). It can be a very difficult struggle to stay relevant and ensure your project doesn’t begin to just tread water. The minute you begin treading water is the minute you begin sinking. A project must maintain its vision for the future. A community must be driven to continue improving, innovating, adapting to change around it. When a community (or business) does not allow for change, it will ultimately die. If we consider Microsoft as an example then we can all relate to this sense of stagnation. What was once a booming technology company on the cutting edge of everything is now a behemoth trudging, plodding along through the daily chores of bug fixes and patch Tuesdays. Gone are the glory days of new release after new release. They spend millions (maybe even billions) of dollars in their research and development departments. They understand the power of innovation and the need to return to those monumental discoveries. Joomla must also be able to pivot, to make changes, to improve and adapt.
Those are a couple of the struggles the Joomla project faces. They are difficult to share but understanding and knowing your struggles is the first step in overcoming them. So I talk about them openly. I share them with you and I hope to share how we overcame them. It’s an ongoing, continual state of learning.
3. The People (about the community)
I mentioned the Joomla community and the focus that Joomla has on the individual volunteers, contributors, and people which make up the Joomla community. Let’s look now in a bit more depth at several facets of these individuals. This is the good stuff. If you only take one thing away from my talk today. Learn this. People matter. More than code, more than working groups, more than teams, more than documentation, more than anything – the people who are giving their time, who are giving their lives to the project: these people matter. That’s one of the most important things I’d like to share with you today. Relationships are important.
Let me tell you a little story. A Joomla story. This is the story of a person who is relatively quiet and shy, would never step outside their comfort zone and would never think about standing in front of a group of people to talk. In the beginning it started with a few small bug fixes. A pull request for improving a module. Nothing fantastic and certainly nothing ground breaking. In fact I’d dare to call them worthless fixes. But they weren’t worthless. Because they served as the beginning for something greater. These seemingly minor one or two line comment spelling corrections were just enough for this individual to stay committed to the project and continue keeping involved in the community. As time passed the encouragement from others in the community helped this person become more involved. Soon, at the bidding of his new friends within the Joomla community this individual applied for a leadership role. He was welcomed with open arms and continued his involvement soon he was spending a significant amount of his time each day devoted to the success of Joomla. He became more and more involved and was passionately committed to the community. All of this came from a few almost meaningless lines of code. Why? Because of the encouragement and support of others in the community. As you have probably guessed this is my Joomla story. This is how I came to my position in Joomla. If you hear nothing else from my story I hope you will hear this: Encouragement, support, and the relationships formed with others in the community are of utmost importance.
If we are to explore the complexities of scaling an application for a global user community then this should be our one guiding principle: People matter.
There are of course many aspects which can prove to be difficult when growing an application to global size. We will discuss a few of those and look at how Joomla has handled each. I refer to Joomla as our case study because as I have demonstrated above Joomla is a worthy and fitting case study for us to examine.
Let’s look at three different problems which must be overcome if you want to scale your community globally. First, languages can prove to be challenging. As you are aware even from my speaking here today there are times when languages can prove a difficult obstacle to overcome. As your community or application grows beyond the boundaries of your country or your specific language it will inevitably face this problem. Each new language, each new country where your application begins to be used introduces a new set for potential problems. Let me explain. When I say languages are a difficulty I am not referring merely to the words. Of course the words present the most obvious challenge, but in the world we live in today we are blessed to be able to translate our words.
Notice, I said translate our words because translating our words is not the same as translating their meaning. This is where the true problem lies. There are so many other aspects of language which must be considered. Things such as tone of voice, implied meaning, cultural differences, are just a few ways in which language barriers can prevent successful project growth. In order for your project to be a success you must consider all of these aspects. Take Joomla for example. Joomla has been incredibly successful in this regard. If you’re not aware let me share a statistic or two with you. The Joomla CMS currently has 58 different translations that’s a staggering number of languages. Each of those translations has a working group of individuals dedicated to keeping that language up-to-date with each new release of the software. But as I mentioned it’s more than just language strings or words. Joomla works very hard to ensure that implied meanings and cultural differences are also considered when working groups and individuals collaborate. Great care is taken to be considerate in all communications. This sounds trivial but is instrumental to the overall success of the project. Joomla has created a wonderful culture code document which outlines specifics for how the Joomla culture should be created and maintained. Languages are more than words.
I offer a second example from a much younger and newer community, Mautic. I have begun implementing exactly what I stand before you and share. Languages are an important pillar in the building of a global community. Within only 3 weeks of launching the beta for the Mautic open source product we have been able to see 5 complete language translations and a dozen more started. It’s exciting to witness and it shows to everyone that the Mautic community values each language and each country.
Here is your first lesson: If you want your application to be globally accepted, to scale to the size of a world-wide audience then you must consider the value of languages, both in word and in meaning.
Next we turn our attention to a second important problem that must be overcome when scaling globally. Timezones. It is often easy to forget in a daily routine of application development and product releases that there is an entire world of varying timezones. 2PM in one location is 2AM in another. I can tell you first hand speaking from my own experience in the United States it can sometimes be forgotten that not everyone is on the same relative time as I am. If you are interested in being able to grow your community, or your project, or your organization to a global size then you must remember and account for varying timezones. Let’s take another look at Joomla and how this community handles the timezone problem.
The Joomla leadership is comprised of three different teams working in harmony across the many aspects of the project. These teams are each consisting of individuals from around the world. Each team has dozens of different timezones. Joomla has used several different tactics but one in particular has proven to be useful and serve the community well. Joomla alternates the the schedule of leadership meetings. What does this look like? Joomla changes the meeting time when a leadership gathering is held. By doing so Joomla ensures that there is an equal opportunity for each person to meet in a timezone that is most convenient for them. (and everyone shares the same inconvenience) The timezone is an often overlooked important aspect of being able to scale an organization.
In the beginning this can be a difficult task. When your community is small this will be a challenge and will require dedication and attention. I share an example from Mautic. This community as I told you before is much younger and much smaller. As a result the initial community members must be more flexible and more dedicated with their time. When beginning to grow your community be prepared to spend significant amounts of time at all times of day and night. You may not sleep much! But if you are committed to seeing your community be successful you must be prepared to make the sacrifice.
The second lesson to learn: In order to increase the global availability of your community and project you should pay attention to the timezones of your contributors and volunteers. Make your community convenient.
We arrive now at our final problem you should seek to overcome as you grow a global product. I say final, but in reality there are many more problems you will face. The task of building and scaling an application is a constant and ongoing challenge. But we look in particular at three problems and this final one is related to accessibility. Just as you want your meetings (timezones) and your communication (languages) to be convenient you want also for your community to be accessible.
I’m quite pleased to share the success Joomla has seen related to being an accessible project. Don’t mistake me. One of the reasons why Joomla has been successful in regards to accessibility lies in the fact that it continues to focus on and constantly improve accessibility. This is not a one-time thing to be solved and then ignored. This is a key point. Joomla continues to focus on this aspect of its community and the software. Through the use of specialized formats, screen reader improvements, and special administrator templates designed specifically to be accessible Joomla shows its incredible attention to accessibility.
Here is the third lesson: To scale a global community requires focusing on every type of user and being a community whose people and whose code is accessible to everyone.
So we have covered three lessons to help scale an application for a global community. Dealing with languages, timezones, and accessibility. As your project and community grows you must focus on each of these areas if you want to overcome the complexities of a global community.
Let me quickly give you some practical steps for implementation. First, you must plan ahead. Don’t think only about what your code or your community looks like today. Look ahead at what it will become in the future. Plan for what will come in future days, weeks, months, or even years. Be prepared and be constantly ready to make changes when needed. Next, monitor everything. You will need to be vigilant as you watch your community grow. You must be monitoring your code to ensure it remains stable and can handle an increased load of traffic. You must be monitoring your community to ensure it continues to grow and that it is accessible, and convenient for new contributors to take part. Lastly you should take what you have planned, mix with what you have seen through your monitoring, and apply it to improving your community. You cannot simply observe and make plans without implementing them. You must be looking to constantly improve. Your code must adapt and grow as new opportunities arise. Your community must adapt and grow as you scale to larger size.
Let me close with this. There is no formula that guarantees you will be successful in scaling an application for a global community. It simply cannot be put into a specific step-by-step exact plan. Rather what I offer here are some important lessons that when put into practice will offer a strong path to lead towards a successful global project. I want to thank you again for this opportunity to share with you what Joomla has proven to be a successful strategy for scaling and what Mautic is also following in like manner. And I wish you each success as you seek to grow your communities and projects. If you have other questions or ideas feel free to reach out to me. I would be happy to answer any questions that I can and look forward to hearing what you are passionate about!
December 15, 2014
Beta List Featured Startup Mautic
So there’s an awesome website, if you’ve never heard of it you need to check it out. It’s called Beta List. Beta List gives you just what it sounds like, a list of awesome new software platforms that are currently in beta. You can get a quick overview of what the app does and view a screenshot or two before visiting the site to sign-up for the beta.
No, not an advertisement!
Why am I talking about this website? I’ll tell you why. Yesterday I was notified, much to my delight, that our young, new community Mautic has been added to the list and featured. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but it’s pretty awesome to be placed on the list among other great up-and-coming beta apps. We’re incredibly excited to share Mautic with new people and introduce others to the future of marketing automation. Free and open source marketing automation.
Check us out!
If you have time I’d encourage you to stop by our listing, check us out, but also look around at some of the other amazing beta opportunities listed on the website. Oh, and I apologize in advance because you may get lost in the excitement of looking around and lose track of time.
November 24, 2014
There’s a very popular topic making its rounds lately in open source communities. The concept of burnout. This idea can be roughly summed up as an individual spending too much of their time contributing voluntarily to a community and quickly becoming tired and leaving the community. Unfortunately this does happen and is a very real problem in volunteer-driven communities. If you’re interested in reading more on this then I suggest this post which covers the topic very well. But I want to write briefly on a different aspect. I want to talk about an aspect which might not be as quickly considered and times when there may be a mislabelling of a situation. Let’s talk about what is not burnout.
Burnout is not a catch-all excuse
Unfortunately, burnout is not always the reason for a volunteer stepping away or shifting focus. Sometimes people tend to use burnout as an excuse for more serious problem. What I mean when I say more serious problem? Simple, sometimes when people are leaving a community they are leaving for other reasons besides being burnt out. Maybe they have an interest in something different, maybe they want to focus their time more efficiently, or maybe there is a deeper problem within the community which is keeping them contributing as they would like to. All of these are examples where burnout is not really the cause for change but something else, something deeper, is the real problem and should be uncovered.
The danger of mislabeling burnout
The community suffers when someone mislabels an individual leaving a community as the result of burnout if in fact it’s another reason. By failing to address the real reason for individuals leaving the community there is no opportunity for change. Without change the problem will repeat itself with new volunteers for new contributors. The vicious cycle continues. This is obviously extremely dangerous to a community. If we are unable to correctly diagnose problems within the community and instead resort to mislabeling them as burnout, or the fault of the volunteer rather than the community, the health of the community will be affected.
People make up a community and if those people aren’t perfect, neither are their communities.
If we want to ensure that we are not mislabeling problems within the community then we need to be very careful when we use the term burnout. So how do we prevent mislabeling a problem? By listening. If we listen to those individuals leaving a community, if we ask them for the reasons why they’re leaving, and if we hear their answer then we can ensure that we label the problem correctly. It may very well be that an individual is leaving because they are truly burnt out. If that is the case then following some of the advice given in the other blog posts such as the one I mentioned earlier is very applicable. However if we listen to their replies and we can see they are not burnt out but instead there are other issues, problems, or concerns that these need to be addressed and labeled correctly.
When a community is strong enough to diagnose problems, to label them correctly, and take action as a result that community will thrive. The community which listens will thrive. Yes, burnout is a very real issue particularly in open source or volunteer communities. But let’s be careful not to label every individual which leaves the community as being burnt out.
September 30, 2014
Open Source Appreciation
When you’re volunteering in an open source community most of the time you understand that you are giving your time and talents without any expectation of payment. Monetary payment. You do the work because you see the value in the community and you see the opportunity to get involved, contribute your skills, and make a difference. You don’t do it for the praise and you don’t do it for the personal gain. You’re volunteering.
However there is an opportunity for the community here to do something remarkable. Open source communities have the chance to appreciate you as the volunteer. There is an opportunity to offer heartfelt thank you and appreciation for the donation of your most valuable asset – your time.
The Greatest Community
The best open source communities understand that their volunteers are worth far more than a check from a venture capitalist firm or a sponsor payment seeking some specific return on investment. These outstanding communities place their worth and their value in their volunteers. Those individuals who are so committed and dedicated to the community they give the one resource they can never get back. They give their time. When these superior communities understand this principle it is reflected in their attitude, in their behavior, and in their treatment of their contributors and volunteers. They demonstrate excellent appreciation.
How can this appreciation be demonstrated by an organization or community where finances and money are not the motivating or driving factor? What are some ways in which appreciation can be shown. Great communities have already figured this out and the put these ways into practice on a daily basis. Here are a few examples.
A Public Acknowledgement
There are several great examples of this idea of public acknowledgement. I’ll give only one which I found recently and thought it to be an exceptional one. If anyone is familiar with Mozilla Firefox they have done some amazing things to publicly appreciate their volunteers. One of those is the San Francisco Monument they’ve constructed. It’s a fantastic example of just one way in which Mozilla has very publicly demonstrated appreciation for their volunteers.
Of course it doesn’t take a marble pillar to publicly acknowledge the hard work and effort of volunteers. Sometimes all it takes is a blog post. Finding ways to publicly thank those individuals giving their time is a fantastic way to demonstrate appreciation.
A Personal Note
You don’t always have to be public in your appreciation. Some communities send a note to active volunteers thanking them personally for their work. This is almost the reciprocal action of the public acknowledgement. Rather than publicly thanking someone you can do it privately.
I’ve seen some examples of this which are truly awesome. A handwritten letter in the mail. Yes, that’s right an actual snail-mail post thanking someone for their efforts. It doesn’t cost more than a stamp, an envelope and a little time. But the value is immense. If you’ve ever gotten a personalized note you know what I’m talking about. It’s a great feeling to feel appreciated and valued. It doesn’t cost much to personally thank someone.
I was going to list several more ways but I erased my points because I want to leave you with these two thoughts. Public and Private appreciation. A personal connection. This is what it all comes down to. The ability to connect with each other not just as a community of volunteers working on a project but as people interacting and growing.
Our communities are a place where relationships can thrive. Lifelong friendships can be made and personal growth is encouraged. The truly great open source communities realize without volunteers they have no future. These communities show this realization through their personal relationships and thoughtful appreciation of each volunteer. At the end of the day its the relationships which matter.
In our communities the focus should be the person not the project .
September 15, 2014
A Monday Morning Question
I’ll be sharing some technical posts later this week so I decided I’d make my Monday morning post a bit different. I’d like to make an observation and leave you with a question. This is a rhetorical question – not something I need to know the answer to or even want to know the answer. This is your opportunity in the quiet of your own mind to evaluate where you are and how you would truthfully answer this question for yourself. Grab a cup of coffee and take a moment.
Here’s my question. It’s not hard and it’s not difficult to understand.
Where is your focus?
Now that seems a simple question. In fact, it’s only four words. I bet you instantly answered it. You came up with something about work, or family, or friends. Maybe you didn’t. Again, I’m not interested in hearing your answer. That’s for you. But I’d like to expand the question just a bit and then ask you again how you would answer.
We have a million things begging for our attention these days. We have more channels then ever to monitor and keep up with. In reality this means we have so many more opportunities for marketers to advertise their products and push their items in our streams, our feeds, our faces. Then beyond the companies begging for our money there are other things competing for our time. We must balance not only our priorities but our energies and our efforts. Family, friends, husband, wife, children, siblings, parents, bosses, co-workers…the list is seemingly endless. So many things needing our time and our attentions. I haven’t even begun to address open source, volunteer and other non-profit areas where our time can provide immense benefits. I know, you understand already. You get my point. I’ll not elaborate or draw things out any more. Bottom line – there’s many many things which would like more of our time and attention.
With so many things in need of our abilities we can very quickly begin to lose our focus. Not our focus on which project or relationship to spend time on, but something different. We can misplace our focus. I believe it comes down to one of two options. You can place your focus on others or on yourself.
We each have unique skills and abilities which make us special and give us our worth. Some of us have a grander stage, some have a more visible role. Regardless of the size of the audience we all have talents. We have power to make a difference and we have the tools to do more. But sometimes (sometimes) we lose our sight. We lose our focus and instead of placing others before ourselves we fall prey to the selfish me-first attitude. Because we have many different demands on our time or abilities we begin to think more highly of ourselves. It’s slow, it’s sneaky and it’s dangerous.
Rather than being consumed with how everything affects us, we should spend a bit more time focused on others and how a situation might affect them. Admittedly that’s hard to do. We all want to be recognized as important and valuable. We crave the sense of appreciation we get from others and how the feeling of importance makes us feel needed. We don’t fit every need and we’re not (or shouldn’t try to be) the center of every debate, discussion, or situation.
When we work together as a team, a community, a family we have the opportunity to accomplish great things. When we focus on the common good, the common cause, and the vision we have set forth and we each look to our neighbor as our focus we empower each other. This bond strengthens relationships. This bond empowers and fuels us to do more, to be more, to become more. When we focus on others we improve something greater than ourselves and we leave a legacy.
There’s my Monday morning question for you. It’s only four words but it holds a lot of meaning. Remember, it’s rhetorical. I answered it for myself and I’m not sharing my answer. I’d love it if you did the same. Consider the question. Consider yourself and decide where you are.
Where is your focus?
September 3, 2014
Making Onboarding Easy
This article is applicable to both communities as well as business. That may seem rare but I think it’s more common than we first think. The term onboarding refers to the process by which a new employee is brought “up to speed” on the way a company conducts their business.
This onboarding is often unique to a particular company or community but even with the differences there are a few techniques which can be used everywhere to make the process easier. We use these same principles when hiring new developers at WebSpark. I’m not saying these should be applied everywhere or that it’s the perfect process but I’ve found it works pretty well and is incredibly easy to implement. Here is a 5 step onboarding plan for new team members .
You have to be friendly. The first thing to do is introduce people. Make the new guy/girl feel welcome. You don’t want to cause them to feel as if they are an outsider from the beginning. Immediate inclusion in the group is important. Let them see the atmosphere which should permeate your community and the culture which embodies your team.
Remember how you felt when you were joining a new group for the first time. Remember the things which made you feel most relaxed and most comfortable.
When you’re introducing someone new remember to start small. Don’t immediately throw them into a group chat with two dozen others who are all well-acquainted with each other already. There’s nothing like stepping into a chat and feeling like every sentence is an inside joke between friends and you’re not included.
Start small when introducing someone new. Grab a few team members and hop into a side conversation. Make the new team member feel comfortable and at ease within this smaller circle before introducing them into a group chat.
Make sure the newcomer is aware of the various communication channels used by your company. This is especially important when you’re working in a distributed or remote work environment. If you use a particular chat messenger (we use Slack), if you have a team project management system or other online tools which you use regularly as a team make sure your new team member is aware of them and knows how to use them.
In a community its important to know not only where the general community is talking but also where the different working groups and teams are communicating.
The next thing we do at WebSpark with a new employee is partner them with someone else. Usually this person is someone working on the same project they are working on. By partnering with someone they again feel as if they are part of a team and not left to work on their own. When just beginning on a new job it can be intimidating to feel as though you have no one you can speak with talk to or feel as if you are working side-by-side with on the tasks you have.
Communities are the same way. When a new volunteer joins a working group there should be a person assigned to partner with them. Give them an opportunity to ask questions and learn. Nothing encourages involvement better than the feeling of having a partner in work. You’re not alone. You’re not searching blindly for answers. You have a partner.
Beat a deadline
The last of the initial five step onboarding process is setting easily accomplished deadlines. The sense of accomplishment for seeing a task completed is invigorating and inspiring. Whether its relevant to a particular job or merely something needing to be done the feeling of having successfully navigated the process and finished a job successfully is important. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a community or in a company the process should be the same.
Communities have a great opportunity to encourage this confidence. There is always a list of things to be done and never enough time to do them all. New volunteers can be shown some of these items and with their partner work through them. They’ll feel great getting something done and the community will be strengthened.
The process of onboarding someone to the team is certainly more in-depth and at WebSpark involves a few more steps, there are of course legal and HR issues to be addressed and other things which must be handled with a new hire, but when we look at companies and communities these 5 onboarding tips are applicable to both.
Onboarding is a delicate and vitally important process which if not done correctly will lead to a high turnover rate and ultimately a low success rate among team members. I’ve learned quite a bit over the past decade and these five simple tricks have helped me a great deal both in community and company environments. Hopefully some of these will help you as well.
August 26, 2014
The Danger of Assumptions
Assumptions can be a very dangerous thing. They can be exceptionally harmful in an open source community. Of course its not always intentional to be assuming something about someone or a situation. In fact I imagine, to some extent, human nature causes us to make assumptions based on the knowledge we have on hand. Unfortunately, more often than not, those assumptions are false. And the resulting feelings, emotions, and actions which are taken as a result of those assumptions can harm the community.
So what are some common ways in which assumptions can harm a community? There are many but we’ll look quickly at three examples.
An Assumption Can Harm A Reputation
First, an assumption can harm a reputation. You may not mean to harm someone’s reputation by making an assumption about them or their character, but what happens when you make an assumption based on false information or a mis-understanding can oftentimes result in someone’s reputation being damaged. There’s nothing worse than having to defend yourself against an accusation which is untrue or unfounded. And when that accusation is based on an assumption rather than truth or a fact, it makes defending yourself that much harder. In a community setting it may be easier to walk away then bother to defend yourself against a false accusation. Too many good community members are lost this way.
An Assumption Stirs up Strife
Secondly an assumption harms a community because it sows discord. When community members are assuming things about other community members they begin to distrust others. As the community, in essence, turns on itself, the community begins to fall apart. The trust, the common bond which has brought all these various individuals together begins to dissolve. And it dissolves because each person begins to distrust the other people. They begin to question motives and intents. They begin to distrust because of an assumption rather than a fact. If a community lacks trust in one another then there is no solid foundation on which to build a healthy community and a healthy team. Great communities rely on mutual respect and trust.
An Assumption Makes A Community Look Bad
Thirdly, a community can be hurt by assumptions because of the image it portrays to others outside the community. When others outside the community are witnessing the assumptions shared within a community they spread like wildfire. Before you know it others outside the community are also making assumptions and very quickly the entire situation escalates out of control. If someone outside the community hears a rumor or a story, especially if they know nothing about the community, they will usually assume the worst and then they will share that with someone else and person by person the story will spread. And the community suffers.
What are the best ways to avoid assumptions in a community?
There are ways to avoid assumptions in a community. These are a great place to start when you find yourself caught in a situation where you believe you may be involved in a rumor or an assumption which seems difficult to believe. If you find yourself questioning the validity of a story, follow these steps.
Open communication is first and foremost the fastest way to ensure assumptions are stopped. If you have questions or concerns about the motives or intents behind someone’s actions – ask them. As a community we should have that level of personal involvement with each other; that level of comfort which allows us to go to one another, share our thoughts, and ask for clarification. We’re working together. We’re fighting for a common cause. We’re seeking to accomplish a singular goal with a shared focus. If there are questions, comments, or concerns about that focus the fastest way to clear up confusion is direction and open communication.
If you hear a rumor its often better to go directly to the source and verify the information. This will keep you from continuing an assumption. This also helps to ensure the assumption stops quickly when they do form. Because its impossible to stop all assumptions, but at least we can minimize the damage. The idea here is not a public name-and-shame tactic which some people use. The idea of being direct involves a one-on-one personal conversation, much as you would have with a close friend. Because…we should be close friends. We are a community. We should have a real and personal relationship with one another. We are not enemies.
Too many people are scared of offending someone or intimidated by the possibility of conflict which may arise when speaking directly to an individual about a situation. But that fear will quickly turn into something larger, something far more damaging to the community. We must choose to work together. We must refuse to be afraid. We must choose to be brave. Assumptions have no place within a strong community and the faster we destroy assumptions when they begin to form the stronger our community will be.
August 20, 2014
On Community Excitement
Open source is a challenging and very interesting space to build a community. There’s a certain amount of excitement derived from being involved in something open source and available to all. There’s also a certain amount of confusion and if you’re not careful there’s a certain amount of conflict. But community excitement is different. It’s catching. It’s fun.
Conflict within a community is not always avoidable and being able to deal appropriately with conflict when it occurs shows the true strength of your community. I’ve written before on effective conflict resolution within a community so I’m not going to repeat any of that advice here but I would rather like to talk about the excitement of working in open source and some of the benefits you’ll experience from life in the engine room of an open source community.
You Learn (a lot)
You’ll learn so many things by being involved in an open source community. You’ll learn more about how to work with other people and share your toys, you’ll learn how to listen to others, you’ll learn how to be successful, you’ll learn more about yourself. And these are just a few ways in which open source communities will help you learn. In case you question the value of continuous learning I’ll drop a quote from a rather famous individual all will recognize and most will respect.
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
There is (or should be) no doubt about the power of learning and the benefits of continuing to grow in your learning throughout your life.
You Meet People (a lot)
Now I know you could say the “a lot” part of this section is debatable depending on the size of the community but think about a community of one (yourself) now every other community means you’ll meet a lot of people. And when you meet a lot of people you will find those things you have in common with them. Meeting people, sharing common interests, common likes is yet another benefit from being involved in open source. This in itself is a learning experience as you cross cultural and geographical borders in a common setting.
You have to be able to meet people and greet people. For some this involves coming out of your comfort zone. For others this is second nature, you enjoy the attention and being in the middle of the conversation. Either way you must be friendly, smile and be personable.
“We’re all working together; that’s the secret.”
– Sam Walton
You See Change (a lot)
So my last quick point on exciting things you see by getting in deep within the engine room of a community and become involved with the inner workings and day-to-day aspects of an open source community is related to change. I think a lot hinges on this particular point. If you are deep in a community where there is an aversion to change of any kind and things fail to grow you’ll see a loss of excitement, interest, and motivation. You’ll find stagnation and eventual death. To be honest…that’s not exciting.
“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”
– Winston Churchill
But if you’re in a thriving community you’ll find all types of excitement and growth. There’s little changes happening all the time. Nothing is perfect and there are always ways in which things can be improved and made better. These micro-changes are what keep the excitement level up and make the entire community long-term successful.
Sometimes the changes aren’t micro-changes but macro-changes. Large and sweeping change, sometimes even a pivot is what becomes necessary to make the community a long-term success.
Working in a community is fun. Working deep in the engine room of a community is an incredible rush. It’s a different level of excitement all together. If you have not yet experienced the deeply satisfying experience of working within a community don’t wait. Start today. Find an open source community which you enjoy and dive deep. You’ll find (a lot) of exciting new things and ways in which you will enrich your life.
August 13, 2014
Talk to Me
One of the hardest things to do sometimes is to listen. It’s a challenge to shut out the other things grabbing at your attention and to focus on a single voice. But what makes it even harder is when the person you really want to hear from doesn’t talk.
I like to tell people that one of my tasks as a volunteer community manager is to listen to people. I listen a lot. The task is made more challenging when filtering through the “noise” and listening to the heart of those community members who might be more timid in sharing their opinion or less vocal in their thoughts.
Don’t Be Shy
Being shy is a character trait which I find myself struggling with constantly. I’m an introvert myself so it is a step outside my comfort zone to talk to someone else. I can relate to those feelings. But I encourage you when someone is looking for your opinion and your thoughts and they have specifically asked you to talk to them…don’t be shy. Find a way to communicate your opinion on a subject.
I want people to talk to me. I want especially the quiet community member to talk to me. Don’t be shy, I promise I won’t snap. I want to hear what you think about things, because you are important. Your opinion matters. A good community manager makes it easy for you to share without you worrying about the things which intimidate.
Pick Your Communication Channel
Not everyone likes to communicate verbally. There’s a variety of reasons for that and certainly there’s nothing which says that verbal communication is the only way to effectively communicate. Maybe you prefer email, social media, or IM, or forums, or some other medium (Have I mentioned I know sign language?). Whatever the way the goal is the same, share your thoughts.
As a community manager I try to make sure I’m available in as many ways as possible. And I’m always looking for other ways. Just yesterday I was exploring a new chat application I now have an account there and am looking forward to offering another way for people to get in touch.
Sometimes the problem is not being shy or not finding the right communication channel. Every once in a while the problem is being indirect. Subtweeting is the latest phenomena in this type of communication. The idea behind this is indirectly approaching a subject, saying something without really saying something. It means not sharing the information that matters with the right people. Or sharing the wrong information to the right people. (Saying things so obtusely that even though the person you’re speaking to can control the situation they have no idea you’re seeking action).
This idea involves boldness and courage. Not brazen or public ridicule. Not a false bravado. And certainly not an attempt to make others look stupid so you look better. Being direct may mean handling a situation in private, where no one sees.
Share Your Passion
There are few things I find more exciting then listening to someone talk about something they are passionate about. The excitement is almost tangible and I find myself quickly drawn in by the enthusiasm they share. When someone is asking you to talk to them then you have the perfect opportunity to share your passion. I love it when someone stops me and wants to talk to me about something which interests them. Sometimes it’s in their business life, in their personal life, or in the community we share. Regardless of the area I still share in their excitement.
I want to hear what interests you. Good community managers care about their community. Great community managers care about the people in their community . This means caring about the person and what matters to them…beyond the community. I want to be a great community manager.
In case you can’t tell – I want you to talk to me! I want to hear your thoughts and your opinions. I want to enable and empower you to do more and to find your “voice”. Your voice is important and your voice needs to be heard. Don’t stew over things or hold your opinions to yourself. Our communities will only get better if everyone participates. Share your views. Together we can make our community the best it can be. Because together we can make each other the best we can be.
July 25, 2014
Community Building 101
One of the most common topics I speak on and work with on almost a daily basis is the topic of community building. How does an organization create, maintain, or grow a community? The topic is an interesting one and often a difficult one. Each community environment is different and unique and requires a thoughtful and focused plan to help nurture and grow from nothing into a powerful, strong, and successful community. The job of community building lies not with one person but with a group of people. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Start With A Team
I hinted at the first tip in my introduction. Quite simply the job of community building is not a one person job. In order to build a strong vibrant community you will want to make sure you have a small group of dedicated individuals who share a similar goal and objective. Of course understanding the meaning of a community and the purpose behind a community it should be relatively easily to find a group of individuals sharing a set of goals. If you can’t organize even a few people then perhaps you need to step back and re-evaluate those goals. Make sure you’re forming your community around the right thing. This dovetails nicely with the second tip.
Identify Your Nucleus
In order to successfully build a community you need to provide a nucleus which the community will be able to grow out from. This can be an ideal, a goal, a dream, or something more. The important thing is to have something which serves as the central focus for your community. Work with your team (mentioned above) to identify what your nucleus is and how you want to focus on your central reason for starting a community. This nucleus is vital as it serves as the anchor to which you can always return to as a community as you grow (or shrink).
Create A Catalyst
The next thing you’ll want to do as you build your community is to create a catalyst. Find the thing which will cause your team and those individuals beginning to form around the nucleus to grow. Create an ecosystem where growth is inevitable. Of course there is only so much you and your initial team can do but there are certainly ways in which you can be the catalyst for growth. If you have identified your core values and goals and people begin to join in your community it’s important to give them the encouragement they need to grow. Think of the catalyst as the way in which you light the fire inside each volunteer to become more involved and to get others involved as well.
Define A Culture
The last tip I’ll mention in this post is to properly begin defining your culture. Don’t believe the culture will create itself and automatically appear simply because you’ve begun growing your community. The culture of a community takes thought, planning, and nurturing. You will want to create a culture which reflects your core values; the goals upon which you’ve begun building a community. It’s never too early to begin planning this piece. Community building means planning ahead. Plan for the success you’ll see and be ready to grow at an exponential pace. Having your culture defined and clear for everyone to feel at home and part of the community.
These are just a few tips to get you started in the job of community building. Being a community manager often feels as though the weight of the community is on your shoulders. The reality is a good community manager recognizes it’s not the job of an individual but is a part of everyone’s role in the community. Community building takes time, effort, and thought.
I love the role of community manager because I get to be the enabler. I’m the vocal volunteer encouraging others to get involved. In some ways the community manager is the tangible result of a good catalyst. I get to share the spark with others and fan the flame of the community to encourage others to become a part. Based on my experiences I may share more ideas directly related to the role of the community manager-and I may also share my reasoning why I think the title is wrong.
Community Building is Fun
Building a community is incredibly fun and is an opportunity to reach out to others, make new friends, grow common interests, and be a part of something. I’ve got a million more ideas on community building…not because I’m an expert, more from my own failures than anything else. I’ll probably share more in future posts. I may get into specifics on ways you can help communities grow. Got ideas? I want to hear them. Let’s share our knowledge and improve each other’s understanding.
July 16, 2014
4 Survival Tactics for Your Open Source Project
It finally happened. You developed a killer app. You spent months agonizing over every decision in getting the application to market and you’ve worked incredibly hard to create a cutting-edge technological marvel which blows away everything else on the web. You focused on all the right metrics, the user experience is beautiful and the community is thriving. (Yep, it’s open source). You feel on top of the world, and it’s exciting.
Don’t get left behind
Before you know it, in a blink of an eye, the year(s) flew by and now you’re standing looking back over a long history of product releases. You’ve pushed new versions and sure you’ve updated things along the way. Your community has seen better days but it’s still strong and still somewhat active. This is the day you failed to plan for. The day which sneaks up on you and you never saw it coming. Sure, you had lulls and there were times when activity slowed down in the project. Every project has those moments right? You told yourself it was just a fleeting rare occurrence and nothing more serious. Now you sit looking around at the dust and rubble left behind and wonder what the future holds. How could you have prevented this outcome? Here are 4 quick ways to ensure your open source project stays relevant and you don’t get left behind.
1. Be Aware
The first step to ensuring you don’t get left behind when it comes to your project in the world of technology involves staying aware of what’s happening around you. Don’t be so caught up in your own world and your own drama that you fail to see the bigger picture. Keep track of current trends, what others are doing and how they are changing the technology scene where you work. Subscribe to your main competitors’ newsletters or mailing lists. Watch what improvements and modifications they are making. Be aware of your surroundings. This is the first tip of good survival tactics for your open source project.
2. Be Accessible
Accessibility is always a hot topic and an important one. The concept of accessibility typically takes two main paths when discussed in relation to an open source project. First, you should want to make sure your product is accessible and available for everyone to use. This is almost a given these days and most open source projects spend significant time ensuring they are accessible for all.
The second path that accessibility takes is the openness and accessibility of the project to new volunteers. How easy is it for someone to contribute and be a part? Does your project do more than just “say” they encourage new volunteers? How is this demonstrated? What is the on-boarding process for a new volunteer and how easy is it for them to not only be involved but see something accomplished? You must be accessible (and prove it) in order to stay relevant and survive.
3. Be Active
The idea of staying active is deceptively simple. Here’s why being active is so difficult. Active is different from busy. Busy is the false pretense of doing something to look as though you are active. Busy is a creative way to waste time. If that’s the case, how do you determine the difference between busy and active? You can quickly tell by the results. Do you have results to show for your time? If you can point to improvements and updates and ways in which your open source project has grown as a result then you have been active in the right sense of the word.
Active involves the idea of being aware as well since they are very closely tied together. If you are aware of something but do nothing about it then the awareness provides no benefit. Once you are aware of something and you make the conscious effort to do something about it. To be active with what you know then both the step of being aware and the step of being active work together for the benefit of your project.
4. Be Accepting
This fourth and final (for this article) step in your survival tactics involve the idea of being accepting. Accepting is an interesting word. It sounds passive and yet here it’s used in a very aggressive sense. You could think of this acceptance as an active desire to change where needed. Change is tricky. I’ve spoken about it before on several occasions. Some individuals are very risk averse and avoid change simply out of fear of the unknown. Survival requires the acceptance of change and the ability to deal with changes.
Accepting also can be considered accepting of other individuals within your open source project. Having a culture which accepts differences of opinions and ideas and deals effectively with differences when they occur is quite important to an open source communities chances for survival. As your open source community grows it will need to be capable of growing and accepting others. The ideas, the code, the questions, and the fears of others must be faced as an opportunity to grow and (when necessary) change.
You Can Survive
These are four survival tactics which you can and should employ in your open source project to ensure you don’t get left in the dust. There are other tactics as well but master these four and you’ll be well on your way to staying relevant, vibrant, and growing within the ever-changing landscape of today’s world.
July 10, 2014
Introducing Something New To Open Source
Open source software is the future of our world. The power of the community has been clearly demonstrated and the opportunity to provide equality to businesses of all sizes has been shown. I’d like to share my latest endeavors with you and encourage you to join me.
Too often businesses are forced in to situations which limits their opportunity and their ability to succeed. Small businesses account for over 65% of all new jobs and more than 22.7 million small businesses existed (several years previous). Strikingly though of this dominant portion of the economy 80% average less than $50,000 in receipts. Small business is a struggle. More small businesses close than open each month and yet the struggle continues.
Small Business Confession
I’m part of a small business. I know firsthand the struggles faced and the challenges which exist in the day to day. One of the greatest concerns and frustrations I meet is the lack of strong software tools available for small businesses. This weighs on me heavily and I am deeply passionate about changing this perceived standard.
“All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual.”
– Albert Einstein
What I Fight For
I’ve spent my entire professional life seeking ways to combat these issues and help other small businesses just like myself to succeed and find the resources they need to achieve their goals. Too many vertical markets exist where the only providers are large, closed corporations intent on maximizing their profits and focused solely on serving other businesses of their same size. The Fortune 500 helping the Fortune 500. No one is looking out for the little guy. The underdog. The up-and-comer.
Other Open Source Projects
Through the years I’ve been privileged to be a part of several open source projects and to create several open source tools aimed at providing an equal playing field for small businesses to compete at the same level as these large businesses. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned the importance of good support, the value in a community, and the opportunity for growth through conflicts.
Initiatives I’ve been fortunate to be involved in have released amazing Content Management software, Customer Relationship Management software, Project Management software, Live Chat Management software and others. Each of these software tools has been with the same goal. The empowering of small businesses. We’ve sought to reduce the ridiculous over-priced expense which previously had prohibited small businesses. But there’s still more to do. There are still more challenges to conquer and more ways to empower small businesses. Rest assured I will continue to be an active supporter and vocal contributor to each these open source projects.
Continuing To Grow
I am incredibly excited to share with you the next open source project I’ll be involved in. Myself along with several other close friends have identified a vertical market completely out-of-reach for many small businesses due to the exorbitant monthly costs. Monthly fees exceeding the entire gross revenue of approximately 75% of all U.S. small businesses. And yet a powerful piece of software which incredibly helps those businesses which can afford the service. This tool is revolutionary not just in the powerful, cutting-edge framework upon which its built but also in the disruption it brings to a previously closed market.
I look forward to sharing much more with you through my blog as we go about preparing tools. I’ll share the pain-points, the highs and the lows of beginning a new open source project and we’ll grow together as we begin to form a community. As we go if you have questions, ideas, or just general comments I welcome them. You can contact me directly through my email. The excitement is growing and the buzz is definitely starting to increase. I hope as things progress and I share different behind-the-scenes peeks you’ll start to feel the same enthusiasm that’s driving me!
Beginning a Community
Yes, I know I’m leaving things a bit in the dark at the moment but I promise more will come. I’ll share screenshots, ask for feedback, and just in general do everything I can to get you involved. I’m only one of the people involved in this very exciting effort. If you own, run, or work in a small business I hope you will become more and more involved as we go through this process. It’s never too early to become a part of this new open source community.
I believe in small businesses, equality, and community. I believe in open source.
June 19, 2014
The Role of Trust in Open Source
I still remember the first time my parents deemed me old enough to stay at home by myself. I felt an incredible feeling of power and responsibility. I also felt strangely free. I could do just about anything I wanted and I had the entire house to myself. Of course my parents had only run to the store and would be back in only a few minutes but for those few minutes I was master of my domain. My parents left me alone because they trusted me. They trusted me to not get in trouble and to not burn the house down! So what does trust look like in open source and how does that trust effect volunteers and contributors?
I still remember the first time my parents deemed me old enough to stay at home by myself. I felt an incredible feeling of power and responsibility. I also felt strangely free. I could do just about anything I wanted and I had the entire house to myself. Of course my parents had only run to the store and would be back in only a few minutes but for those few minutes I was master of my domain. My parents left me alone because they trusted me. They trusted me to not get in trouble and to not burn the house down! So what does trust look like in open source and how does that trust effect volunteers and contributors?
Trust Can Be Scary
Just as with everything there are two sides to every story. As a young boy staying home alone I may have been scared (a bit) by the prospect of being left alone and the weight of the responsibilities which came along. But fear was probably not that big of an actual issue for me. Fear can be a powerful motivator and most likely encouraged me to act even more responsibly. The experience wasn’t necessarily a scary one for me.
For my parents however, this was an incredibly scary moment. They were leaving everything they owned to a child. A complete and total novice who lacked experience and the years of wisdom they already held. They had to place their trust in someone else who they clearly knew to be not as mature as themselves. Trust for them was a very scary and intimidating thing.
Open source communities live and die on trust. For the most part open source communities consist of two types of people. Those who have been “around the block” and have worked in the community enough to have experience and those who are the “newbies” or the newcomers who have yet to demonstrate their expertise in the community. These two personalities mimic very much the dynamics of the relationship I had with my parents when they let me alone for the first time. The seasoned community contributor at some point must place trust in the younger, less-experienced volunteer. This can be an intimidating and scary step. Many things could go wrong (and they might). But the very act of placing trust in another person demonstrates their value to the community. And it must be done for the open source community to continue to grow and expand.
Trust Takes Time
My parents didn’t wake up one morning and just walk out the door tossing me the keys as they left. Their trust was based on watching me grow and mature over years of lessons learned and time spent interacting with them and others. They watched me handle situations and problems and used that knowledge as part of their foundation of trust.
Obviously in open source we’re not waiting years before trusting people. But the principle is still a valid one. We must take time to get to know others. Open source volunteers need to interact with one another. When we take the time to learn more about someone we build a strong foundation for trusting them with more responsibilities. Trust in open source requires a community of people interested in learning from each other.
Trust doesn’t happen overnight (usually). And it doesn’t happen without work. New volunteers must work on building their reputation by doing little tasks “around the house” and taking on responsibilities which will allow the older contributors the opportunity to watch how they handle situations and problems. These little things are the foundation which trust can be built on.
Trust Empowers Open Source
I mentioned it earlier but when my parents left me alone I felt an incredible sense of freedom and responsibility. I was “king”. Did I do anything crazy? Absolutely not. I knew if I blew it I would be waiting a significantly longer time before being given another opportunity. And yet I felt incredibly empowered. I could make the decisions and run the show.
Both of the previous points can be applied mostly to the parent, or the older volunteer, this point however is very firmly affixed to the new contributor. Here is the opportunity to allow them to show what they can do. New contributors are empowered to contribute to open source because of trust. Once they have this responsibility given to them the power is shared. The community is strengthened. And the cycle continues.
Open source communities are completely empowered by the trust that exists inherently in their volunteers. Without trust the entire intricate network of relationships and people dissolves. I mentioned in a previous post, people are the true value of open source, and if the bond of trust between those people falters the entire network of relationships and ultimately the community fails.
Trust Breeds Success
But rather than looking at the negative side of lack of trust I prefer to look at the positives when trust is placed correctly. When a community of volunteers effectively follows this pattern of placing trust in newcomers, giving them responsibility and decision-making opportunities they encourage growth – personal growth and community growth.
The new volunteers who demonstrate their maturity and responsibility when trust is placed in them will then in turn grow into the seasoned volunteer and will look for other people they can nurture and place their trust. As I said before it’s a cycle. This cycle when followed correctly encourages growth by its very nature. The community grows and even more importantly – the relationships that underpin the community grow. And that’s what open source is all about, people and relationships.
Trust is the bond of a good relationship. Open source is valuable because of the people and trust is what holds those people together. Therefore trust is the bond of open source.
May 6, 2014
Where’s the Value in Open Source?
Open Source is valuable. Very few people would argue that point. There is most definitely a sense of intrinsic worth. But where does this value exist? Is it in the code produced or in something else?
By the very nature of open source, (read more about the standard four freedoms here) the ability to view and access the source code is a powerful, driving factor. Because the code is so freely accessible and a prominent focus of open source it can easily be considered to be the value of open source.
Lines of Code
This assumption in the value of open source being the code corresponds to the influx of available services to measure and quantify this code. Take for example the social code-sharing website, GitHub. This overwhelmingly popular service provides all types of stats on code and changes made. In fact, GitHub recently released a new feature called “pulse” and it provided all manner of new assessments of the code. How many people and how many commits over a specific time period and the total number of lines of code touched. Do you see the focus? The code. All the value is implied to be held within the code.
Often times in a community we continue with this idea of placing the value of open source and the community in the code, or the product. This belief perpetuates a problem. Is the value of open source truly in a product which can be freely replicated, forked, and changed at will?
The real value of open source is not in the product. Open source is more than the code. It’s a community surrounding a shared set of goals. And when this community works together to develop code it costs time. Lots of time is spent creating this product. In fact, another website, Ohloh.net begins to touch on this when it mentions how many hours are estimated to create a particular project. But it doesn’t really capture the heart of it. It’s a great start, but still there’s something missing.
Sure open source is about code, and yes, it’s about community, and its about the time spent, but there’s something even more. Open source is about the people involved. Code can be replaced, re-written, even removed completely and the project will continue to move forward. The open source community is made up of people who are dedicated their time and their life to see its success.
Herein is where the true value lies. The people who give their time to create this amazing open source community. These people give their life to see their project grow. And this is valuable. Open source communities must be careful to place their focus correctly. When the people are neglected, the value of the project is lost, the community will suffer, and the code will fail.
The Hidden Treasure
If we realize that the people which make up a community are the truly valuable part of an open source project then its important to look at how this wealth should be handled to be nurtured properly and grown. Obviously we want to grow the most valuable part of our community. We want to strengthen the bonds which bring the community together to create something bigger than themselves. That’s the secret of a strong and growing community. The relationships. When the relationships between the people making up a community are strong then the project will thrive. The culture of a community matters.
The next time you see a thriving open source project, take a minute to examine the community. Checkout how the volunteers are viewed and appreciated. Remember, a community is only as strong as the people which make it up. And remember relationships matter. The people and the relationships are the true treasure of an open source community.
May 2, 2014
Lessons in Learning Open Source
I’m leading another talk on developing code using an open source framework. Only it’s going quite slow this time. In fact, I’m pausing after every sentence. And yet the room is far from silent and the excitement is quite high. What causes this excitement instead of frustration?
I guess I should clarify. This particular teaching opportunity is taking place in the great city of Sao Paulo, Brazil. And the reason I’m pausing after every sentence is to allow my translator the chance to repeat everything in their native Portuguese. It’s an intense experience. If you’ve never had the opportunity of sharing a highly technical topic with someone who understands only one out of every dozen words you speak then you are missing out on an experience. Now imagine there are a dozen other people sitting in the room also listening to you and trying to follow along. As I said, it’s an intense experience. But it is an unmatched feeling. Incredible might be a better word. And it makes me think about another power which open source possesses. Here’s a few lessons I draw from the unique opportunity of learning open source.
Learning is community centered
Sure, there are books and tutorials and videos, and a multitude of other resources available. In fact, there are schools and courses and an infinite number of ways to learn. However in open source you’ll often find the best learning is done within the community. People learning from people in a group setting.
The concept of group learning is unique in some sense to open source. We’re here because we want to be here. We’re not being paid to spend our weekend sitting in some classroom learning. We do this because we want to learn. And almost as much as we want to learn, we want to help others. That’s the other side of the coin. No matter how much I learn I always always find someone knows more. And someone else knows less. This means just as important as learning more is the idea of sharing knowledge with others based on what I know. Helping others. We’re a community of like-minded people focused on a particular set of values and shared interests. Our learning is centered on this.
Learning is personal
Even though we’ve discussed how learning is community centered learning is also very personal. People grow internally based on their experiences and they learn based on the instruction they are given. This learning causes them to change, and hopefully to improve.
When we are in an open source community we are often stretched outside our comfort zone. We don’t start that way, but over time we grow and the desire to learn more, or to be better forces us to timidly reach beyond our comfort zone and reach out to others. We’re driven by the deep down longing to learn more. As a result of this longing and learning we change who we are (to an extent). We improve ourselves. The very act of learning in an open source sharing community makes us a more well-rounded, and better person.
Learning is empowering
There’s something intrinsically powerful about knowledge. It’s a pretty commonly understood idea. “Knowledge is power.” But extrapolating on that notion leads back to the root that the very act of learning is empowering. By learning we are gaining knowledge and we are gaining power.
Open source is teeming with knowledge. When every line of code which makes up an application is made publicly available to be analyzed and poured over by anyone interested the result is empowering. Open source encourages learning and as such encourages the increase of knowledge and power. When you look at code and see what can be done and learn how to do things better you are empowered to do more. Now you can share that knowledge with others. Now you can become the teacher. Open source alone gives you the perfect environment – the opportunity to learn woven inseparably with the opportunity to teach.
Learning is exciting
I left one of my favorite lessons for last. Learning is most definitely exciting. I’m not referring to the type of learning you were doing in university with first year studies of ancient history (unless you enjoy that kind of thing). Instead I refer to the type of learning you find in an open source community. There’s a rush of excitement you can feel when you walk into a room on a weekend to meet with others in a community for the sake of learning. It’s very exciting.
As I wrap up my session in Brazil, the excitement is clearly evident. People talking over people, hands being raised, fingers flying on keyboards. Yes, this is what open source learning is all about. Watching someone understand the concept you’re teaching. The smile that spreads across their face when they successfully complete a task. The eyes glint with the newfound knowledge and the empowering, exciting, personal growth they’ve experienced. If you’ve never had the opportunity to experience this before. You should. Find a community and become a part. Get involved and see what learning in an open source environment is all about. I guarantee you – you’ll be changed forever.
May 1, 2014
The Fight to be Flexible
I’m sitting at the airport. This quite a common place to find me. As an open source advocate I travel a lot. Most of the time my flights are on time and my connections are easy. This is not one of those times.
I found out my initial flight leg from RDU to IAD (Washington Dulles) was delayed and then 20 minutes later delayed again; and again. Eventually it was delayed 3 more times. And as expected with that many delays, I missed the connection from IAD to GRU (Sao Paulo, Brazil). Majorly frustrating. As I make the arrangements to rebook the flight for the following day it strikes me how applicable this situation is to life, and also to open source.
We all have plans for our lives. We have an agenda, things we want to see accomplished and goals we want to achieve. In an open source community we set our sights on accomplishing lofty things. Many of them having some form of “change the world” buried in them. We put down a mission and a vision statement we want to accomplish and then we start to organize ourselves to accomplish those goals.
Open Source Opportunities
Open source projects have several obstacles to overcome in this scenario though. Chiefly, we rely on the time, interests and energies of volunteers to accomplish these lofty goals and ultimately accomplish our mission and fulfill our vision. If our volunteers fail to have the time or interest then the project also fails. This is where the power of flexibility becomes so critically important.
It is foolish to believe a mission statement or a vision cannot change. It’s also foolish to believe every deadline will be met perfectly. When an open source community relies on volunteers and contributors one of the greatest battles is the battle to remain flexible, to be willing to make changes to deadlines, to goals, and even to a project’s mission.
Why must a community be flexible?
As I’ve already mentioned when a community relies on the goodwill and generous donations of time and talent from contributors there must be an inherent amount of understanding and ability to change as a result. Secondly, and possibly even more importantly, The world changes. Software changes, companies and organizations change. An open source community grows over time and as it grows it evolves. It establishes a culture and becomes more refined (dare I say focused) as it grows. At least this should be the case because the community listens to its members. Not only does it listen to its members to help it establish culture but it also listens to the world. A strong community pays attention to the changes happening around it and is flexible in adopting change (when it’s for the good of the community).
Are communities quick to be flexible?
No, and that’s why I say it’s a fight to be flexible. Sometimes individuals in the community are change-averse. They prefer the status quo over the ‘unknowns’ involved in changing. A well-rounded community is made up of a variety of individuals. These differences should be celebrated and embraced. These differences should also be kept in mind. Just as there are those ‘strong and steady’ types there are also the ‘non-comformist’ type, this is the person who loves change, any change, and even wants change just because it’s change. There’s dangers in both these types as well as the many other types (trust me, there are many many personalities which make up a good open source community). The point is to be flexible. Be talking and communicating with each other within your community. When communication happens (and listening happens) then the true power of open source communities can be found. Because I believe this is where open source stands head and shoulders over others.
Open Source Wins
Open source projects should stop looking at flexibility as something that must be fought but rather one of it’s greatest strengths. The ability to change direction based on the community is a powerful one. Most large corporations are unable to implement the types of flexibility and take advantage of a changing culture in the same way an open source community can. The passion found in volunteers cannot be bought, cannot be forced in a closed source corporation. It’s inherent in the genetic makeup of open source. Take advantage of the benefit of being open source. Take advantage of the flexibility and use it to be an incredible community.
Remember, we’re all in this together.
April 30, 2014
The Quiet Community
That awkward silence which fills a room when there is a lull in the conversation, or that moment when you realize you’re the only one talking, or the time when you respond to a chat message and there’s no reply. These are all common occurrences in life. But when is a quiet community a bad thing?
Too Much Talk
There is of course a time when talking is not enough. I’ve see firsthand those moments when everyone is talking and no one is listening. Sometimes a community is so busy debating with themselves over minor details that they forget to actually do something. Too much talk can be a bad thing.
Too much talk means a community is not focusing their time on doing things and making progress. This will kill a project, any project. In open source communities and especially open source communities, where the community is in charge of decision making, the discussions and debates over every minor decision can quickly lead to stagnation.
I think we can all agree too much talk can at times be a bad thing. So what about a quiet community? Is a quiet community equally bad for a project? Yes. A quiet community can be potentially a bad thing. Here’s 3 potential problems in a quiet community.
Silence is deadly
If a community is too quiet it will die. Outsiders judge a project’s viability and life by its communication channels, the chatter which takes place. Raise your hand if you’ve ever gone to a Github repository and viewed the last commit timestamp, followed closely by a glance at the open issues. You’re trying to judge the health of the project by its communications. Or if you check twitter to see the last messages posted with a specific hashtag or @ tweet.
Silence in a community is not golden when it comes to a community which makes group decisions and relies on the involvement of volunteers (open source) to accomplish things.
No man is an island
Secondly, if a community is quiet then volunteers will begin to feel as though they are “alone” in the project. This is incredibly discouraging. Everyone knows the feeling of writing something and waiting for the response. In real life you look for the facial expressions, the reactions of those you’re talking to. You use these verbal and non-verbal cues as encouragement for continuing or as a warning sign that you should sit down and shut up. Now take that same feeling and apply it to an online community. You post a message on a forum, on a social media channel, in an online chat, or on a mailing list. In this environment there is no opportunity to read non-verbal (or even verbal) cues. You rely on the responses.
If a community is silent then you have nothing to motivate you to continue and you will sit down and shut up. You’ll leave the community and find a new community where the participation is higher. As humans we need this interaction.
Apathy is quiet
This last point is a hard one to pin down. I’m not claiming that apathy is always silent, nor am I claiming the reverse, that a quiet community is apathetic. But often when there is apathy the result is a lack of input. If you find yourself not really caring or believing in something you can walk away, you can leave. But that involves effort. Sometimes you don’t feel like making that effort. You’re ok with doing nothing because you’re not interested, you don’t care. You’re apathetic.
If a community doesn’t care then it will not make decisions. It will not do anything. Which means something else will happen. It will stagnate. It will die.
Three potential concerns in an overly quiet community. As with everything in life, a balance is necessary. Open source communities should keep an eye on communications. If they see any of these three concerns becoming too prevalent then it’s time to do some soul-searching. Seek out the reason for the quietness. Has the community lost its drive? Its focus? Its vision? It’s possible a change is in order. Its possible action needs to be taken to help stimulate conversation. Perhaps its merely a lull, a welcome moment of calm in an otherwise noisy and thriving ecosystem. Excellent, make the most of it. Enjoy the stillness. But stay alert and be ready to make changes if needed.
April 7, 2014
There exists an age-old dilemma and constant battle which takes place in just about every online discussion: Where to draw the line, call for a cease fire, and end a thread.
I’m convinced there is no easy answer. In fact, I’m also convinced the answer varies from one discussion to the next – and from one community to the next. In the world of open source communities (the circle I most frequently travel in) this is an often difficult decision to make. Obviously we want to ensure that everyone has equal opportunity to have their voice and their opinion heard. But clearly we don’t want to encourage bitterness, personal attacks, or hurtful comments either. The job of mediating the discussion should not be the job of a single person but rather should come naturally to those involved in the discussion. Wait a minute – did you read that?
I believe the responsibility for mediation in a discussion falls on the shoulders of the people actively involved in the debate.
Even when discussing very passionately the belief and viewpoint you have – you need to always be in control of your own words. Be careful to not fall into any of the common logical fallacies.
Perhaps even more important then not sidetracking a discussion with one of these fallacious arguments is the ability to moderate your own comments to the issue at hand and not turn on a person or emotional plea. I admit this one is hard. Especially when believing strongly about something, but perspective is key. Always keep the relationship in mind. And always keep in mind how the debate appears to other people not involved.
When discussing a topic in an open and transparent environment, there are sure to be others watching. Not only are they interested in the outcome of the debate but also interested to see how the community handles itself in conflict.
The hardest line to draw is the line in front of yourself. And then be bold enough to step back from it.
Speaking of drawing lines, I’d like to close with a short humorous video regarding an engineer’s approach to drawing multiple colored perpendicular red lines.
September 21, 2013
Joomla! and You
The following presentation was given at JoomlaDay North Carolina 2013. The focus was demonstrating how easy it is to get involved in the Joomla! project and the many opportunities available
September 13, 2013
Joomla!, The Future, and You
This presentation was given at Joomladagen Netherlands 2013. Below are the slides.