If you want to learn more about community management, Natalie Pistunovich is probably one of the most informed person out there. She has a strong experience as a backend developer, and she’s a passionate Gopher. It’s worth to mention her involvement in the organization of GopherCon Europe, one of the most important event for GoLang enthusiasts.
Natalie is also a member and community manager of three different communities, and we interviewed her to learn more about community management and her experience about it.
Hi Natalie! Please tell us about your tech community, its members and objectives.
There are several tech communities that I’m running, from the oldest to the youngest:
The Go User Group in Berlin – we’re meeting monthly to talk about the Go programming language since 2011, and I joined as an organizer in the end of 2014. Since then the meetup grew to be the second biggest Go User Group in Europe! We always have 2 talks and time for people to network, and the best thing is that while there is a steady kernel of people who show up almost every time, we also have new people joining almost every event.
Women Techmakers Berlin – A meetup I started in the beginning of 2015, with the goal of making the Berlin tech scene more diverse. With time, the organizers time grew to a team of 8 volunteers, each coming from a different background, and this is what got us to be Berlin‘s most active tech meetup in 2018! The events range from 30 to 200 attendees, and cover multiple topics, from tech deep dive to how to negotiate your salary. To us, diversity comes in all forms and shapes, not just gender (that’s why the meetup is open for people of all genders since day 1), and we always welcome people of all nationalities, religions, backgrounds, neurodiversity, sexual preference, family status and many others. To cater to parents, we sometimes host events on a weekend morning and offer childcare.
And the Aerospike User Group in Berlin – my most recent adventure! Aerospike is a database that has been around for about a decade but is rather anonymous. I love getting engaged with strong technologies that are not (yet) popular. Watching developers solve some of their biggest pain points with tools they haven’t heard of, and then become ambassadors of that tool is something I enjoyed a lot doing with the Go User Group a few years ago, and I enjoy doing the same now. This of course comes with challenges of building a community from ground up – inviting people to attend, finding someone who tried this tech and give a talk, and find a space to host us!
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?
The German tech scene is very varied, and while I try to be active in different parts of the country, I am most familiar with the Berlin one. This has been evolving into a European tech hub over the last few years, and it’s exciting to see how the growing demand is creating opportunities for people who wanted to make a career change – within the different tech branches, or even into tech – go through this process here.
Being a tech community manager is a great chance to combine my passion for tech and the passion of driving projects, whether it’s meetups, courses or even conferences.
What were the biggest problems you’ve had to overcome and how have you done this?
Problems come in a beautiful range that keeps me alert and makes things not boring, because there are so many challenges to solve. It can be not finding space for a talk, it can be speakers cancelling a speaking engagement, it can be online disagreements, and it can be many other things.
The only thing that is common to solving all the problems is creativity, strong improvisation skills and lots of compassion. Many problems start from small misunderstandings, and getting to the bottom of that, fast and in a way that is taking in consideration everyone, is the right way to solve problems.
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?
Very important, and we definitely have a code of conduct in all online and offline events and conversations.
With the years, I did find myself in several situations where I had to apply it. One example that stayed in my mind is when a speaker, who recently moved to Germany from a non-European country, volunteered to give a talk, and in that talk violated several times the code of conduct by using profound language and commenting on the visual appearance of the attendees (whom he didn’t know before). I’ve consulted with several people who are outside of the team and deal with code of conduct violations, to make sure I get a wide perspective. Then, I talked with the person he mentioned, and lastly I talked with the speaker.
The bigger picture that I learned from the situation is that it was a misunderstanding rooted in the fact that in the origin country of the speaker, a similar behaviour was accepted, and the speaker was indeed new to Germany.
The speaker apologized to the person and to me, and said they will not attend the meetup in the near future and asked to send their apologies to the community, which we did in the next event.
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?
5-6 years ago this was not really called community manager, and I thought that I just take on myself to organize meetups. I’ve always been that active person wherever I was – school, university, youth movements, etc. So this seemed like a natural thing for me to do, once I came across tech meetups in Berlin.
The two most valuable things I get are:
- Getting to be part of the journey where people achieve their goals: getting into fields of tech they wanted to for a while, solving problems they had with new tech and enabling great projects, finding their next job by networking, or establishing their local gang when they just moved to Berlin and easily connect with like-minded people
- Meeting great people, and developing those relationships into meaningful collaborations that enrich the community
Balancing is very important, and after being over my limit several times, I learned to recognize when is my time to step back, and either say “I cannot do this right now, let’s talk in X again” or make an introduction to someone who can benefit from this connection right away.
I cannot stress enough how important is self care, and how it can be easy to forget to do that every now and then when things get really exciting.
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?
Strong sense of empathy, good communication skills, improvisation skills, seeing the bigger picture and being able to evaluate trade offs, not being a perfectionist, and being driven by the goal. This type of work is many times rewarding because of all the interactions and the change you see you make, but at times you can find yourself in situations that don’t have these external incentives of positive feedback. That’s when the internal drive keeps you going.
For building and maintaining relationships you need empathy more than anything else. Providing value, being there for long and being reliable, accountable and honest.
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?
Do: be welcoming, inclusive, friendly and empathetic.
Don’t: judge, discriminate, be negative.
Bad tech communities are ones that are poisonous to the members. Good tech communities leave the members enriched from their interactions, with knowledge, relationships and well being.
What do you consider the best metrics for evaluating the success of a tech community?
How many people remain active? How many people invite their friends? How many people get value from the community?
What are the most important tools of the trade, for you?
Written mediums and social media – this depends a lot on the type of the community.
If it’s mostly an online community, then it’s platforms like dev.to and Medium where people share written content, and slack and forums where people discuss this content;
If it’s an online+offline community, then it’s meetup and eventbrite where people hear about the next events, and facebook and twitter where people stay in touch between events.
Do you think tech communities can have a role in shaping a better tomorrow?
Absolutely, this is the place where people stay in touch, brainstorm and collaborate most of the time. In-person events take only a small percent of that interaction time.
What advice do you wish you had been given when you started your community?
You can create a lot of value without doing everything 100%.