Google Developers community management culture

Leaders of Google Developer Group communities from all over the world, what's the Community management culture to support them?

Leaders of Google Developer Group communities from all over the world, what’s the community management culture to support them?

Working with communities, at scale, means working with a decentralized team of people in different geographies, with a similar, but diverse, professional background and expertise level. One of the few working strategies to keep all of us aligned on main goals, while fostering local ideas and adaptive strategies to better fit the local ecosystem, is to define and maintain a common team culture. Recently I was asked to present what is the Google Developers community management culture and key insights in front of our team of community builders, people like me in charge of supporting tech communities all over the world that want to share knowledge on Google technologies during their activities. Here a list of my main takeaways.

Why we do what we do and what is our role?
Dev communities help to solve the growing complexity of the technological landscape, adding a very unique social flavor. So, as community builders, we accelerate learning, cultivate culture and collaborate with communities on a shared mission and goals. We help them to be more successful because, ultimately, this helps Google dev products to be more successful. And because we love communities.

Community leaders first
We should already be used to the “User first Google’s philosophy principle. In our case, it translates to “community leaders first“. They are our primary focus, and should be treated with respect. We have to build a two-way and mutually useful relationship. All the rest follows.

Embrace goal diversity and work on the sweet spots
We have to recognize, and acknowledge, community leaders are driven by their own goals and reasons, and our company goals cannot be pushed to them. Instead, to keep this relationship prolific and sustainable in the long period, we have to base it on collaboration and independence, searching for overlaps in goals and build on these sweet spots. And we should be the first ones doing that. Sooner or later, opportunities will come.

Be a transparent and servant community builder
Community leaders know very well we don’t do this for charity. Like any trust-based relationship, it’s important to be transparent with them and communicate openly. We’re here to serve them, and not the other way around, as communities can exist without Google support, but we cannot exist without communities.

Treat them equally, as the ecosystem is our highest value asset
Some communities are more mature than others, some are quicker to execute, some able to have a bigger impact. It doesn’t matter, because what we value the most is a healthy growth and development of a vibrant community ecosystem. So they all are our beloved community leaders and we need to support all of them in the mid-long term, regardless of how they could help to reach our goals in the short team.

First save their time, then ours
In case we need to make a choice between saving our or their time, pick theirs: we’re paid to do this job, they volunteer their time. First, we need provide a coherent system maintained by a culture to interact with us, avoiding community micromanagement: in the long period, it will save a lot of time on both sides. Then, we can always optimize something: write easy-to-read, timely and useful communications, avoid asking data useful only to us, etc. Finally, if they don’t know about our initiatives, or they missed something, we assume it’s our fault.

Be data driven and restless student
Getting meaningful data out of communities is hard, but it doesn’t matter. A better knowledge of the community ecosystem helps us to make more informed decisions. We can be brave community builders, trying new things to improve our culture of community management one step at time, relentlessly, for the good of our communities and for a better collaboration with them. Every time we collect a new learning, positive or negative, we should share with each other.

Have fun
This job keeps a consistent part of our life busy: make the best out of this time, having fun while cultivating our passions.

If you’re curious about my life in Google, there are other posts to read.

How to structure useful 1:1 with your team

Suggestions about a useful team 1:1 structureOne of the core components of my manager toolbox is the 1to1 meeting (or 1:1, or one-on-one, or 1on1, face2face, f2f, …), a recurring appointment each team member has with me. How to structure and get the most out of it?

At the beginning, it’s important to set the reasons to spent this time together and the tone. The meeting is all about the team member: their needs, frustrations, feedback, ideas and career growth are the topics of discussion. The 1:1 is a chance for the team member to bring the problems them need help with, and a chance for me to learn more about their work. As consequence, I empower them to be the owner of the agenda and structure it around a unique, core, question: “What can your manager be helping with?

Once the objectives are clear, I set the cadency of the meeting to create an habits, generally weekly and one hour long. Unless something more urgent happens: rush hurts the quality of the conversation, so better postpone to a less busy moment, or shorten, or even make a phone call if there is something urgent to discuss and other conflicting activities.

Especially for the first times, I prefer to use a format that facilitate the discussion centered on the previous question. To make everything more collaborative and transparent, I have a shared and confidential document with every team member that we can both pre-populate, with this general structure for each meeting we have. The use of “you” is important to empower the team member, instead of a more abstract 3rd person.

  • Challenges: Leverage manager support to remove roadblocks and enhance your impact, receive coaching and guidance in areas where you have a challenge
  • Issues and Concerns: make manager aware of any personal or professional issues you have
  • Review core and project progress: an opportunity to demonstrate your impact, to share what’s going on and what’s coming up
  • Performance expectation and feedback: from the manager, to the manager
  • Career and personal development: support in developing your career, skills and knowledge
  • Misc (Out of office, lead updates, other unplanned discussions)

It’s important to constantly remember the point on career and personal development and, once in a while, it becomes the main topic of the meeting. Again, to facilitate the discussion, it can be useful to have a career worksheet template to use as base, touching these main areas:

  • Personal reflection
  • Goal setting
  • Action planning
  • End-of-quarter retrospectives

As final touch, I remember the team it’s always possible to change the structure of our 1:1 and they can schedule extra 1:1s outside of our normal schedule, as I’m here to serve.

Bonus activity for one of the 1:1: ask the reasons they do what they do.

What does a Developer Relations Ecosystem team do?

Google Developer Relations Ecosystem team in Singapore

Me and the rest of the Google Developer Relations Ecosystem team in Singapore

Some companies have evolved the Developer Relations area to a point they have a specialized orgs. Google is one of them, and I work under the Developer Relations Ecosystem team. What does we do?

Sticking to the broader DevRel goal (see the definition from my colleague Reto), I consider ourselves a connection layer. On the one side, there are the different Google Product Areas (PAs) like Android, Cloud, Assistant, etc, and we solve for them the complexity of dealing with local tech ecosystems. This scales global initiatives by engaging local developers. On the other side, that “articulated” tech ecosystem, where we’re often seen as the “last mile” between them and Google, brings valuable insights back.

How do we connect these two sides? We apply a 1:few:many interaction model. I see us (the one) as “passion multipliers“. We take Product Areas goals and, with a touch of magic, translate them for the “influencers” in their local context (the few), supporting them in doing even more of what they love doing. It could be organize tech communities, share their knowledge on Google techs, run amazing 3rd party tech conferences, solve people’s needs in innovative ways using company’s products, deliver best apps to clients and much more.
The more successful our audience is pursuing their passions, the more vibrant, mature and fun the company 3rd party tech ecosystem becomes (the many). A win-win situation I love and a way to implement Google’s philosophy “Focus on the user and all else will follow”.

We’re a tech team in the relationship business, at scale. Thanks to the trust component of our relationships, we have the rare privilege to be exposed to global and reliable first hand insights about developers all over the world. They let us know who they are and where they are; what they love and hate about our company’s technologies; emerging and descending trends; how they’re organising tech communities in every country; their success stories supported by our technologies. Because of this knowledge, we can be even more effective in building relationships and matching PAs needs, creating a virtuous circle.

Diversity is also deeply embedded in our team culture: there isn’t a project that can scale worldwide without considering how diverse the world is. For example, mentorship activities are very effective in some cultures, and totally against the mindset of others; developer and community dynamics in cities with millions of people are very different from cities with thousands; running a hackathon in Italy is different from running one in Nigeria, etc.
So, we naturally recognize the value of diversity and we focus on it, across our programs and audiences. What does diversity mean? Gender, culture, race, religion and many more.

From a team structure point of view, we approximated the complexity of the tech ecosystem splitting it in several audiences, like tech communities (GDG and all the other communities), Tech Experts, Startups and their developers etc.
Thus, we created work streams to deal with each one of these audiences, organising ourselves around two main roles. One gathers Program Managers that work on these streams at a global level, defining the infrastructure, strategy, goals, tools, budget etc. The other is made by people like me, called Regional Lead, in charge of executing these programs locally. It’s the implementation of “Think globally, act locally” strategy.
Maintaining a bi-directional communication channel between the roles is fundamental. Global work streams cannot evolve without the inputs, knowledge and experience from the local ecosystems provided by regional leads, while high-level directions from global allow us to operate in an aligned way despite we spread all over the world.

The most difficult challenge is linked to Ecosystem’s core: in fact, building these relationships at scale is a never-ending, tailor-made and time-consuming process, as the ecosystem is a living creature in constant evolution. In addition, after a certain point, we suffer from “reach-ability bandwidth” saturation: we simply cannot interact with additional people anymore and with all the amazing stuff they’re doing.

Apart from company PA goals, I personally see another important behavior for being a good citizen of the ecosystem we deal with: act as superb connectors. Pentland wrote in his book “It is not simply the brightest who have the best ideas; it is those who are best at harvesting ideas from others. It is not only the most determined who drive change; it is those who most fully engage with like-minded people. And it is not wealth or prestige that best motivates people; it is respect and help from peers.
Connecting people with similar passions helps the ecosystem to grow and improve in the mid-long term. It’s something you cannot control or measure, but years later, someone that has done something worthwhile your admiration will tell you: “Thanks to your suggestion all those years ago, I’m here now”. Priceless and crucial, this is one of my duties, and my passion!

If you’re curious about my life in Google, there are other posts to read.

Improve the Italian community management landscape

There is one element we’ve heard loud and clear from the retrospective of the three CLSxItaly events organised so far and attendees feedback: the Italian community management scene is in its early stage, with fragmented connections across the “professionals” of this world, especially if compared with other European countries. I have no doubt time will improve the current situation, but simply waiting for the good to come is something outside my way of doing. What if all these community managers working in and/or for the Italian landscape are dots, and we can do something to accelerate the organic process that will better connect them over time?

At its core, CLSxItaly platform was born with this vision in mind, but in-person events alone haven’t provided the speed we expected. So,we decided to start a new project, to proactively scout, highlight and connect all these people and strengthen relationships inside this community of practitioners we all are part of. Please welcome the CLSxItaly interview series.

The idea is to run a short interview with the many people working with communities in Italy, transcribe these conversations and give them back to our community. Here the list of the question we want to ask:

  • Who you are and how are you connected with the Italian community landscape?
  • What’s the best thing you’ve seen happening inside the community, or thanks to it?
  • What has been the toughest challenge you’ve managed building the community?
  • What’s your best tip for a person that wants to start as community manager/leader/builder, for profit or for fun?
  • If you had a magic wand, what you would change or improve in the Italian community management scene?
  • What’s your community superpower? (thanks to Community Roundtable podcast folks for this question)
  • Who is the next person you know we should interview?

As you can see, nothing terribly complex, probably the conversation will end in less than 10 minutes. Of course, feedback to the questions are welcome.

So, there is a simple call to action if you are a community manager working in or for the Italian context: please reach me (or any other member of the CLSxItaly team) and we’ll be happy to have with you such conversation. Or suggest us one of these people to interview, if you aren’t. In any case, see you at the forth CLSxItaly, Nov 25th in Rome.

Community management podcasts I follow

I still consider podcasts a primary element of my information diet, and here a list of the ones I listen with a sharp-focus on community management topics. Not in a particular order and with no mention to other great resources on social media, online marketing and other similar stuff: just for hard-core community managers :)

Community Signal: Interviews to discuss what’s happening around the community word, tales from community managers, lessons sharing and much more. Transcripts, quotes, links and follow-up resources available on the website. Conduct by by Patrick O’Keefe, a new episode every week – Stitcher, iTunes, RSS

Community Pulse: A lot of discussions and insights on the art of community management, with an eye also on the wider world of Developer Relations. Conduct by Jason Hand, Mary ThengvallPJ Hagerty, mostly monthly – Stitcher, iTunes, RSS

Conversations with Community Managers: every episode a different interview with a community manager, generally telling the story of her community, challenges and wow moments. They end the show with a the question: “What’s your community superpower”, same I now always ask at the end of the job interviews I run. Conduct by The Community Roundtable folks, rather quite at the moment – iTunes,

FeverBee Podcast: Another source of community management related topics. Conducted by Sarah Hawk, now discontinued but old episodes still have relevant content – Stitcher.

 

Conference Tips: badges that work

How often happens that, talking with a person during a conference, you take a look to her badge to remember or check the name. And, as consequence of Murphy’s law, the badge is flipped on the wrong side, the one without the name.

Two possible solution to solve this situation: print badge both sides with the same information, name of the attendees included. The drawback is the lost of half of the informative space (used generally for sponsors, conference map or agenda etc). Otherwise, simply connect the badge to the lace in two points instead of one, so the badge won’t flip anymore. It may cost a little bit more, but allow space to print information both sides of the badge and makes it rock-solid.

Thanks to Codemotion for this tip, part of the “Conference Tips” series.

The importance of asking to the team why we do what we do

Months ago I’ve asked to my team the reasons they’re doing what they’re doing in our Developer Relations team. We were reorganising a little bit our internal structure, and knowing the true reasons moving each one is a great way to understand if we’re assigning the right projects to the right people, potential career paths and, if the matches are done in the right way, it helps to attenuate stress and make the team empowered and propositive in the daily work.

I planned to frame the conversation during the usual in-person meetings (1:1) we have: it’s not an argument suitable for a discussion around the coffee machine, as it could go very passional and personal (and generally does) so an environment able to provide the right privacy is fundamental. In addition, these may be the kind of discussions requiring a decent amount of time, half an hour at least, so 5 mins break in the middle of other duties is not enough.

In order to avoid the “out of the blue” effect when asking the question, I first sent an email quoting Simon Sinek’s video discussing the importance of the motivations in what we do, an anticipating that I would have been very happy to have such conversation during one of our next 1:1, in order to discover the real team passions and build or refine future activities, even potential 20% projects, on top of that.

Then I prepared myself. For transparency and equality, I needed to be ready to provide my personal reply to the question, my whys, if asked. Maybe not everyone would have been interested (turn out everyone was!), but in this case doesn’t count if you’re the most junior or the most senior team member: it’s all about us as human, so we’re all equal.

Finally, during the first 1:1 available and without incumbent duties coming, so the atmosphere was relaxed, I started to ask. Ask if it was ok to ask such question. Ask if, to make the conversation more comfortable, I should have first started with my motivations. Asked if there were additional questions about the reason I was asking. Once cleared all the doubts (and the email I’ve sent really helped to set the right tone and expectations of the discussion), people started to tell me their whys.

And it was amazing. And I felt privileged to be part of such conversations, to discover so much about my colleagues.

I wouldn’t say something totally unexpected has been surfaced, at the end we know quite well each other and DevRel team is auto-selective enough that you don’t stay if you aren’t highly motivated, with lot of passions well known and shared. Instead, I was surprised by the accuracy of the particulars, all the little things, often very hard to spot, that added together clarify a lot why it’s so obvious that this person is your colleague, the life paths that have brought her in the team, how much diverse and peculiar we are, even if we share lot of common trains.

And that it doesn’t exist (yet) a school or academic curriculum that brings you to a Developer Relations or Community Manager career path.

Highly suggested as team building activity!