At Codemotion, we’re big fans of developer communities and community management. We support community-led side events at our conferences and we’ve created an events portal where anyone can post an upcoming event.
But at a time when a lot of events have been postponed or cancelled, it’s worth taking a bigger look at the role of community management. so we’ve created a three-part series focused on three of the biggest developer communities. The first is Red Hat.
Red Hat provides enterprise open source solutions, using a community-powered approach to deliver high-performing Linux, cloud, container, and Kubernetes technologies. In the open-source world, communities are growing with people from all around the world bringing passion about coder.
New collaborators can butt heads with the old guard, creating conflicts within communities, or worse, driving software forks.
Community Development at Red Hat
I spoke to Diane Mueller, Director of Community Development for Red Hat’s Cloud Platform Group. I wanted to find out about How Red Hat has maintained a thriving community for so long.
Talking to Diane was an opportunity to learn about her role and how it relates to community, She explained:
“As Director, Community Development for Red Hat’s Cloud Platform Group, I focus on community development for OpenShift, OKD, Operator Framework, and Project Quay. All are part of a number of inter-connected open source communities that are part of the Cloud Native ecosystem.
Some are CNCF projects that range from Kubernetes to Rook to CRI-O, others are hosted elsewhere like Fedora CoreOS, and all are connected to Linux in some way shape or form. And still other open source communities that are building operators with the Operator Framework. So you see, it’s not just one ‘community’ that we are collaborating with any longer.”
In, 2014, Red Hat launched an ecosystem-based community called OpenShift Commons. It embraces all these multiple stakeholder relationships from end-users, hosts, upstream and downstream project leads in addition to all the contributors to each of the core Red Hat projects.
She notes that:
“OpenShift (and it’s open-source upstream project OKD) are unique in that they are built in collaboration with multiple open-source communities across multiple ecosystems. Once the shift from a stand-alone PaaS project to re-architecting the OpenShift platform onto Kubernetes, we no longer were concerned with just the health of our individual code base, we deeply engaged in the development of a number of other CNCF projects.”
Community management within a large community management ecosystem
Managing multiple multi-level community relationships is hard work, As a result, Red Hat uses:
“A wide variety of tools to track community engagement such as Trello, we use Bitergia Analytics tools to analyze relationships and resource interdependencies between and across multiple open source projects. We have the usual mailings lists and very active slack channels. And we do hundreds of virtual meetings a week using BlueJeans, Zoom, Webex depending on the communities and organizations we are engaging with. “
The Value of End-User Community through sharing End User Stories
Diane explains that RedHat is (excuse the pun) old hat at encouraging community engagement. They’re big fans of community created and curated content. They make this possible by creating a culture of ‘giving away the podium’ across the OpenShift Commons community:
“This means that we encourage the sharing of stories by end-users about their digital transformation journeys to Cloud Native, encourage open feedback, and best practices via Special Interest Groups, Technical Working Groups, Weekly Briefings, and Face to Face Gatherings around the world in which:
- project leads
- hosting providers
- along with contributors external to Red Hat
are routinely given the ‘podium’ to share their lessons learned, their expertise with the community – all of which is recorded and published to youtube”.
A P2P Network of Authentic Online Engagement is Essential in Community Management
People join open-source software communities for many different reasons. Many join because working on the software is part of their jobs—either because their organizations hired them to develop it, or because their jobs depend on the software working well.
They join communities so they can directly impact the development of software on which they (or their organizations) rely for critical operations. Other people join because communities offer opportunities for them to sharpen their skills by working alongside and learning from others.
Some join because doing so allows them to collaboratively solve a problem they’re experiencing. Some join because of their belief in the importance of contributing to a common set of resources beneficial to everyone. And others join for the purpose of socializing, or for a sense of identity and affiliation.
Online personas are a big part of digital communities with many people presenting a virtual self that is at odds with their actual self, potentially causing confusion and a lack of authenticity. RedHat does it a bit differently in online forums such as slack and main Commons mailing lists, as Diane notes:
“In our online forums, we request that all participants use their work identities if they are associated with a member organization. This has worked to help us create a highly engaged peer-to-peer network that helps sustain and advise each other as the technology continues to evolve.”
It’s a practice more likely to result in building better business and interpersonal relationships as people connect not only digitally but also during in-person events …
The role evolving role of a Community Manager
The role of a ‘community manager’ is no longer focused on an individual project. Rather, on many ways, ‘community manager’ is an out-of-date title for a role. Diane notes that
“Often you’ll see jobs listed as being “part technical architect, part community manager and part evangelist”. In my humble opinion, this is a setup for failure especially with larger initiatives that cross multiple projects and communities. Be one of the three roles.
Each takes a special skill set with some overlap, and all 3 roles should be resourced fully in order to ensure the success of the initiative.” Whether a company is willing to devote their employment priorities to resourcing and skilling three different roles may, however, not always be the case.
Part of a larger professional ecosystem
Open-source software projects in the enterprise space typically involve contributors who are situated in professional employment. These may include engineers working for vendors or employees of large organisations who are committed users of the software.
Organizations increasingly rely on open source software applications for various critical operations. Much of the world’s most innovative and effective applications are open source. Thus, they participate in open source software communities because they’re invested in the long-term viability, stability, and security of those applications. And also often, because they want to influence development of those applications’ features and functionalities.
A community manager must be aware of the power dynamics within a community. They need to and ensure a level playing ground for all members of the community.
Other organizations participatie in open source software communities because they’d like the software they’ve developed to become an industry-wide standard. They open their work in the hope that others will more quickly adopt and integrate it and drive their efforts forward.
Many organizations find that participating in open source software communities allows them to access a wider talent pool than if they developed their applications entirely in house. This can in some situations result in tension between enterprise and open-source ideologies.
There’s a unique balancing act with considering the well-intended contributions of an enterprise. They may see themselves as having invested time, passionate and intellectual property and may thus expect a degree of respect and influence.
As a result, a big part of the community management role will be dealing with the representatives of participating companies. This typically involves two constituencies: the senior leadership, and the developers who are active in the project.
Maintaining advisory board memberships, user group meetings, and ensuring that your project remains a strategic priority for the companies investing in it is an important part of the job
Relationship management is vital
Additionally, the community manager role encompasses a more holistic ecosystem focus. It is according to Diane,
“much more about managing complex interdependent relationships between projects, people, release timelines and continually emerging new technologies. Community development and driving community engagement is more akin to business or partner development. The tools and techniques must be applied in an open and transparent manner. This must respect the governance and processes of each community and project.
Diane advises: “Be sure you are given the tools and access to the data you need. You need to the desire to manage, grow and track these kinds of complex relationships. What may appear a simple project management job at a surface level, is likely to have much more to it than your own singular project requirements.”