The main overarching goal of this forum is to share insight and experience of building great communities, and I thought another great way of doing this is to have interviews with people doing interesting work. To kick things off, here I interview Guy Martin, Senior Open Source Strategist at Samsung Research America about his experiences building communities, not just at Samsung, but elsewhere too
I am sure Guy would love to answer your questions so feel free to follow up with further questions in this topic!
Tell us your history of working with communities.
I guess I started working with communities before I even realized I was doing it. My second job out of college (with a computer science bachelor’s degree) was working for TRW Financial Systems, building automated check processing systems. While this sounds tremendously exciting (yeah, it’s not), the interesting part came when I started gravitating toward helping the software testing team with their role in testing our product. Soon, I was spending as much, if not more, time with the testing team than with with my fellow developers. A large part of that time was spent interfacing with our customers - modifying testing methods and teasing out new requirements for the system.
What this made me realize is that our development team and our testing team (including our customers) didn’t really have a good way of interacting, except through formal bug reports, etc. I ended up building an informal group consisting of business analysts, lead developers, and lead testers (mostly customers). The meetings were held in the testing lab in an ad-hoc fashion, but soon became a weekly occurrence.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I’d actually conceived and built a community without even realizing I was doing it! That team ended up delivering a very large and complex system for a major mid-western bank on time and actually under budget. Our management realized that a lot of this was due in large part to closer integration of our teams and our customer stakeholders.
Though I’d built this community, I never really realized I had until I looked back years later. I spent the next several years doing software development in a variety of areas, including cell phones, automotive and servers (for several different companies). I realized two things in that time:
- I’m an average software developer - not outstanding, but competent enough in a variety of areas that I can speak intelligently about technical things to both technical and business audiences.
- The interesting part (for me) of building large and complex software systems was the human interaction necessary at a large scale to make it work.
This is what I now consider my ‘Ah Ha!’ moment - the day I realized I’d stopped being a software engineer doing community management ‘on the side’ and turned into a community manager/strategist with a software engineering background. This small but subtle shift has informed the last 10+ years of my career.
When did you first work in a community management position?
My first ‘formal’ job as a community manager (I’d done it informally in several jobs before this) was in helping create and run the community at Forge.mil - the US Department of Defense’s first major attempt at forming a community based on open source software principles.
We deployed software from my company at the time (CollabNet) to help bring together a lot of disparate software development and systems within the DoD. We had some mild success, but ultimately, the biggest issue that the system had (and still has) is an institutional culture that precluded it from truly taking advantage of communities. It was a watershed moment for me, the (still somewhat) engineer - when I realized that we’d gone about this the wrong way - building out a tool without solving some of the key human and process interaction issues that could have made the system much more successful.
How did you learn community management?
I literally dove in head first when I realized this is what I wanted to do in my career. My classroom was the proverbial ‘school of hard knocks’. In building internal communities at Sun Microsystems and Motorola, I learned things that I applied to the
Forge.mil community, and I hope I’ve learned some lessons about how to go about community development from that experience as well.
What do you do at Samsung?
Ah, an interesting question - how many pages do you have to print this?
The official answer is that I’m the Senior Strategist in the newly formed (~1 year old) Samsung Open Source Group (OSG). Our charter, like that of similar groups at Intel, IBM, HP, etc. is to help Samsung do a better job of working effectively with open source software communities, instead of just consuming what those communities build.
This is where the strategy, community, and evangelism part comes in. However, as in any small ‘startup’ team (we are 15 people now, but I was hire # 3), I have to wear many hats, including helping with our personnel, operations, and most importantly, our Information Technology (IT). Though we have a full-time IT team at Samsung, all of my software developers rely on open source tools, most of which aren’t officially supported by the organization. The compromise is that they’ve been flexible enough to let us run most of our own infrastructure.
One of the most enjoyable things I get to do though is speak at conferences and in training sessions (both internally and externally) about how open source software (and specifically the communities that built it) can help improve everything about the way innovation happens and software is built. This is where some say that my evangelist side comes out, because I see the huge potential that working in concert with communities can bring.
What are the challenges around building a community when working for such a large organization?
Any large organization runs into the same challenges we see at Samsung (and I saw the same issues at Sun, Motorola, US DoD, etc.) The biggest challenge is that large organizations have evolved with a culture that focuses on hierarchical command & control-style management. Not all large organizations are like this, but a lot still are.
Also, a realization that it makes business sense to share the development of common pieces is sometimes a hard sell, even in a company as savvy as Samsung. Building trust between internal teams and communities that they rely on is a challenge as well.
However, the biggest issue I think all companies of this size face is simply one of education. Fortunately, Samsung was self-aware enough to realize that for them to take the next step in their evolution, they needed to form a team to help them gain influence in strategic open source communities that we rely on for products, but also to help mentor their internal developers in working more effectively with communities. This is a strategy already followed by companies like Intel, IBM, HP, Google, Facebook, etc.
One of the things we are doing at Samsung (and that I encouraged at other companies I worked for) is trying to apply open source community methods to internal projects. In other words, something that Tim O’Reilly dubbed ‘Inner-source’.
What do you feel are the major opportunities for community in the space that you work?
I think there are a huge number of opportunities for companies like Samsung in Open Source and communities. One big opportunity is taking advantage of the speed of innovation in some of the core projects we rely on (Linux Kernel, gstreamer media framework, Webkit, etc.). Another huge opportunity is to get outside perspectives on innovation and technology.
Don’t get me wrong, we have a lot of very smart people developing some very cool things, but an outside perspective from communities gives you a bit of a ‘sanity check’ to make sure you aren’t going off in a direction that might not be fruitful.
What topics or areas are you particularly interested in when it comes to community management?
I personally love talking about and writing about how new people get more easily integrated into communities. Some communities are just difficult to get started in! I don’t think that communities do this on purpose, but sometimes they forget that making it easier for ‘newbies’ to join them actually strengthens them in the long run.
At the same time, new community members should do a little homework and preparation before they just jump in and try to be immediately noticed. There is something to be said for listening, learning, and offering to do a bit of the ‘grunt work’. Doing all of this usually helps you not only understand the community better, it shows existing community members that you are in it for the right reasons, and they’ll generally support you much quicker if you take this approach.
What websites/books/resources would you recommend do new community managers?
Well, let me first say that @jonobacon didn’t pay me for the following endorsement…
That out of the way, I’ve read both editions of ‘Art of Community’, plus was fortunate enough to have Jono ask me to help review his new book ‘Dealing with Disrespect.’ All of these are, in my opinion, must reads for any new community manager, and, they are on the reading list we created at Samsung for our Open Source Leadership program.
As far as conferences go, Jono’s Community Leadership Summit (CLS) is always great - I try to go to that as often as I can make it.
What tips would you recommend for someone getting started in community management professionally?
To quote our friends at Nike, ‘Just Do It!’. I say that both as an encouragement, and a warning that you will make mistakes in community management. It’s normal, and happens to all of us in this field.
The true test of whether or not you can be successful in the field is if you have the intestinal fortitude to admit your mistakes, take advice and guidance, then implement those changes and move forward.
Oh, and also, if you can take some coursework in psychology or human behaviors, that probably helps a lot. I had to learn most of that the hard way, and sometimes wish I had the background to more deeply understand why certain interpersonal issues crop up in communities.
Other than that, I’d say jump in - I can guarantee you’ll probably never be bored in a role like this!