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It's Dangerous to go Alone: Building Teams like an Organizer


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this vis thank a few thank on walk into a building can like an organizer of so we are working now in a world where a lot of really great high-quality work I jobs relies on neighbors of wealth from volunteers groups and that is a fantastic which the there really opens a lot of doors we wouldn't otherwise have and what's us work past entire classes of problems by just like installing jumps and like calling it good a lot of the time but it also means that were extremely extremely dependent on our community to keep moving forward on and I think it's really important recognize that the ecosystem were working in is bigger than us in particular or media networks so to illustrate this really quickly so in this sense of the Sun will you raise your hand if you have recently written something that relies on a jam maintained by random people on the Internet that you don't know personally I come and who has recently upgraded something to real spike from themselves and a little bit hot water because the jam they were using work the foreign at 5 and now nobody's maintaining the Germany more common experience on and here's the other side of that coin who was working on something for fun use or to fill specific need and they wish they could handed offered gets a new eyes on it so that like all the work they put into it doesn't fall off when they stop working on it's so I some good news on this is a presentation we're going to talk about how building community around our work can help us be out and like dig ourselves out from under these challenges on certainly me part of leadership is making sure that others can build our work and the work of making sure that the work that we do is sustainable and maintained beyond us and I think that I've heard a lot in a lot of those lovely toxic than to have this conference is that were not is real and our time and communal levels go up and down and that is super important in real and we need to really make sure that we account for that in how we work so this is a talk about some tools from the community organizing toolbox and apply them to our work and our own ecosystem of people interested in solving problems with technology Ruby Rails on and here's how we're going to talk about this we're gonna talk about building a team or at the we're gonna talk about how to build a community years and team around and we're talk about why prioritize individual relations of so that other people interested in those schools and we're going to talk about how it's not that big a departure from the ways we are already work so this set the scene here I wanna talk about what organizing looks like outside of an engineering context and then we're going to dig into how it's applicable to attack or and I don't mean to spoil the surprise but it turns out it's really really applicable on so I have 2 stories 1 about engineering and 1 that's not a minister of the 1 that's not on not the longer you go in 2012 I just got this new job as the out of town who showed up to run of voter contact program for a campaign my boss handed me a plane ticket to hot sunny Phoenix Arizona and a list of 30 thousand voters a contact and it was my job to make sure as many of them as possible about the doors knocked on were got a phone call telling on exactly how great this very nicely named Jackie was and a vote for her in November and here's my old district on 30 thousand people is not a huge amount of people but it's way more than I can possibly talk to on my own even if I spend literally 12 hours a day late hitting pavement knocking on doors and dialing the phone and also I am extremely resource-limited basically anything beyond besides buying a couple burner cell phones and pretty hand of cards is just like too rich for my blood here so there's no hearing an army of dollars ago actors to just like handle it for me however there are a lot of people who live in Phoenix a long time and in decade personally and they really like or they really do not like her opponent that year there's like this very much motivated group of people in the 20th District and then we do some stuff in this case the stuff on under being calling basically every person who Jackie had ever been friends with ever to ask them to help me not doors McFall calls and I got and I got enough for them to say yes and compelled me to build out a few groups of people who are down to the lake help talk to voters and the team we built over the span of a few months of running an amazingly successful outreach programs and we talked to a pretty big chunk of 3 thousand people and what's more we had a lot of time mercy walked away from their experience on this campaign are really aware that they could make a meaningful impact on stuff that matter to them through voter contact and they want a working on the next selection to effort left it on the scenario this is not about engineering not campaigns but the moving pieces of real estate a pretty much the same in 20 16 I have moved out of Phoenix and back to Washington DC and my side volunteer gages serving on the board of directors BBC abortion on for context here the DC abortion funded D calf is a communion non-profit all-volunteer that spans basically its entire budget on covering the coset peoples of working or talking in the neighborhood of 95 per cent of the budget going straight to abortion care here and we need a new case management system because our current system is 3 Excel spreadsheets multiple people are hammering out at the same time and literally in the entire organization case is cases spreadsheets the board of directors say some of the case management some everybody cases Excel Docs for their entire amines bodies and souls however much like the campaign in 2012 we have a severe level resource limitations I we have 0 dollars to throw developing a new case management system however there are people out there who might be interested in contributing and the super down before trying to do in the and again some stuff happens you some stuff I go to a lot could for DC meetings of the co-captain we need a lot of people who are interested in the work that we're doing I get to know them pretty well always been like a year's worth the nights and weekends banging on these problems until we get the DC abortion find out of spreadsheets forever and everybody is a real 1 happy campers and our case managers the same stuff to be late I'm having way better conversations the patients Nour while I never realize just how depressed Excel is making me all the time and and also lake and this is like a big deal now I we have this team of engineers in the city and elsewhere who spent a decent amount of time thinking about how to apply attacked DC Washington's problems and they spent a lot of time really grappling with the problems of abortion funding and that's important because there's not that many engineers who know a lot about the mechanics of abortion funding so if I strike the story sigh like the common threads here here's roughly however do it the I had a letter or to do could possibly do it on my own and there is not any money to throw these problems or maybe you know maybe they cancel it on my own take a stab at that but it would take a really long time and even if I did try so that my own like a non-zero chance that I'm going to get bond out and burned out and dislike drag myself to exhaustion and this is like this is tough work and doing it in isolation makes it even tougher on so these are problems we can address with additional personal power in Samoa Greece on but it also highlight some undercurrents on I'm not the only person who cares about abortion funding but rate like at the beginning I'm kind of at the center of a lot of this so if I were to say drop out of life and join a Black Sabbath cover band assumption late we got a problem and honestly way I'm always like always like a weaker to like a bad week at you away from dropping out during black set of cover benzilate that's a real concern for me personally on the the and gets a loan and eventually and I wanna move on to do something else at its new energy on there so I bring in some other people interested in the end we do some stuff and then we got a cell an accomplishment on so let's was really break up the do some stuff here and it turned out to be the same whether it be engineering as a separate the care for building a team of volunteers cannot doors in Arizona and that is building a small community around these problems united by a shared goal and getting everyone to press for that goal together the excuse me so the new tier slightly different but the path of the lasting effects really wonder being pretty much the same way the 1st simple it's a different but everything down from that is identical both these problems are solvable person power and the path to a solution involves building a community around a shared problems and most importantly at the end of there's a bunch of people who have an example in living memory of how they did this stuff and were successful at and also this whole community is powerful and makes us work better toward a shared goal this kind of wonder like the major promises of open source software development as I understand that like having these groups of people working on these challenges together Lake really does increase our ability as a community to the camera and these challenges so just to summarize the problem as we understand it here and late wait really make explicit but there's some problems where bringing in other people really does make a were good on smoother innately building a community with shared goals around these problems in tackling them together is a really powerful and sustainable way the to a person and has some pretty serious perks like having other people who share your goals able to pitch the so we recognize that building these communities has attained has tangible benefits forces leaders and for people in these communities so sought some about how we shape these communities as leaders horrors people working in this area it was such a how we shape these communities as leaders on when I ran the field program in 2012 or worked on it engineering team in 20 16 the technique I used to build these communities was called and still is called organism should say on the idea of play is that as a leader you were to build a community of people with similar goals on through building individual level relationships and having a structured way for that community to work toward a goal and this model really does fit really neatly into what we're doing in programming when there's nothing really different about organizing just because we were contact projects together and steadily knocking doors or something like that so breakdown somehow we build communities around our work on I find organizing to not be that different from software in that there is an art and craft to it but also you can get a lot of away they're just piling knowing your tools and following the playbook so sad about the playbook moralists person's 1st you need to know you're trying to accomplish and be really honest and clear about it for late in the examples in the beginning the schools were when an election and complete completing the DC abortion fund system overhaul but that's just what I was working on at the time on it can be tested doing testing a certain way some reals plugin using rails to build something or literally anything else in the entire world where you would benefit from another person's counter interest working toward it with you if this is I would like for us to have something we don't have the seconds now that we know what the goal is we're gonna look around us and seek out other people who share that goal and the point of view on your goal in the 1st place gives you a foundation to build individual level relationship on so the consider someone I think we should make it so that the gap doesn't have death of 10 people hammering on excel sheets at the same time do think you can only do something about on and in fact individual relationships like so important this model that I made a copy this line great all great out all the other words besides individual relationships that emphasize the words like that and I've been if you top 2 panels this afternoon that talk about burnout and and how it's a problem for contributors and was let's step back for a 2nd take a 2nd to think about why people contribute to open source work and why on there's an additive heard of before I people showed the 1st time because they're interested in the work that they come back because they like you and I think the time is being well spent and that's pretty much true in my experience on time is spent on building these individual relationships is what keeps people engaged it's what makes them feel like the contributions are valuable and makes and what makes them stick around even when there's been Netflix the watch and since there like always been benefits to watch like this is around this is really really important and making this 1 of your priorities as a leader is really deeply important so this can be built on individual relationships you'll start collaborating toward shared goals making strides together and then you build something that's pretty powerful anyone to be alone accomplished something more together faster than you would have otherwise and relationships here so important this playbook that it's worth taking another step back and popping them out here and talking about a methodology for how to approach it as a process in its own right I you need to start by giving up the answer to this question why you yourself care about this out of yourself on you need to know and then we'll do explained why you was a leader care about and why in exactly how it relates to the goal you're working on for example I care about the DC abortion found work because once upon a time I had a really boring day job and care about feminism and wanted to volunteer somewhere and the only option I could find there wasn't during business hours swallows working of my family neighborhood planned parenthood to help them deal with the protester problems so for many years and this thing called conic escorting which is basically greeting people outside on coming in for appointments saying hey sorry about the protesters will open the clinic command and just being a friendly face Wilson some protesters are acting out nearby so I shall for my 1st Davis and within literally 5 minutes of new no hitting the hitting the sidewalk this 7 you just is like chasing after this 14 year old Anna mom and ladies say and really really nasty stuff and you make some both cryolite 5 feet away from you and me that link can water like is how close they are and it it is legit horrifying an awful it is really really nasty and it's 1 of those things that like burns at late really sits in my memory like I can remember how it smelled when that happened this is something that had like a really really deep impact from underneath and the lesson I took from this is that act lake access to reproductive health care whether that be a planned parenthood another clinical or whatever and be able to access that free safely and free from harassment safely something that's very very important to me it's like a major value mind and my work on the campaign at that and that the DC abortion fund has 1 of being an extension of that on and that's where I care about and many many people who've worked with me handicapper elsewhere heard some form of this story lake 0 that's colin like an old man was a jerk outside a clinic once and he got so mad about it he moved to Arizona to try and beat some banter abortion candidates I found so once you know why this work is important to you which interested people personally and say hi on in this conversation is really is part of it is being nice but part of it is trying to introduce yourself and learn about the other person and here's what you're trying to learn about them give them some context for what draws you to this work and then try and figure where that why they're interested in this may or may not be is fleshed out as your own personal story and it's perfectly OK but there's a reason that person said yes you when you ask them for help over when they should have been here is she mentions and you need to figure out why that is on because you can take what they care about what you care about and find a common thread between year experience a interests and link that together and you can figure out where those line on and you have to think about ways you can structure which you're trying to do around this common thread and now you've got this foundation to work together for the shared goals because each of you know what the other person is about and that's really powerful and then you can ask them to take a concrete step forward on the thing that experience is really drilled into me is that the answer is almost always no 1 was you ask somebody without asking for help I am down the phone 30 thousand times in Arizona on but with asking for lot we have a chance to like reach a lot of those people that we otherwise when you have a prayer on so if anybody so that Jodi Dean's talk from on-site his talk last year about a doing charity work in a really really good example of this and I hope you'll forgive me for a butchering his story and Joe was teaching a weekender learned decode class for us in middle schoolers and he's a professional working in a real stop so he's pretty fired up about computers rate on as many of us are so he shows up of the flying curriculum about fundamentals of programming and conditionals and loops and functions and all legal these component elements and this middle schoolers are going through the motions with them and really it's not quite taking ends after a few classes were nothing is quite landing Jesse's kids the major questions which is like your seem that interested in this we all care about and because they're like middle schoolers they say 1 direction which betrays kids way right islanders and damage there on so Joe comes back the next week and is like we're gonna read some stories about 1 direction using computers and he proceeds to show them input and if statements and pretty soon he's got them riding straight on 1 direction fan fiction using pretty complicated conditionals over the space of an afternoon on sojourn at the shared goal here these kids learning of current fundamentals but the common thread ones of being fan fiction about 1 direction plate and the point being here on comfort 6 and teasing out but they are there and you can get their arms over the well this all down to a principled it would be this had community is a first-class concern on and we see that healthy through having personal relations with individuals and maintaining goes on but what is this mean for a day-to-day I I think it's particularly applicable to or work is programmers are engineers or designers your teammates or whatever because I think a lot of this is baked into the premise of had already and that means that incorporating this into or work does it means we don't have the whole hog change anything about how we work the fundamentals of organizing and teamwork in relationships don't change just because reusing get of this is really a matter of adjustment of being more cognizant of the community in relationships parts of overdoing already if you go an Agile manifesto that word this is like right above the fold the 1st table sense you see him on the individuals and interactions over processes and tools and it has a super clear analog in organizing In this down a little further about building products around motivated individuals entrusting them also has a really really clear analog in organizing if all the and another analog from the manifesto about the importance of self organizing teams organizing is at its core liquor up at like of other running a self-organizing using genes on to really drive it home the organizing model where you see here is as we can see that the different from how we how we already working a lines of really close to the adult model and the fundamentals are pretty much identical when it comes to the person stuff none of this changes just because they were tech people instead of knocking doors or something like that so we have a good way to build these teams and communities in organizing which we do by building individual relationships need squares really neatly with what we're doing already ch ends so now we have we know we get a lot of we get a lot of building community and we have a tool to do it now in organizing and now we need to translate this into some concrete steps all of us are going to leave here and go back to go back and check e-mail had back to work and not too distant future and get back to doing stuff and are normalized what concrete steps can we actually take here you browse saw this coming but if it's also humanly possible have for one-on-one sit down with every contributor inner orbits on anything can late see if you can make some Lagos if you don't get that out to someone else so that the the Welcome Wagon like the point is have a welcome wagon of what made a lot of the community building a decomposable was having way a spaceship reason like get to know each other and we had code for the Stanford covered EC contributors we had regular meetings and we kept track of general goings-on and slack so there was a space to fur for me is like the leader to talk to people to get to know them and to ask them what they were about on having the space is really really important and useful and it's also worth highlighting here that have the importance of these conversations doesn't diminish just because people are in the same room anymore we have all these fancy tech tools like slackened text messages and whatever to so that we can have these conversations with people who are necessarily in the same room as us and building relationships work the same way the way we all well probably a lot of us said internet friends growing up and there's some real bonds there and the same kind of thing applies here yeah that's and just because people are brand new to the project on doesn't mean you should skip this conversation on these conversations are important in everyone to get them the 3rd if it's possible should be a standard issue thing on and it's worth highlighting here that this is a tough thing to do it's not like it's tough to make time for this on when the because see project started to settle into a groove I tried to go back and have conversations with basically everyone I could you still active in the project about how they want us 1 about coming into coming into orbit and now it is submitting a PR posting issue comment and means that I introduced myself to you my say thanks to the interest and I ask of and I are scum how they found us and Lago y and it that and start a conversation with that and I really can't understand how important this is keeping the new blood flowing into the community on and steeping late the community around the worker doing energetic and find on the and as a leader a super from born thing you can do is reduce barriers to entry on did anybody here go to Eileen's talk about system testing yesterday it was great on was a really really great talk and she talked about something toward the end they're really rang true for me which is that contributing to open source projects is terrifying I really really really scary it a lot of the time it feels like you're putting your brains in light work against literally everybody else in the entire world and that's something I personally struggle with it and it's something I hear from contributors a d count for a lot of so I hear I don't wanna screw something up on I know this is important I don't want accidentally break something and I like the reals has sharp knives as a design principle a lot but I think what this means is that as readers we need to take a little additional care and being in being welcoming and make sure that we don't just can't people a sharp knife and assume they're to put their fingers off to make that was scary terror to make getting involved less scary I'm a really huge fan of having ways to direct people toward issues that don't require intimate knowledge of problems necessarily marking them beginner from Lehman directing people toward them I found it to be a really great way to push people through read me in a set up and then have a nice way of form at the end of last year 98 and I give a talk about the concept of course fatality and she made this really excellent point that just as it's a good practice to show how SCUs around your house before you up with them and just abandon them to abandon them to your home you should be prepared to help new people get adjusted to what you're doing and I think part of that is having something accessible for them to tackle and another thing I've got a lot of leverage out of is structuring as much stuff as possible and plate sizes so that someone can that someone can knock something out in a limited spending time on a single pair of examples from D. Catholic and do a better job of illustrating this a practice 1st let's look at all the all time worst issue I've ever written for details on this hand this is bad for a lotta reasons on admittedly it's like a placeholder so some perfect example but it I literally could not have written this with less information had I deliberately tried was sort blow-by-blow behind blew it here but it's not clear why this is important in the slightest it's not clear what the steps are but it's not there were 2 D and it's not clear where we needed to end up and in fact if somebody's life literally dependent on depended on its they would build the figure that out because all erode as I talk to user and there's no way to back that out of this on the other hand is 1 of the more useful issues ever written for the project it's very clear what to do it's super clear where to do it in like a particular file on it's clear why it's important to make a case managers happy and I let him know that like the engineering team is on your side it gives you a hint to select gives you was a new contributor ahead to about weirdo lake where to look to contribute and it gives me a chance to say thank you really early because this is a really accessible issue and it also makes it clear that not all the work we're doing is ascended masterly engineering staff and that there's a way you can have an impact right now just right out of the gate and I think that's important meaningful I so step is bringing him back to the 1st slide the alternate title here was avoid burning yourself out to teamwork mark and here's how this really comes into play on putting some integer project as soon as they walked in the door is a sure-fire way to scare the hell out of them or make them decide that this is really for them so the next step that of a school years of of of numbering yourself of teamwork or having accessible things to do is to find ways to increasingly challenger volunteers and your your community and make it tougher as time goes on to build on what they've already done i if anybody want to scouts talk in this room earlier today he said something that really I think got to the crux of this which is about that being a leader is about making other people important and here's a path that you ask them to do progressively harder stuff piece by piece on in organizing this this concept of the ladder of engagement and here so it says about media campaigns training book on mind it's hard to read I'm sorry I the gist of it is that it goes up from down to up because easy actions hard actions even harder actions and very hard actions at the top on remember earlier we talked about how the problem of flying solo is that if you drop out of life of i joined ablex have cover bands and stuff starts to fade away and moving this people in the community of this latter is how we dig ourselves out of the whole and it's contingent on you as a leader to give to give people from these reactions up to the very heart actions and this is something really really meaningful and powerful at the beginning you are a top doing a very hard actions in your goal is to bring everybody up with you on all doing progressively herself on another perspective on this if we flip this around on this is the letter of engagement of say down on Euler tougher crowd than the dedicated the sons upside-down letter from an air so this is a this from like McQuaid stock and building communities around open source projects the concept he calls a contributor final and it's basically the same thing as a letter engagement except skeptic's terms and so the work harder and it's upside-down i and a good example of this in practice is my own involvement with decay with the DC abortion font I'm not a founded nor do I you any the fibers but at some point of a friend of mine was working on a decay fundraiser and so and pulled me aside and kick in some money and the pre straightforward thing which falls under easy actions I can open my wallet give 10 books on which in turn asked me to fund raiser more than then to analyze some data which eventually turned letter asked me to join the board of directors and I would have done exactly none of this without being asked in without being pulled up on and once I was in my friend kept pulling me up to the point where I was on the board and then and a system overhaul and never existed today and also they get help guide and the get have open source gotten and this is a really really good and talks about a lot of this in some more like concrete depth and I'd looked up the building welcoming communities section in particular is being like supertype answer brings back around this agrees owing to leave here with are three fold 1st that the foundation of all we're doing as people working on open source projects is interpersonal relationships as much as it is making software and that building error that making individual relationships of priority and first-class concern really pays off Eugene increased capacity not driving ourselves to burn out organizing by building individual relationships of people is a toolkit that like aims to make dealing with that problem is here but that's a solvable problem and seconds that like knowing your community on what they care about and what you're shared goals are there really foundational block of the 1st and 3rd that following these practices is not a huge departure on from how we work already raising the interpersonal stuff to the top is a matter of adjustment rather than changing how we were completely and what this was a means is that has new people began in his in problems were interested in they build on our work the same way that DKF is built on rails work the same way the rails built on something else which in turn build on something else and that means that we wind up with a strong community in a strong sustainable ecosystem on the other side the to talk about organizing community without us ing thanks to the actual community here on so I called a couple people for a thank use in particular on L back there has banned a super amazing and powerful track curator comment is the real delay to work with that offered some really really great feedback that really did turn this into a better talk so thank you very much else and on and also we have a couple of DC abortion from contributors in this room and so on so as he Sarit there the leadership of my being here on so if we could like I give them a quick round of applause for further work thank and for the people that the DC working on service like it's really meaningful really important really done a lot to push them forward on and also a shadow just from Brickman producer is a laker than its role for the DTF and some other people who gave really thoughtful talks last year on which I used as a jump-off point for much of this time I watched a bunch of toxins track so far and they've all been a really really amazing and powerful and so what next in this room is a panel on being in a er becoming an engine hearing later which I'm superstructure toward uh superstore to watch so as to grant for a where the status on or there on the right uh that's my girlfriend all this cat on my girlfriend's cat will excuse me on the the the good thing it's forever long and I think you all so much for joining me here is that no this is the real blessed at the and the question is what if you have trouble talking to people I I a so I feel that problem really acutely I'm not I'm a shy person on and really what I think the way I've dealt with this on the I don't drink either so that doesn't hold on I'll the way of kind dealt with this is kind of us entering the work and trying to do in my mind on and making lake is an act sacrifice on and it is an active challenge and framing and like framing is that it is like 1 way I can of approaches on the other way is a very actively can keep my limits in mind and I have like an upper limit for the for like talking to people and having having these meaningful conversations the tire me out a lot of ways and online no morals woman images and when that limited time to step back a little bit of the center and take it slow on a part of things being sustainable on especially right of Jewish workers taking it is like the correct case at the correct time of that makes sense your question so I will think you all thank you so much for long few if it and he so if Aaron


Formal Metadata

Title It's Dangerous to go Alone: Building Teams like an Organizer
Title of Series RailsConf 2017
Part Number 29
Number of Parts 86
Author Fleming, Colin
License CC Attribution - ShareAlike 3.0 Unported:
You are free to use, adapt and copy, distribute and transmit the work or content in adapted or unchanged form for any legal and non-commercial purpose as long as the work is attributed to the author in the manner specified by the author or licensor and the work or content is shared also in adapted form only under the conditions of this license.
DOI 10.5446/31254
Publisher Confreaks, LLC
Release Date 2017
Language English

Content Metadata

Subject Area Information technology
Abstract Leading an open source or community project means dealing with people challenges in addition to technical challenges -- how do we take a scattering of interested people and build a team with them? Turns out, we can adapt a bunch of practices we already use! Using a collaboration between a nonprofit and a civic group as a case study, we'll talk about ways to apply best practices from community organizers to our work. In particular, we'll talk about similarities between contemporary organizing and agile models, ways to build relationships with other team members, and making our work more sustainable.


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