Giulia Tosato has a great experience in organising events and managing tech communities. She is also part of GrUSP, a community of web developers based in Italy. We interviewed her to learn more about her experience, and to share her knowledge with Codemotion Magazine readers.
Hi Giulia! Please tell us about your tech community, its members and objectives.
GrUSP is an Italian tech community born in 2003. A small group of developers thought it would be necessary, in the Italian scenery, to have more events where meeting, learning, and growing.
So they started organising the first phpday, a tech conference dedicated to PHP. It was a small, free event at that time: now it has grown to an International conference which happens every year in Verona.
Besides the 13 yearly conferences we organise, GrUSP is pursuing their main objective (provide growing opportunities to the Italian developers) by helping organise several local meetups. As today, about 10 PUGs (short for PHP or Programmer User Group) are active in as many cities.
They happen monthly, each of them has two or more organisers, and they’re totally independent. GrUSP help them by paying some expenses, promote, connect them, so they can learn from one another.
Members of the community, like the attendees of the conferences and of the local meet-ups, can have conversations on our slack channel – which everyone if free to join.
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 think that in Italy the concept itself of “tech community” is quite often misunderstood. Most of the time when we talk about “tech” we comprehend everything somehow related to the computers or digital world, in a very extensive way. So when we talk about someone who has a job in tech, we can intend from “write a blog” to “be an engineer”. So it’s really not easy to explain people what we do!
When someone says “I’m a programmer” the people don’t get it. In other words: I think that the tech scene in Italy really needs to grow, to build relationships, to deeply acknowledge itself in order to be more clearly recognised from the outside. I think this could be the way to get more and more inclusive, attract more people and increase diversity at all levels.
Also the companies need to deeply understand their people urge for learn, keep updated, meet peers. I heard too many times someone say “I can’t come to this event because my company won’t let me”! – and that’s too bad.
Diversity in Tech
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?
Diversity is one of the thing I care about the most. I strongly believe that if women (and other marginalised groups) are so little represented is mainly because of stereotype, a very hard to remove one. A bias that has, unfortunately, a long story and that affects not only the tech scene – but has a particular relevance in it.
What we do as GrUSP is encourage the participation of women, student, and under represented people to our events, by giving free tickets through our Scholarships Program. On the other hand, we’ll do our best to have the more diverse and balanced lineup that we can. This is necessary, in my opinion, because people need role models.
We all need examples and inspiration from people like us, similar to us – not only like-minded but similar. So if we want to bring more people to the community, make them feel welcome and belonging, we need te community itself to be diverse, to be like them, in all the countless facets.
I personally have another objective: to raise awareness about the history of women in programming – and the reasons why they’re so very few nowadays; because I think that we need to know the past if we want to change the future. It’s the topic of a talk I’m giving at Codemotion Rome 2020 🙂
We’ve been applying a code of conduct since many years, we believe it’s important for people to feel they all have agreed on how to behave – this helps create a safe space for everyone in which feel free to express.
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’m not a programmer, so the funny thing is that I’m a Tech Community Manager …without being “tech”!
I kind of find myself in here without having decided it before… There hasn’t been a moment when I consciously decided to become a community manager. I just started doing it and only then, realised “oh, I’m a community manager!”
A few years ago, I was a freelancer, doing digital marketing (so, not really a “tech” job!). I was working from home, by myself, and had more and more urge to meet people. I got in touch with the WordPress community, and the Italian in particular that were, at that time, small and trying to re-organise itself. In that context, I started to organise meet-ups and events. And I felt home with all those awesome people who were “giving back” to the open-source project.
The idea of “give back” really shaped my life since then. From the community, I had so much: friends, motivation, skills… and I really felt the joy to give back to the community, so that more people could become part of it and get their-self friends, knowledge, that sense of belonging that makes you feel strong, the passion that drives your job and your behaviour.
So after the first experiences in organising community events, I discovered myself kind of natural at it. When I met GrUSP, they were looking for someone like me, passionate about communities and event organising, and with skills in digital marketing. And that’s how I found myself GrUSP community manager 🙂
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?
It’s not easy to say what is the most valuable thing I had got from the communities I’m part of, but one is for sure the idea (and awareness) that great things happens (magic, happens!) when people gather and share their ideas, experiences, without asking for anything in return.
And if these people come from different backgrounds and brings different ideas, this works even better!
I learned (and keep learning) so many skills, very useful on the job and in everyday life: like, just for example, the ability to really listen to the people.
Ah, there’s no more thing such “personal life” when you’re a community manager! I actually try to disappear from time to time, not checking mail or messages, and sharing very little about my private life on social media. It’s not always easy but definitely worth it.
I’ve been organising tech meetups and events, and managing communities, since 4 years; but I feel I’m still training to be a community manager. You never stop learn! There are so many skills you need.
The experience is key, for sure: it’s important to have been to a lot of events, having look carefully at how they’re managed. You need to keep your eyes wide open, and your hears too. I think it’s most about be capable of seeing and listening, with patience and attention, and with empathy.
I don’t know if there’s a secret to building relationships, and maintain them, in particular in this field… but if there’s one, to me is about giving, and share, more than you can, and always more than you take. To not being selfish, not to watch at your little space but always try to be open, welcoming, generous.
The Success of a Tech Community
Please list some dos and don’ts for aspiring tech community managers. What distinguishes a good tech community from a bad one?
I think there’s one thing an aspiring community manager should really, really do: participate! Take part at meet-ups, community events, so to talk with people and understand they needs, and see and “live” what other communities are doing. Look for inspiration, share ideas, always be driven by one objective: to learn. Be humble, supportive, open and empathetic.
And another very important thing to do: always be very careful about your words and how you communicate – and in particular when it comes to diversity and inclusivity issues. Look out for the stereotypes and bias you may fall into.
What do you consider the best metrics for evaluating the success of a tech community?
How do you evaluate the success of a community? It’s quite simple to me: if even just one of the members got their life became better thanks to the community, it’s successful. That’s it. Makes people’s life better, a little bit. Someone may find a new job, or a new significant project, or “just” some new friends with whom share ideas and grow together.
Do you think tech communities can have a role in shaping a better tomorrow?
I’m sure tech communities can have a role in shaping a better tomorrow. People have a role in it, and what we do is care about the people and, in some way, abilitate them to be the best they can. So yes, communities (and tech ones in particular) are key to a better future.
What advice do you wish you had been given when you started your community?
What advice do you wish you had been given when you started your community? I wish I’d known you can never go back to what you were before! I’m joking, though. Because I feel I’m a much better person today.