Massimo Sarti is a business agility coach and trainer, focused on helping individuals, teams and businesses to adopt new ways of working on realising business value.
He has a strong technical background, having worked for over 30 years in IT as a developer, system integrator and IT operations manager.
Massimo is a professional Scrum trainer, an accredited Kanban trainer and a practitioner of training.
He is the organiser of Agile Talks, the largest active agile community in Rome, Italy, created to help people to bridge the agile knowledge gap.
Massimo has delivered talks and workshops in public events in the UK and Italy and he is also a freelance contractor.
Hi Massimo! Tell us about your tech community, its members and objectives.
Agile Talks is the name of my community, started in 2014 as an experiment made by Andrea Di Pinto and me, for sharing knowledge about Scrum in Roma, by means of offline meetings, published on meetup as “Scrum Roma”, meetings where people wanted to collaborate, talk and listen others interested to the same topic.
In 2017 Codemotion Roma started to host our meetings and at the end of 2018 I decided to rename the group to Agile Talks in order to broaden the audience. Members are now 1,400 and they are growing month after month. Objectives have remained the same since our first meetings: spreading knowledge about agility and creating a network of professionals.
Being a Tech Community Manager
What is it like being a tech community manager in your country? What is the tech scene in your country?
Um, I should say it’s a pain and a gain, but, you know, there isn’t gain without pain! There is always a lot to do, to negotiate (dates, places, speakers, hosts, etc). At first it was really hard, but now the wheel seems to be spinning well: we have many more speakers than the slots offered by the hosts so we can fill the calendar of upcoming events with interesting events.
In Italy we are witnessing a multiplication of events (free or paid) that finally take place outside Rome and Milan. The presence of these events in the territory is fundamental for the diffusion of knowledge on these issues: not everyone can afford to travel to participate. I am very positive about how things are going on this front.
What were the biggest problems you’ve had to overcome and how have you done this?
The biggest problem is the “drop”: when you organise an event open to the public, you must consider that 40-50% of the members will not show up. If there is a sudden public transport strike or particularly bad weather on that day, the drop is even greater.
For a talk it’s not a huge problem (apart from the disappointment that the presenter might have and maybe spent days preparing for the presentation). The problem is really serious for workshops and laboratories: the material is carried in excess, teams do not form well, etc.
Three days before and then the day before, we invite those who can’t come to the presentation to unsubscribe: it’s tiring but we have noticed some improvements in terms of correct behaviour. Another problem are the latecomers: at talks or, worse, after a workshop has started, those who enter late create a distraction.
Unfortunately, Rome doesn’t help us on this: the traffic is unpredictable. Often people literally have to run away from the company in order to reach us in time, and this is a source of pride and a strong incentive for us to continue with the initiatives of Agile Talks.
Diversity in Tech Communities
Do you encourage Diversity in your tech community, and during your meetups? How important is it to have a code of conduct? Have you ever had to apply it?
We are trying to alternate male and female appearances on stage as speakers or facilitators. Since September 2019 we are inviting “fresh voices”, people from other sectors, in order to encourage the divergence of opinions and insights.
We do not put any barriers at the entrance of the events: we only ask to have maximum respect towards the other participants and towards those who present or facilitate. So far, nothing has happened that has led us to the need to see and accept a code of conduct. We will consider in the future whether to do so.
Why and how to become a Community Manager
Why did you decide to become a community manager, and what is the most valuable thing you got in return? How do you balance your work time and personal life with being a community manager?
I worked for a few years in London (the Roman meetup was already underway but due to my absence and a job change had been “frozen”). In London I had the opportunity to appreciate how powerful the meetings and events in the evening were: to increase knowledge and awareness, to meet other professionals and enthusiasts.
It is said that knowledge workers should study 10-12 hours a month just to keep up. That’s it: meetups are a great way to learn by investing only their personal time. What did I get in return? Certainly visibility and appreciation for the effort made and the results obtained.
But above all the gratification of doing something useful for my country. The balance between my professional/personal time and the community? Um, next question please!
What skills and experience does a tech community manager need? What is the secret to building relationships in a tech community, and how do you maintain these relationships?
Experience in organising meetings, ability to stay on social networks, resistance and resilience. The secret? Getting participants to talk to each other as well as those who present or facilitate. For this reason it is extremely important to create a psychologically safe environment and to ensure that after the event there is space and time for professional networking.
Please list some dos and don’ts for aspiring tech community managers. What distinguishes a good tech community from a bad one?
Do: use “we”, speak to others, facilitate conversations between participants, organise workshops. Don’t: use “I”, hold the stage for you, speak about you, bore participants with a lot of slides. A good community is an “agora”, a place where people can meet and talk and share ideas feeling psychologically safe.
Agile Talks: the Success of a Tech Community
What do you consider the best metrics for evaluating the success of a tech community?
A part of feedbacks received at the end of every meeting (which we could consider just event-specific metrics) and the number of community members (which could be a very dangerous vanity metric), I consider the most important: the percentage of recurring participants, what I call “the core” comparing to total number of participants of each event, and the number of people who start to follow us after a first meeting.
What are the most important tools of the trade, for you?
Social networks for sure. IMHO LinkedIn and Twitter first, then Facebook. But you shouldn’t under evaluate the power of specific platforms (i.e. community.codemotion.com, EventBrite, etc) and the old but always great word of mouth. We are evaluating YouTube and Telegram too, but it’s too early to consider them “important”.
What books, articles, videos, experts and conferences would you suggest to other tech community managers?
I strongly suggest reading a book by Emily Webber, Building Successful Communities of Practice. Then to follow Alessio Fattorini and Alfredo Morresi on Linkedin: their posts are always full of very good advices and insights.
Do you think tech communities can have a role in shaping a better tomorrow?
Every community, tech or not tech, has a big role for creating a better world and then a better tomorrow. The most precious thing we have is knowledge and from knowledge we can improve our wisdom. Sharing is caring as my parents told me and my sister when we were kids. Sharing knowledge is the best action we can do: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”.
What advice do you wish you had been given when you started your community?
Never give up and always take small steps. Experiment and then decide whether to continue on that road or change direction. Success and satisfaction will come.