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WHAT SCIENCE FICTION
CANTEACH US ABOUT
BUILDING COMMUNITIES
Dawn M. Foster
Community	
  Lead	
  at	
  Puppet	
  Labs
@geekygirldawn
dawn@puppetlabs.com	
  
Presenta:on	
  (with	
  notes)	
  available	
  at	
  fastwonderblog.com
WHOAMI
• Geek, traveler, reader
• Past 12 years doing
community & open source
• Read 72 books last year,
mostly sci-fi / fantasy
• I keep a list:
http://fastwonderblog.com/about/reading/
Photos by Josh Bancroft, Don Park
BIGGER ONTHE INSIDE
• Simple blue box ... until you open it
• Have to go in to really understand
• Go new places, learn something new
• Has a mind of it’s own
On the surface, the Tardis looks like a simple, blue police box. It's small and should fit a single person. Nothing
special, nothing extraordinary … until you open door. 
What can you really tell about a community by observing it from the outside? On the surface, you might see a few
mailing lists, an IRC channel, a forum, some code repositories, etc. But until you get into the community and begin
participating, you won't understand what it's really like in that community.
When you open the door, and see that the inside is much larger than it looked from the outside, you might be
pleasantly surprised and just a little confused. At some point, you'll realize that by coming inside, you can go all
kinds of interesting places. You learn something new and wondrous every day. It even seems to have a mind of its
own. All of this is true both for the Tardis and for communities. 
ALL ABOUTTHE PEOPLE
• Leaders, likeThe Doctor
• Helpers, like companions
• Can change at any time
• Meet strange and interesting
people
Not about the leaders, it’s about everyone who participates
The box itself is pretty cool, but the real magic lies with the people inside and outside of the box. Communities
have leaders, not unlike the Doctor, and other people who help, like his companions, but communities are always
changing. Sometimes you get a new companion or the Doctor takes a new form. The box itself might not change,
but things will be different on the inside. If those new leaders are good, the community will continue to survive
and flourish, not unlike how the show has survived a dozen different Doctors. At each stop, the Doctor meets
strange and interesting new people. Especially for those of us who work in open source communities, I've met all
kinds of strange and interesting people. Ultimately, it isn't really about the leaders, it's about all of the people who
participate in the community. 
DON’T GOTOO FAR
• Understand first
• Participate gently at first
• Don’t do too much at once
In H.G. Wells’ time machine, the time traveller, an inventor and scientist, travels forward over 800,000 years in
time during his first trip. He finds that humanity has completely changed, he manages to have his time machine
stolen, and he has to fight to get it back. Getting it back is made much more difficult due to misunderstanding
about the nature of humanity during this time.
This is a little like being new in a community. When you don’t understand the norms and how people participate,
you are likely to make huge mistakes that can be difficult to recover from. When I joined Puppet Labs, since I
wasn’t already an active community member, I made sure that people knew that I wasn’t going to participate in the
community at all during the first month. Instead, I used that time to learn how the community functioned. I spent a
lot of time talking to people about the community, and started working on some things that I could do in the
background, behind the scenes, while I learned.
Then I gradually started participating more and more, but gradually. I’ve seen too many people come into a
community with grand ideas that they try to impose on others or try to dump a huge pile of code into the
community, and what they are doing is making the same mistake a bunch of times and annoying everyone. So,
start small, understand what’s going on, learn from a couple of smaller mistakes, and grow your participation over
time.
DON’T BE A REDSHIRT
• Be noticed
• Participate
• Read John Scalzi’s ‘Redshirts’
Nobody wants to be a redshirt, the person beaming down on the away mission with Kirk, Spock and other
important people. The one who can easily get killed off and no one will notice them missing by the next episode.
If you disappear out of a community tomorrow, would anyone notice?
They will if you are participating and contributing in some way on a regular basis.
Find some way to contribute to the community doing something that people find valuable.
If you ever wondered what it’s like to be a redshirt in real life, I recommend John Scalzi’s Redshirts. I won’t spoil it
by saying more, but those of you who have read it know what I’m talking about!
USEFUL SKILLS
• Understand underlying technologies
• Skills you offer the community
• Learn to fill gaps
Lucifer’s Hammer begins with an enormous catastrophe that destroys civilization as we know it. It’s one of those
post-apocalyptic tales that makes you think about how much you really know about how everyday items are made.
In Lucifer’s Hammer, modern technology is essentially destroyed and the people who survive are the ones with
useful skills that allow your group to survive the winter. Personally, I’d be one of the first ones kicked out of the
compound, since all of my useful skills involve technology.
Luckily, this hasn’t happened ... yet. But, we can use it as an opportunity to think about how much we really
understand about the foundations of the community. How much of the history do we know? What technologies are
the community built on and do people understand it well enough to really build upon it?
You can also think about the skills that we can offer the community in addition to what you do already.
You can also learn new skills that help fill gaps within the community.
3 LAWS AND GUIDELINES
• Well-behaved robots
• Guidelines / code of conduct
• Change over time
Asimov created the 3 laws so that he could write stories that went against the robot stereotype of his time. He
found the “Frankenstein” pattern, where robots turned on their creators and destroyed people, to be tedious. He
wanted to write about a different kind of robot.
Many of us find communities full of people acting like jerks to be a bit tedious and annoying.
Asimov’s 3 laws set the expectations for his robots, not unlike how most communities have codes of conduct or
guidelines for participation designed to help people understand what is and is not appropriate.
The guidelines also evolve over time, like Asimov’s laws have. They’ve taken various forms over the years in
different books with the biggest change probably being the zeroth law, which addressed the potential for a robot
to harm humanity as a whole.
In communities, the guidelines often change as a way of handling new issues, new tools or existing problems.
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the
First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
ANDROIDS AND EMPATHY
• Don’t act like an android
• Consider the impact of your actions
• Show empathy
In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Androids have evolved to become so close to human that it becomes very
difficult to tell them apart, and one of the ways that they can tell for most androids is by testing their empathy
responses.
So, don’t act like an android. I just talked about guidelines, and where most people get in trouble, is when they
don’t take the time to think about how their actions are going to impact another person or the community as a
whole.
Show empathy for other people, and your interactions in the community will be more positive.
If you don’t show empathy for other people, a bounty hunter (or someone else in the community, like a
community manager), might track you down. You won’t likely be killed for it, but ....
NO MONSTERS
• Different isn’t bad
• Focus on ideas, not the person
• No lynch mobs
This is probably the original science fiction book, written in 1818 before science fiction was a thing.
In the beginning, the Frankenstein creation wasn’t the monster that people assumed he was given his hideous,
monster-like appearance. He didn’t become a monster until other people started treating him like one.
Just because someone has different ideas within the community doesn’t make them a bad person. This is where
it’s important to make sure that we always focus on the ideas and not the person. We can debate ideas without
attacking the person making them.
Nothing like an internet lynch mob to encourage people to stay as far away as possible. I’ve seen too many
examples, including a recent one in the kernel community, of people online turning into the modern equivalent of
the lynch mob.
FERENGI != ROLE MODELS
• #37: You can always buy
back a lost reputation
• #268: When in doubt, lie
• #115: Greed is eternal
While they may be fun to play tongo with at parties (if they don’t cheat you out of all of your latinum), the Ferengi
are not good role models for community participation!
We can learn quite a bit about how we should not behave in our communities by learning more about the Rules of
Acquisition and doing the opposite of what a good Ferengi would do.
Reputation in a community is critical. Your reputation and past actions are what give you credibility and earn trust
with community members, and you can’t buy back a lost reputation.
Lying to the community or the people within it is one of the easiest ways to destroy your reputation within the
community. Even when the truth is unpleasant, people will appreciate the honesty and your reputation will be
better for it in the end.
There are too many examples of companies or individuals getting greedy with community contributions, and it
never ends well.
WHUFFIE
• Reputation is currency
• Do good
• Recognize others
In Down & Out in the Magic Kingdom, everyone has brain implants that supply basic information about a person,
which essentially boils their worth down to a single number, called Whuffie. Whuffiie essentially replaces currency.
People reward each other by giving someone more whuffie for doing something good or taking it away for doing
something that is undesirable. Those with high whuffie get access to the best places, cool parties, a little like
being royalty. Those with low whuffie can’t even get a table at a decent restaurant and are often shunned by those
around them. Cory Doctorow’s book was the inspiration for another book by Tara Hunt, The Whuffie Factor, which
talks about reputation in communities.
Within communities, your reputation is your currency. If you are known for doing great work within the
community, people are more likely to listen to your ideas in the future and give you the benefit of the doubt when
something isn’t going as well.
Part of doing good is recognizing the work of other people. Talk about how you built on the work of someone else
and give them credit for their ideas or the portion of work accomplished by others. By treating each other with
respect, being kind and doing things that help other people, we can all be more successful in the community.
THEYOUNG CAN CONTRIBUTE
• Age is often unknown
• Some great contributions
from young people
• Encourage young people to
contribute
How many of you have read Ender’s Game? It’s hard to talk about Ender’s Game without ruining it for those who
haven’t read the book, so in this case, I’m going to talk more about what we can learn from it without say why.
Those of you who have read the book will know, and those of you who haven’t read it really should read it NOW.
Unlike Ender’s Game where battle school is filled with kids, we often don’t know the ages of the people that we
work with. There’s a great story in Karl Fogel’s Producing Open Source Software (page 82) about someone who had
participated in the Emacs community and written great bug reports. After his first contribution, when they sent him
some legal paperwork, they found out that he was 13.
Linus was only about 22 when he started Linux. At the USENIX conference earlier this year, I saw a presentation
from Keila Banks, an 11-year-old Web designer and programmer, talking about how she uses mostly open source
software.
We need to encourage these young people to get involved, especially in open source communities, where they can
learn something and have some real examples to show prospective employers and universities.
STRONG WOMEN
• Encourage young women
• Mentor
• Get more women speaking
at events
Let’s face it, Starbuck really could kick the ass of just about anyone in the room. Battlestar Galactica was filled with
strong, capable, talented women as the President, captains, fighter pilots and cylons.
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, 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.
CONTROL ISSUES
• Maintain balance
• Accept feedback
• Share responsibilities
In Dune, the people who controlled the spice, melange, controlled the world and even had control over space
travel, since space travel itself depended on people who were using the spice. This led to continued power
struggles and the eventual overthrow of those in power.
Communities can have similar issues when a person or group of people attempt to exert too much control, so you
need to maintain a balance between keeping things sane and productive without trying to control every aspect of
the community.
You also need to accept feedback. In a practical sense, it can be almost impossible to gain consensus for every
decision, but you should be trying to accept as many of the reasonable suggestions as humanly possible.
We also need to share the responsibilities within the community. A lot of open source communities find a good
balance between the person or group who founded the project and the other maintainers / committers involved in
the project. And the ones that don’t find this balance, generally get forked (in the open source sense of the word,
not the GitHub sense), which is essentially the same as the Dune style overthrow of those in power.
DISTRIBUTE RESPONSIBILITIES
• No single point of failure
• Manage access
• Notice warning signs
In Daemon, this amazing video game designer dies after a long illness. His death triggers the release of various
computer programs designed to do some pretty terrible things. Many of them trigger different actions depending
on what it learns from the press. I won’t go into detail, but it was some pretty destructive stuff. This book
illustrates the amazing destructive power that a disgruntled person can have even after they are gone.
In your community what would happen if you were hit by a bus tomorrow? What if another key person was
unavailable suddenly? Too many communities have single points of failure. The hosting account that only one
person has access to or the mailing list that is owned by a single individual. If something happens to one person,
you need to have a way to recover from it.
You also need to manage access to critical infrastructure in a way that makes sense. The people who need to
perform certain functions, need to have access, but not everyone needs to have access to everything. If someone
critical snaps, it helps if the destruction is limited.
Also look out for things that could go bad, notice the warning signs and hopefully prevent issues before they
become serious.
PEOPLE EVERYWHERE
• Travel
• Learn new things
• Meet interesting people
• Work on global projects
While I may not get to travel off-world, like they did so often in Stargate, my work as a community manager has
given me opportunities to travel around the world.
One of the main goals of the Stargate program was to obtain alien technologies and learn new ways to advance
our own technology. While I don’t get to play with cool alien technologies, like those awesome personal force
fields that some of the Goa’uld have, by actively participating in communities, you can learn new ways of doing
things, and get exposed to new technologies. You can even have super long debates with those people about
which approach is better - can’t beat a good packaging debate on a mailing list :)
Maybe this is because I’ve been working in open source, but I’ve met all kinds of interesting people, and unlike
Stargate, those people aren’t all trying to kill me.
By working on projects with people around the world, I can travel to most locations and find someone I know to
meet up with while I’m there.
MANAGE GROWTH
• Gradual growth
• Minimize disruption
• Balance resources
In Harry Harrison’s original book, Make Room! Make Room!, which was the basis for the movie Soylent Green,
soylent green was not people! That was a movie invention. But it was a book about population growth running
rampant and exceeding our ability to provide for all of the people The book was written in 1966 and took place in
1999 when the earth could no longer sustain it’s population. And population growth was something Harrison was
concerned about. He even included some data in the introduction talking about how we would run out of resources
before the end of the century.
While it may sound exciting to have amazing growth in your community, most communities are better off with
gradual, incremental growth that allows you to get new people involved in a way that maintains at least some of
the existing culture and minimizes disruption to the rest of the community.
Make sure you have enough resources to sustain your growth rate. Is the community structured in a way that can
grow with the community? Do you have enough people who can help new people get started? Do you have enough
people to manage the new contributions coming in?
OUTLASTTHEM
• Be patient
• Let issues die down naturally
• Allow others to participate
In The War of the Worlds, the martians were successfully taking over the world and winning the war against
humanity ... until they all died from bacteria from which they had no natural immunity. In this case, the humans
won, not because of any superior fighting skills, but because they outlasted their attackers.
Patience isn’t my strong suit, but I do force myself to be patient when it comes to dealing with the community.
I can’t count how many times people have rushed over to me (in person or virtually) to talk about something
happening in the community that must be dealt with right away. Maybe someone has insulted the company I work
for or said something not very nice about the project. Unless it’s something serious or a violation of our
guidelines, my typical response is to wait and see what happens. In most cases, someone else will defend us,
which is going to count for more than us trying to defend ourselves. Or maybe the issue dies down naturally, and
people recognize that someone is just trolling for a reaction. If it escalates, then maybe I will step in, but it’s not
my first reaction.
It also allows others to participate. If one person or a small group are jumping in on everything right away, it
tends to stifle discussion and reduce contributions from other people, so be patient and see what happens before
jumping in.
DON’T PANIC
• Things will go wrong
• Keep perspective
• Calmly recover
We all know that the Hitchhiker’s Guide supplanted the Encyclopedia Galactica. Partly because it was slightly
cheaper, but it also has the words Don’t Panic in large friendly letters on the cover, which is always good advice.
In communities, things will go wrong. Spammers, flame wars, debates that get a little too interesting, but they
won’t be as bad as someone destroying earth to build a hyperspacial expressway, so keep things in perspective,
and maybe bring a towel with you, just in case.
Then you can calmly recover from whatever the trouble was without freaking out.
When in doubt, the answer is 42.
THANK YOU
Contact	
  info:	
  Dawn	
  Foster
@geekygirldawn
dawn@puppetlabs.com
fastwonderblog.com
Some of my favorite modern sci-fi / fantasy authors:
Hugh Howey
Lois McMaster Bujold
Brandon Sanderson
Connie Willis

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What Science Fiction Can Teach Us About Building Communities

  • 1. WHAT SCIENCE FICTION CANTEACH US ABOUT BUILDING COMMUNITIES Dawn M. Foster Community  Lead  at  Puppet  Labs @geekygirldawn dawn@puppetlabs.com   Presenta:on  (with  notes)  available  at  fastwonderblog.com
  • 2. WHOAMI • Geek, traveler, reader • Past 12 years doing community & open source • Read 72 books last year, mostly sci-fi / fantasy • I keep a list: http://fastwonderblog.com/about/reading/ Photos by Josh Bancroft, Don Park
  • 3. BIGGER ONTHE INSIDE • Simple blue box ... until you open it • Have to go in to really understand • Go new places, learn something new • Has a mind of it’s own On the surface, the Tardis looks like a simple, blue police box. It's small and should fit a single person. Nothing special, nothing extraordinary … until you open door.  What can you really tell about a community by observing it from the outside? On the surface, you might see a few mailing lists, an IRC channel, a forum, some code repositories, etc. But until you get into the community and begin participating, you won't understand what it's really like in that community. When you open the door, and see that the inside is much larger than it looked from the outside, you might be pleasantly surprised and just a little confused. At some point, you'll realize that by coming inside, you can go all kinds of interesting places. You learn something new and wondrous every day. It even seems to have a mind of its own. All of this is true both for the Tardis and for communities. 
  • 4. ALL ABOUTTHE PEOPLE • Leaders, likeThe Doctor • Helpers, like companions • Can change at any time • Meet strange and interesting people Not about the leaders, it’s about everyone who participates The box itself is pretty cool, but the real magic lies with the people inside and outside of the box. Communities have leaders, not unlike the Doctor, and other people who help, like his companions, but communities are always changing. Sometimes you get a new companion or the Doctor takes a new form. The box itself might not change, but things will be different on the inside. If those new leaders are good, the community will continue to survive and flourish, not unlike how the show has survived a dozen different Doctors. At each stop, the Doctor meets strange and interesting new people. Especially for those of us who work in open source communities, I've met all kinds of strange and interesting people. Ultimately, it isn't really about the leaders, it's about all of the people who participate in the community. 
  • 5. DON’T GOTOO FAR • Understand first • Participate gently at first • Don’t do too much at once In H.G. Wells’ time machine, the time traveller, an inventor and scientist, travels forward over 800,000 years in time during his first trip. He finds that humanity has completely changed, he manages to have his time machine stolen, and he has to fight to get it back. Getting it back is made much more difficult due to misunderstanding about the nature of humanity during this time. This is a little like being new in a community. When you don’t understand the norms and how people participate, you are likely to make huge mistakes that can be difficult to recover from. When I joined Puppet Labs, since I wasn’t already an active community member, I made sure that people knew that I wasn’t going to participate in the community at all during the first month. Instead, I used that time to learn how the community functioned. I spent a lot of time talking to people about the community, and started working on some things that I could do in the background, behind the scenes, while I learned. Then I gradually started participating more and more, but gradually. I’ve seen too many people come into a community with grand ideas that they try to impose on others or try to dump a huge pile of code into the community, and what they are doing is making the same mistake a bunch of times and annoying everyone. So, start small, understand what’s going on, learn from a couple of smaller mistakes, and grow your participation over time.
  • 6. DON’T BE A REDSHIRT • Be noticed • Participate • Read John Scalzi’s ‘Redshirts’ Nobody wants to be a redshirt, the person beaming down on the away mission with Kirk, Spock and other important people. The one who can easily get killed off and no one will notice them missing by the next episode. If you disappear out of a community tomorrow, would anyone notice? They will if you are participating and contributing in some way on a regular basis. Find some way to contribute to the community doing something that people find valuable. If you ever wondered what it’s like to be a redshirt in real life, I recommend John Scalzi’s Redshirts. I won’t spoil it by saying more, but those of you who have read it know what I’m talking about!
  • 7. USEFUL SKILLS • Understand underlying technologies • Skills you offer the community • Learn to fill gaps Lucifer’s Hammer begins with an enormous catastrophe that destroys civilization as we know it. It’s one of those post-apocalyptic tales that makes you think about how much you really know about how everyday items are made. In Lucifer’s Hammer, modern technology is essentially destroyed and the people who survive are the ones with useful skills that allow your group to survive the winter. Personally, I’d be one of the first ones kicked out of the compound, since all of my useful skills involve technology. Luckily, this hasn’t happened ... yet. But, we can use it as an opportunity to think about how much we really understand about the foundations of the community. How much of the history do we know? What technologies are the community built on and do people understand it well enough to really build upon it? You can also think about the skills that we can offer the community in addition to what you do already. You can also learn new skills that help fill gaps within the community.
  • 8. 3 LAWS AND GUIDELINES • Well-behaved robots • Guidelines / code of conduct • Change over time Asimov created the 3 laws so that he could write stories that went against the robot stereotype of his time. He found the “Frankenstein” pattern, where robots turned on their creators and destroyed people, to be tedious. He wanted to write about a different kind of robot. Many of us find communities full of people acting like jerks to be a bit tedious and annoying. Asimov’s 3 laws set the expectations for his robots, not unlike how most communities have codes of conduct or guidelines for participation designed to help people understand what is and is not appropriate. The guidelines also evolve over time, like Asimov’s laws have. They’ve taken various forms over the years in different books with the biggest change probably being the zeroth law, which addressed the potential for a robot to harm humanity as a whole. In communities, the guidelines often change as a way of handling new issues, new tools or existing problems. 1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. 0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
  • 9. ANDROIDS AND EMPATHY • Don’t act like an android • Consider the impact of your actions • Show empathy In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Androids have evolved to become so close to human that it becomes very difficult to tell them apart, and one of the ways that they can tell for most androids is by testing their empathy responses. So, don’t act like an android. I just talked about guidelines, and where most people get in trouble, is when they don’t take the time to think about how their actions are going to impact another person or the community as a whole. Show empathy for other people, and your interactions in the community will be more positive. If you don’t show empathy for other people, a bounty hunter (or someone else in the community, like a community manager), might track you down. You won’t likely be killed for it, but ....
  • 10. NO MONSTERS • Different isn’t bad • Focus on ideas, not the person • No lynch mobs This is probably the original science fiction book, written in 1818 before science fiction was a thing. In the beginning, the Frankenstein creation wasn’t the monster that people assumed he was given his hideous, monster-like appearance. He didn’t become a monster until other people started treating him like one. Just because someone has different ideas within the community doesn’t make them a bad person. This is where it’s important to make sure that we always focus on the ideas and not the person. We can debate ideas without attacking the person making them. Nothing like an internet lynch mob to encourage people to stay as far away as possible. I’ve seen too many examples, including a recent one in the kernel community, of people online turning into the modern equivalent of the lynch mob.
  • 11. FERENGI != ROLE MODELS • #37: You can always buy back a lost reputation • #268: When in doubt, lie • #115: Greed is eternal While they may be fun to play tongo with at parties (if they don’t cheat you out of all of your latinum), the Ferengi are not good role models for community participation! We can learn quite a bit about how we should not behave in our communities by learning more about the Rules of Acquisition and doing the opposite of what a good Ferengi would do. Reputation in a community is critical. Your reputation and past actions are what give you credibility and earn trust with community members, and you can’t buy back a lost reputation. Lying to the community or the people within it is one of the easiest ways to destroy your reputation within the community. Even when the truth is unpleasant, people will appreciate the honesty and your reputation will be better for it in the end. There are too many examples of companies or individuals getting greedy with community contributions, and it never ends well.
  • 12. WHUFFIE • Reputation is currency • Do good • Recognize others In Down & Out in the Magic Kingdom, everyone has brain implants that supply basic information about a person, which essentially boils their worth down to a single number, called Whuffie. Whuffiie essentially replaces currency. People reward each other by giving someone more whuffie for doing something good or taking it away for doing something that is undesirable. Those with high whuffie get access to the best places, cool parties, a little like being royalty. Those with low whuffie can’t even get a table at a decent restaurant and are often shunned by those around them. Cory Doctorow’s book was the inspiration for another book by Tara Hunt, The Whuffie Factor, which talks about reputation in communities. Within communities, your reputation is your currency. If you are known for doing great work within the community, people are more likely to listen to your ideas in the future and give you the benefit of the doubt when something isn’t going as well. Part of doing good is recognizing the work of other people. Talk about how you built on the work of someone else and give them credit for their ideas or the portion of work accomplished by others. By treating each other with respect, being kind and doing things that help other people, we can all be more successful in the community.
  • 13. THEYOUNG CAN CONTRIBUTE • Age is often unknown • Some great contributions from young people • Encourage young people to contribute How many of you have read Ender’s Game? It’s hard to talk about Ender’s Game without ruining it for those who haven’t read the book, so in this case, I’m going to talk more about what we can learn from it without say why. Those of you who have read the book will know, and those of you who haven’t read it really should read it NOW. Unlike Ender’s Game where battle school is filled with kids, we often don’t know the ages of the people that we work with. There’s a great story in Karl Fogel’s Producing Open Source Software (page 82) about someone who had participated in the Emacs community and written great bug reports. After his first contribution, when they sent him some legal paperwork, they found out that he was 13. Linus was only about 22 when he started Linux. At the USENIX conference earlier this year, I saw a presentation from Keila Banks, an 11-year-old Web designer and programmer, talking about how she uses mostly open source software. We need to encourage these young people to get involved, especially in open source communities, where they can learn something and have some real examples to show prospective employers and universities.
  • 14. STRONG WOMEN • Encourage young women • Mentor • Get more women speaking at events Let’s face it, Starbuck really could kick the ass of just about anyone in the room. Battlestar Galactica was filled with strong, capable, talented women as the President, captains, fighter pilots and cylons. 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, 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.
  • 15. CONTROL ISSUES • Maintain balance • Accept feedback • Share responsibilities In Dune, the people who controlled the spice, melange, controlled the world and even had control over space travel, since space travel itself depended on people who were using the spice. This led to continued power struggles and the eventual overthrow of those in power. Communities can have similar issues when a person or group of people attempt to exert too much control, so you need to maintain a balance between keeping things sane and productive without trying to control every aspect of the community. You also need to accept feedback. In a practical sense, it can be almost impossible to gain consensus for every decision, but you should be trying to accept as many of the reasonable suggestions as humanly possible. We also need to share the responsibilities within the community. A lot of open source communities find a good balance between the person or group who founded the project and the other maintainers / committers involved in the project. And the ones that don’t find this balance, generally get forked (in the open source sense of the word, not the GitHub sense), which is essentially the same as the Dune style overthrow of those in power.
  • 16. DISTRIBUTE RESPONSIBILITIES • No single point of failure • Manage access • Notice warning signs In Daemon, this amazing video game designer dies after a long illness. His death triggers the release of various computer programs designed to do some pretty terrible things. Many of them trigger different actions depending on what it learns from the press. I won’t go into detail, but it was some pretty destructive stuff. This book illustrates the amazing destructive power that a disgruntled person can have even after they are gone. In your community what would happen if you were hit by a bus tomorrow? What if another key person was unavailable suddenly? Too many communities have single points of failure. The hosting account that only one person has access to or the mailing list that is owned by a single individual. If something happens to one person, you need to have a way to recover from it. You also need to manage access to critical infrastructure in a way that makes sense. The people who need to perform certain functions, need to have access, but not everyone needs to have access to everything. If someone critical snaps, it helps if the destruction is limited. Also look out for things that could go bad, notice the warning signs and hopefully prevent issues before they become serious.
  • 17. PEOPLE EVERYWHERE • Travel • Learn new things • Meet interesting people • Work on global projects While I may not get to travel off-world, like they did so often in Stargate, my work as a community manager has given me opportunities to travel around the world. One of the main goals of the Stargate program was to obtain alien technologies and learn new ways to advance our own technology. While I don’t get to play with cool alien technologies, like those awesome personal force fields that some of the Goa’uld have, by actively participating in communities, you can learn new ways of doing things, and get exposed to new technologies. You can even have super long debates with those people about which approach is better - can’t beat a good packaging debate on a mailing list :) Maybe this is because I’ve been working in open source, but I’ve met all kinds of interesting people, and unlike Stargate, those people aren’t all trying to kill me. By working on projects with people around the world, I can travel to most locations and find someone I know to meet up with while I’m there.
  • 18. MANAGE GROWTH • Gradual growth • Minimize disruption • Balance resources In Harry Harrison’s original book, Make Room! Make Room!, which was the basis for the movie Soylent Green, soylent green was not people! That was a movie invention. But it was a book about population growth running rampant and exceeding our ability to provide for all of the people The book was written in 1966 and took place in 1999 when the earth could no longer sustain it’s population. And population growth was something Harrison was concerned about. He even included some data in the introduction talking about how we would run out of resources before the end of the century. While it may sound exciting to have amazing growth in your community, most communities are better off with gradual, incremental growth that allows you to get new people involved in a way that maintains at least some of the existing culture and minimizes disruption to the rest of the community. Make sure you have enough resources to sustain your growth rate. Is the community structured in a way that can grow with the community? Do you have enough people who can help new people get started? Do you have enough people to manage the new contributions coming in?
  • 19. OUTLASTTHEM • Be patient • Let issues die down naturally • Allow others to participate In The War of the Worlds, the martians were successfully taking over the world and winning the war against humanity ... until they all died from bacteria from which they had no natural immunity. In this case, the humans won, not because of any superior fighting skills, but because they outlasted their attackers. Patience isn’t my strong suit, but I do force myself to be patient when it comes to dealing with the community. I can’t count how many times people have rushed over to me (in person or virtually) to talk about something happening in the community that must be dealt with right away. Maybe someone has insulted the company I work for or said something not very nice about the project. Unless it’s something serious or a violation of our guidelines, my typical response is to wait and see what happens. In most cases, someone else will defend us, which is going to count for more than us trying to defend ourselves. Or maybe the issue dies down naturally, and people recognize that someone is just trolling for a reaction. If it escalates, then maybe I will step in, but it’s not my first reaction. It also allows others to participate. If one person or a small group are jumping in on everything right away, it tends to stifle discussion and reduce contributions from other people, so be patient and see what happens before jumping in.
  • 20. DON’T PANIC • Things will go wrong • Keep perspective • Calmly recover We all know that the Hitchhiker’s Guide supplanted the Encyclopedia Galactica. Partly because it was slightly cheaper, but it also has the words Don’t Panic in large friendly letters on the cover, which is always good advice. In communities, things will go wrong. Spammers, flame wars, debates that get a little too interesting, but they won’t be as bad as someone destroying earth to build a hyperspacial expressway, so keep things in perspective, and maybe bring a towel with you, just in case. Then you can calmly recover from whatever the trouble was without freaking out. When in doubt, the answer is 42.
  • 21. THANK YOU Contact  info:  Dawn  Foster @geekygirldawn dawn@puppetlabs.com fastwonderblog.com Some of my favorite modern sci-fi / fantasy authors: Hugh Howey Lois McMaster Bujold Brandon Sanderson Connie Willis