Iván López is a software engineer and systems administrator with 14 years of experience. He is a member of the Grails and Micronaut teams at Object Computing Inc (OCI). Eight years ago, Iván discovered Grails. Since then, he has been developing almost exclusively using Java and Groovy. He is also the creator of some Grails plugins like Postgresql-Extensions and Slug-Generator.
Iván is the coordinator of the Madrid Groovy User Group (@madridgug), the former organiser of the Greach Conference and a frequent speaker at conferences like Devoxx, Codemotion, GeeCon, Spring IO, RigaDevDays, JavaCro, SpringOne 2GX, GR8Conf and Greach.
Madrid Groovy User Group
Hi Iván! Please tell us about your tech community, its members and objectives.
My community is Madrid Groovy Users Group, a community built around the Groovy language (a JVM language) and all the tools, frameworks and libraries around it: Grails, Gradle, Griffon, Spock, Ratpack,… Currently we have almost 1,000 members on meetup, although we all know that it’s not the real number. As we are some kind of niche community our meetups gather around 30-50 attendees. Some of us have known each other for seven or eight years.
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?
I don’t know about the rest of the country but in Madrid (well and in big cities like Barcelona) there are a lot of tech communities. I don’t really see myself as a tech community manager but as a person with interests in some technologies that likes have meetups about those technologies to learn more.
What were the biggest problems you’ve had to overcome and how have you done this?
As I said we’re a niche community so the biggest problem is to find speakers and new topics. We usually have around 7-10 talks every year but in the last 2-3 years we’ve decreased the numbers of talks to 6-8 at most. In any case, I’m happy with that.
My trick to get new speakers is being a little “annoying” and every time I see someone on Twitter talking about something that can fit in our community, I try to convince them to give a talk. Sometimes it works!
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?
Sadly most of our attendees are male. We have some women from time to time but it’s not very common. I try to encourage diversity but it’s complicated. We don’t have a code of conduct but I think we’ve never needed one. Not really sure…
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?
When I started working with Groovy and Grails 10 years ago I went to my first Madrid-GUG. It was an eye-opening for me because I met some folks that knew a lot about those technologies that I was learning. I wanted to have meetings every month so I could continue learning more and more. At one time I was pushing a lot to have talks, finding speakers, that I became somehow the leader of the community. It’s been almost seven years now.
I got a lot of things in return. I’ve met a lot of people, learned a lot of stuff and I’ve also been involved in helping other communities and some conferences in Madrid.
Regarding balancing my work and personal life with my community, to be honest it doesn’t take too much time. When we have a meetup I only need to update our webpage and schedule it (this takes less than 10-15 minutes).
Then, the day of the meetup, I “take the time off “with the family so I go to the venue, set up the camera and screen recorder and then enjoy the talk and the drinks after it. Then, one or two days after that, I spend less than one hour creating the video of the talk and uploading it to our YouTube channel.
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?
I don’t think you need special skills to manage the community. For me it’s more about being passionate about the technology and the community. I try to be honest and nice to everyone and help anything I can when someone has issues, when “friend” companies need to hire people.
Please list some dos and don’ts for aspiring tech community managers. What distinguishes a good tech community from a bad one?
This is a tough one… I think that you need to like talk in front of people (you present your community in every meetup) and you need some kind of experience with some of the technologies from your community. I’m not really sure about bad communities.
Madrid Groovy User Group: the Success of a Tech Community
What do you consider the best metrics for evaluating the success of a tech community?
One simple metric is the number of attendees to the meetups. But, in a small community like ours, that number is not too high. For me it is seeing the same people in the meetings. If they come back it means that we’re doing good and they are still interested in what we do. Another thing that has happened sometimes is receiving an email from someone from another country asking for advice to create a new Groovy community in their city/country.
What are the most important tools of the trade, for you?
We only have a blog and a Twitter account so I don’t think I need some special tools.
What books, articles, videos, experts and conferences would you suggest to other tech community managers?
It really depends on the community. There are three big conferences in Spain that I really like a lot: Codemotion, CommitConf and T3chFest. They are really big (around 2,000 attendees) and there are a lot of topics and interesting talks. If someone is new and wants to start with conferences, I’d suggest those three.
Do you think tech communities can have a role in shaping a better tomorrow?
I think they already have. I know folks from our community that have found a new job because they came to one of our talks and someone mentioned that in their company they were looking for new people. Communities are also great because you join in the same place folks with the same interests and when they talk new and exciting ideas can appear.
What advice do you wish you had been given when you started your community? Find sponsors from the very beginning. To have that networking I mentioned after the talks it’s great if a company can sponsor the drinks/food so people don’t need to go home and can talk about different topics in a more relaxed environment while they take some food and drinks. It took us too much time until we found some sponsors and now I think it’s easier for attendees to stay after the talk.