Response to Edin Kapic’s “The dark, hidden side of our technical communities”

I was going to just leave this as a comment on Edin Kapic’s (@ekapic) recent post The dark, hidden side of our technical communities, but I decided I wanted to put it up here instead to make it more visible. (A post usually gets more attention than a comment.)

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Every time I read something like Edin’s post, it makes me feel truly bad. I want to treat everyone equally, but that doesn’t really work, either.

One of the joys in life is our human diversity. It goes way beyond what are called “protected classes” here in the USA. People are all different and that’s what makes life interesting. I want to have conversations about those differences and try to understand the ones that can be understood. If we treat everyone the same, we lose out on that festival of variety.

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At the same time, tech is absolutely, no questions asked, a man’s game.

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I don’t really understand why that is, where it starts for each promising young female, etc. But I do know that I can do my own best effort to make the women around me feel empowered to do tech if that’s what they want to do. Since hiring Julie Turner (@jfj1997) (in truth we started out more equals than anything else), we’ve had lots of discussions about this sort of thing. I value the different viewpoints she brings to my thinking when we talk about things like speaking at conferences, or business travel, or how to talk in a crowd of techies.

Unfortunately, at the same time that it seems like humankind is becoming more tolerant (LGBT-focused legislation, discussions about women in tech, etc.), it’s also becoming less tolerant (political-driven bigotry and xenophobia, religious zealots, etc.)

I think the best motto for all this might be the old “think globally, act locally”. If we each do our part to make the tech world a better place, it will be. Unfortunately, many other members of the community will also be doing their darnedest to do the opposite. And so it goes…


What Does It Take to Become Part of a Community Effort?

Mark Miller (@EUSP) and I sat down virtually yesterday to talk about being a member of a community. The context was the SharePoint community, of course, but we tried to keep it general enough to apply to pretty much any type of community. IMO, the same basic ideas apply to being in charge of your neighborhood social committee, a member of Congress, a speaker on a circuit, or a contributor to the SharePoint community.

All it takes great content, and the willingness to realize that you will act like a moron from time to time. Oh, and a love of bacon, but that’s probably optional.

The video is part of a series Mark is doing called Community Building – Real World Stories. He’s already interviewed a few others, with more to come.

This is part of a series of talks on how community leaders became engaged with their communities: how they found the community, the process they went through to become part of the community and insights into how you can become more credible and visible in your industry.

Next time I should probably set up my Webcam a little less slanty.

SharePoint Community; Loud but not so clear?

Dan Antion (@dantion) had a guest blogger on his excellent SharePoint Stories blog yesterday. Mark Thompson (@MCTSMark), half of the Consultant Chronicle team, weighed in on SharePoint Community; Loud but not so clear. I liked the post and started to add a few comments. Before I knew it, I had enough to say that I had this post written up.

There’s a little bit of the whole Rodney King “can’t we all just get along” to all of this. (I’m saying that, Mark didn’t.) It’s a tricky balance, really. As someone who has found a fairly comfortable niche in the SharePoint community, I wrestle with how to make it meaningful, useful, and yes, profitable on some level.

I think it’s in human nature to begin to have a larger ego as soon as a number of people start to give you positive strokes. Maintaining humility can be hard. For some reason, though, technology pursuits often lend themselves to the biggest-asshole-in-the-room syndrome. I know more than you and damn it, you’ll suffer for it. Maybe it’s due to the fact that many of us work with computers simply because they aren’t people, and social skills aren’t required in those interactions. SharePoint is different, though, in that it’s all about collaboration. We should all be able to rise above the BAITR syndrome in the name of working together toward common goals.

Staying relevant and providing useful knowledge and information can also be hard. Another human nature thing can be that the more we know about one particular topic (and get positive reinforcement for it), the more deeply we delve into it. Having worked with some truly impressive minds with PhDs over my career, I can tell you that excessive specialization can be isolating and self-perpetuating. To participate successfully in the SharePoint community, I posit that we all need to maintain a level of generality as well as our particular, chosen areas of focus. I often get left field questions (based on my knowledge set) and my goal is either to research a solution to educate myself or (usually due to a lack of time) send the question along to a better place, whether it be a different person or a specific forum where I think a good answer can be had. The flip side of specialization is that we each may well become the best go-to source on a particular topic. We each need to come up with ways to make the particular topic accessible and relevant when we speak to others about it. no matter how far down the rabbit hole we go.

The latter point about profitability is probably the trickiest. Being a strong contributor to the community means that you give a lot away for free. While that is altruistically valuable, it wears thin on our pocketbooks and spouses over time. For those of you who aren’t aware, the Microsoft MVP thing doesn’t bring any lucre whatsoever. If anything, it puts considerable *new* demands on one’s time, for none of which is there compensation. Speaking at SharePoint Saturdays is voluntary, and you need to get yourself there and usually stay in a hotel on your own dime. Writing a successful blog takes a lot of time, which you have to invent from your own schedule. Publishing open source solutions to help with SharePoint usage or development is no money maker – you really don’t make it up in volume. In other words, many people do this stuff for nothing. There’s a party line that all of these efforts will lead to higher billing rates (if you are a consultant) or promotions and raises (if you work inside an organization). This can only be true if the clients have more money to spend (many don’t) or the organization you work for values community work (many don’t).

The community makes and the community takes. When the balance is way off for any one individual, they aren’t usually getting enough back and at times, they must reevaluate. Keeping those reevaluations un-crass can be a struggle.

So yes, the SharePoint community is still wildly successful and helpful. It will continue to be that way, IMO, but it will age in waves. Early members will fade away or “retire”, existing members will shift their priorities from time to time, and a new crop of active members will come along steadily. The community will at times seem threadbare in spots, but it will repair itself. It’s just too strong to fail. It may not be that loud *or* clear, but it will survive.