Simon Johanning is the Head of Outreach of Code Camp Leipzig. He is said to be a jack of all trades because of his many educational backgrounds and career experiences—Computer Science, Mathematics, Energy Economics, and Music Technology just to name a few. All these enabled him to be the best person for reaching out and building communities in the industry.
We interviewed Simon to learn more about community outreach.
How to build effective tech communities
What’s the secret behind the process of building effective and efficient tech communities?
It’s a very human thing, since there are a lot of ways of interacting and envisioning things. But you can’t live in your dream world, you need to think about how can you communicate your ideas, and how you can make it happen. You need to clearly understand your needs in order to engage people, because communities only work when you’re engaging their members. And that’s one of the big things that you need to keep in mind.
To build a community you need to really convey something emotional, really engaging people and giving them something concrete to work with. Organize a concrete meetups, or having some real project where people can participate are two good examples. You also need to leave people some space to develop something themselves.
I’m an academic, so by nature I’m often correctly accused of being too abstract. For me, there’s actually something of value in that because it gives you some structure, some inspiration, and some space that you need to fill yourself. This interplay it’s a space that community members can fill, and something they can engage with. That is what I think really characterizes my approach to community outreach and building in Leipzig.
Difficulties of being a community manager
What are the most difficult things in tech community management?
My first experience with community management was in the Netherlands, where I started some live coding community where we met regularly and created music and tools to make music as a performance, along with live coding.
Such community did not have a particular structure, and I think that this lack of structure worked very well in setting up community. After a first kickoff event of the urban tech community, I sketched such abstract vision that people could fill. This idea was supposed to motivate people and to contribute with their ideas, because I didn’t want to normatively put my idea of how the community has to be.
However, I think there was not enough structure, because people fell a bit into a hole. We’re now building a community hub, which is basically a web app where people can start project and get people involved in their projects to really build the concrete tools to allow people interact more proactively with something.
I think one of the most important things when you create communities is to provide concrete possibilities, concrete ways of engaging so that people feel overwhelmed when there’s this empty space that they didn’t need to fill. Community lives off the interaction of people, so you will not have people sitting at home being like “oh yeah, I want to do something for community! Let’s come up with this. Maybe somebody likes it.” This is not how it works.
So I need some structure and communication. But I also need the open space that people can fill and shape themselves. People have to feel that they have some influence as well, that what they do actually matters, that it counts, that it contributes something, and that is not just a task for someone else’s project.
A community must be something that people do in their free time. Something people do without being paid for. So this is something you really need to be very respectful of and to really understand how people take what they need, what they thrive on and what kind of educative moments you can create.
What about Codemotion?
What do you think about Codemotion and our community platform?
Well, this is actually my first time at Codemotion, and I’ve only been here half a day. I’ve been involved with the Google Developer Groups, allowing people to learn about us here at the conference, getting into a conversation about community engagement through the GDG program. I talked to very nice people, sharing with them backgrounds and interests. I also went to a couple of talks, and learned some very interesting stuff.
If you want to see the full interview with Simon from our developer event Codemotion Berlin 2019, here is the full video: