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Science Fiction and Community at Monki Gras


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If you think you’ve seen this presentation before, you’re wrong! In the spirit of making sure that every talk at Monki Gras is handcrafted and unique, I prepared a completely new set of slides and lessons just for us. While it is probably obvious from the title, this talk focuses on community tips told through science fiction. While the topic is fun and a little silly, the lessons about communities are real and tangible. Here are just a few of the things that I will explore:
* Borg assimilation and bringing new community members into your collective for new ideas.
* Specialization is for insects. The best community members are the ones who can help in a wide variety of ways. * Community members are valuable, don’t treat them like minions.
* Travel to strange new worlds and meet interesting people

Published in: Technology, Education
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Science Fiction and Community at Monki Gras

  1. 1. LESSONS ABOUT COMMUNITY FROM SCIENCE FICTION Dawn M. Foster Director  of  Community  at  Puppet  Labs @geekygirldawn   Presenta<on  available  at
  2. 2. WHOAMI • Geek, traveler, reader • Past 12 years doing community & open source • Read 73 books last year, mostly sci-fi / fantasy • I keep a list: Photos by Josh Bancroft, Don Park
  3. 3. DON’T WORRY Most things will work out if you have smart, flexible people in your community. The Doctor always tells us not to worry and that everything is going to be fine, not unlike some organizers of certain conferences with no agendas posted the night before the start. Generally, things will work out just fine in the end. The reality is that if you surround yourself with a community of smart people, or smart companions in the case of the Doctor, this is true more often than you might expect. At Puppet Camp London in November ...
  4. 4. YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED Bring new community members into your collective for new ideas OK, maybe we don’t want to go as far as the Borg. Resistance is probably not futile and we won’t assimilate you against your will, but as far as communities are concerned, we really do want your biological and technological distinctiveness to be added to our own. New people and new ideas are what keep communities strong, but you also have to be a bit careful not to try to assimilate too many people, too quickly. You need time for people to really get absorbed into your culture, and if you add to many people at once, you can destroy your community culture. In most cases, we want to gradually add new people to our communities and assimilate them along with their ideas and technologies into our culture. These new people will bring new life into the community and can be a great source of help.
  5. 5. NO MINIONS Community members are valuable, don’t treat them like minions. However, we also need to be very careful not to treat our community members like minions. Community managers and project owners need to walk a fine line between encouraging people to do the work needed by the community, while not treating people like mindless work drones. Community members are individual people, and you should take the time to get to know your regular contributors and build strong relationships with them. This is why I’m traveling for 2 weeks and hitting as many events as I can in that time. I just finished up a Puppet Camp in Amsterdam and I’m organizing a Puppet Contributor Summit in Ghent next week to spend some quality time with our community around FOSDEM. We also try to make sure that we recognize our key contributors in various ways and make sure that they know how much we appreciate everything they do.
  6. 6. INDIVIDUALISM Open source communities are filled with crazy (but awesome) individualists doing interesting things. In Brave New World, people are decanted instead of born and conditioned (brainwashed) to believe that everyone belongs to everyone else and that acting as an individual is offensive. However, there are a few groups of savages who live on reservations, are born, instead of decanted, and don’t have the conditioning that the others have. Others go rogue and assert their individuality despite their conditioning and are exiled to far away islands as a result. Living in a world, or participating in a community where everyone behaves exactly the same way, sounds awfully boring to me. I would rather be sent to the island to hang out with the other awesome, crazy people who aren’t good at conforming. This is why I try to seek out communities of people who are something new and interesting. This is part of why I’ve worked with open source communities for the past dozen years. The people might be a wee bit crazy, but they are usually doing something cool and fascinating.
  7. 7. SPECIALIZATION IS FOR INSECTS The best community members are the ones who can help in a wide variety of ways This book is about Lazarus Long. He’s 2000 years old and is a cynical old fart who isn’t afraid to share his many opinions. One of these is that: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” p.248 (From the notebook of Lazarus Long) The best community members, and community managers, are the ones who can help the community in a wide variety of ways. While we do need people with some special skills, it is really nice to have people that you can count on to step in and do almost anything that needs to be done. These are the people who will answer questions on the mailing lists or IRC, jump in to help out with bugs, submit patches, write new documentation, help organize events or user groups, speak at conferences about the project and technologies, and step in to help with anything else that the community needs. These flexible, get it done types are incredibly valuable to have in the community.
  8. 8. COOL TECHNOLOGY Participation in communities is a great excuse to play with new technologies. I’ve been waiting for transporter technology. It would make travel a lot easier, but I mostly want to pop back to Mom’s house occasionally so she can make me margaritas and homemade apple pie. Most of us don’t have anything quite awesome as a transporter, but communities, especially open source communities are a great excuse to play with cool, new technologies. There are always new projects springing up to address a problem that someone has or to improve on something. The projects themselves can be based around some fun technologies. You can also use the community itself to explore new technologies that help you gather community data, improve the web experience or add some new functionality to the community. As part of building and maintaining communities over the years, I’ve learned all kinds of technologies that were new to me. I learned enough about Java to deploy new versions of our community platform when I worked at Jive software. I wrote some Ruby code at Puppet Labs to gather data about the community. Both of these were as much about improving the community as they were about playing with the technology and learning something new or new to me, anyway.
  9. 9. TRAINING Participation in open source communities gives people real-life, on the “job” training that can help them get work later. Ender’s game has battle school, which is filled with young kids who are being trained to fight aliens. This training gives them experience that is more real than they realize at the time. Participation in open source communities gives people real experience working on projects with groups of people, and because the work is out in the open, they can use it as real-life examples when they want to get a job in technology. Having this experience and having your work out in the open is way better than a resume. As a bonus, most of the companies that I’ve worked for have recruited people out of their communities, so it’s also a great way to get a foot in the door of a company that you want to work for. It always helps when you know a few employees because of your work in the community, and those people can be your advocates when the right job comes up. At Puppet Labs, we’ve hired a lot of people out of the community over the past couple of years, and we’re still hiring them on a regular basis.
  10. 10. GOOD INTENTIONS Assume community members have good intentions and focus on education and improvement. “Undomesticated equines could not drag me away.” Teal’c is not from earth, and despite being a valuable member of SG1, he sometimes doesn’t get things quite right. However, his intentions are good. Most, but sadly, not all, community members also have good intentions, but many of them don’t get things quite right either. This is a big part of why we have community guidelines. The guidelines that I write are probably a bit long, but I like to include specific tips for how to behave in different parts of the community, since the way you act on IRC is very different from a mailing list. I also include our event code of conduct and specific steps that we will take when the guidelines are violated. All of this helps people become more educated about what is and is not appropriate, which hopefully, leads to improvement. Too much of the time, people violate guidelines and codes of conduct because they fail to think about how what they are doing impacts other people, and a gentle reminder is enough to get most people (the ones with good intentions, but inappropriate actions) back on track.
  11. 11. MORE WOMEN Encourage women in our field and get more women speaking at our events Science fiction is filled with bad-ass, strong women who can do anything: captain a ship, become a fighter pilot or save the world. We need more strong role models in technology, and you can start by encouraging young women to get involved in technical communities and help then get started by mentoring them. If you haven’t read Rikki’s article in USENIX last year, To My Daughter's High School Programming Teacher*, you should. This is a good example of how not to encourage young women, and it shows how a bunch of things come together to crush someone’s enthusiasm at a young age. We also need to get more women speaking at technology events. This is incredibly difficult, and I know that I haven’t always succeeded here, but we need to make sure that we’re doing what we can to make women successful in our technical communities. *
  12. 12. COMMUNITY METRICS Measure community activity to track progress, identify issues and recognize great community members We don’t want to go as far as Big Brother, but we do want to have metrics and measure what is happening in our community. Having great metrics helps you track progress and identify issues, but it should also help you recognize your top community members. I see too many examples of community metrics that are just focused on the numbers, but communities are really all about the people, so your community metrics should help you find your top contributors across the various parts of your community. While I don’t blindly use the numbers to recognize people, the metrics often lead us to notice someone who has been doing a lot more work in the community, and it’s enough to set us down the path of looking to see what else that person has been doing recently, which often leads to some type of recognition.
  13. 13. NOT AS EASY AS IT SEEMS Community management is not all parties and fun travel. It’s also a lot of real work and sometimes involves being the bad cop. At first being invisible seems pretty awesome, but the invisible man quickly realizes that they are quite a few challenges. 1) you can’t carry anything with you because people see it floating and freak out and 2) it’s really cold when you aren’t wearing clothes. Community management is also not as easy as it seems at first glance. I often see people underestimating how challenging it is. These are the people who think community management is mostly about traveling to conferences, buying people beer, and getting to hang out with people. I’ll admit that yes, I get to do those things, and it’s pretty awesome! But, I’m also the one who has to kick someone out of the community when their behavior is inappropriate, and I’m the one that people escalate problems to regardless of where the problem is happening across the project. I’m also the public face of the project when something goes terribly wrong. Fortunately, I’ve developed a think skin, and I still love it despite the challenges.
  14. 14. BOLDLY GO Travel to strange new worlds and meet interesting people As a community manager, I’ve had a fantastic opportunity to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where only some people have gone before.
  15. 15. THANK YOU Contact  info:  Dawn  Foster @geekygirldawn Some of my favorite modern sci-fi / fantasy authors: Hugh Howey Lois McMaster Bujold Brandon Sanderson Connie Willis