December 2, 2012

Day 2 - Building Community for Fun and Profit

This was written by Brandon Burton.

Community usually refers to a village that shares common values. In human communities, intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risks, and a number of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness.

Since the advent of the Internet, the concept of community has less geographical limitation, as people can now gather virtually in an online community and share common interests regardless of physical location. Prior to the internet, virtual communities (like social or academic organizations) were far more limited by the constraints of available communication and transportation technologies.

Taken from

what community means to me

Community has always been a critical part of my life long obsession with computers and the Internet. At every stage, it was some community that took me a new level of my computer usage, starting with BBSes and gaming clubs, through the community around the Englightenment, particularly its irc channel #e (now on Freenode), and the online open source community, that at the time revolved around Slashdot, Freshmeat, and All of which I got involved in back in High School. It was through these sites and the #e irc channel that I encountered people who got paid! to manage Linux boxes all day. I knew immediately that this is what I wanted to do for a living to. I loved Linux. I loved building servers at home. My path was set.

Along the way, I've become involved in many communities around various open source projects, particularly libraries or web frameworks, commercial technologies, and geographic location, and through these, I've grown as a technologist, as a professional, and as a person. I've made many long lasting friendship and community relationships are responsible for my last three jobs.

I suspect most, if not all, of you are having a me too moment in reading this, because community is a big part of both our world of technology and the world at large. Community involvement is a critical piece of being an Operations professional, and I hope to provide some examples of communities you can join or help build as I discuss what I've learned about building community over my last 14 years of being involved in open source and ops/sysadmin communities.

dat devops

I've the had the privilege of becoming part of the DevOps community over the last two years, including helping organize and speak at last year's devops days Mountain View conference. The DevOps community to me is a perfect example of how a great community is built. It has grown organically over the last three years because people around the world found common ground in a topic and wanted the opportunity to discuss, evolve, and share that topic.

Some of the key things the DevOps community has done are

  • create free or very cheap conferences at numerous locations around the world
  • created google groups for discussion
  • created irc channels for discussion
  • accepted that marketing and sales will become a part of any vibrant community
  • encouraged civil discourse and respect (see "the No Asshole rule"
  • inclusive by default, encourage "noobs" with passion to step and up and be a part
  • "lead the herd" by speaking, blogging, tweeting, ircing, posting to newsgroups
  • busted ass to create real change for the topic at hand, not worrying about fame or fortune

hangops history lesson

In the past three months I've been lucky enough to work with Jordan Sissel in building a new community:

Hangops started as an idea I had one day and proposed to Jordan, that he and I do a weekly Google Hangout to have coffee virtually and shoot the shit. I had been working from home for six months and was starting to miss the socialization of being in an office. He liked the idea and said "why not make it public?" I could see no reason not to, and following the recent Twitter trend of #hugops and #dadops, we thought using the hashtag #hangops would be a fun moniker, since the idea is to enable remote Ops folks (dev, qa, security, etc are welcome too!) to hang out via a Google Hangout and shoot the shit.

So we decided on a day/time and did a couple tweets about it. We had a good turn out for the first one and decided to make it a weekly event. After a few weeks of good times and we decided to get official. I registered, put up a small static site, registered @hangops, and we started using Google Hangout's On Air feature to live stream the sessions, and record them for people that can't make a session. I put the site up as a repo on Github and encouraged people to mention topic ideas by making issues against the repo, which also got a nice response. And we started an irc channel, #hangops on Freenode.

We had a great response to these things and in the last month I've started getting specific people from the greater (dev)Ops community to be special guests as we discuss topics like Puppetconf/Surgecon recap, AWS, Sensu, Career Paths and hiring, and an upcoming session on #monitoringlove.

There has been an amazing response from people in the community and coworkers at Mozilla about hangops. People love the style of the sessions and the material, and they keep asking for more. We even saw a live hangops at Puppetconf.

Reflecting on the growth of the hangops community, I think the key things were:

  • Ops people who work from home aldo like to socialize
  • Ops people like to hear from smart and experience folks on interesting topics
  • I had fun with it
  • I was willing to invest time and money into it, with no guarantee it would be more than Jordan and myself sharing cat gifs every week.
  • I've worked hard to make it an open community and encourage people to join the hangout even if they're unsure what they may add
  • I've made the format a mix of roundtable and topical discussions
  • encouraging feedback whenever possible

Things I am looking for the future are:

  • a better site
  • a google calendar
  • making a podcast mp3 feed and a video feed
  • show notes
  • transcription
  • a proper logo


The key to building a community is a mix of passion and fearlessness. You have to really be invested in the idea of the community you want to help build, but you also have to be willing to fail

You have a huge array of communication tools available today; Things like Twitter, Google Hangouts, IRC channels, and a fun hash tag make it really easy to organically grow and promote a new community as well.

If you're someone looking for a community about ops and sysadmin things, I'd love to see you join the #hangops community, and if you're someone trying to build your own community, I hope this article has given you some ideas and hopefully some motivation for your own endevour.

About the author

Brandon Burton is currently a webops engineer at Mozilla where he spends his time herding Apache servers, writing Puppet manifests, and mostly posting gifs in IRC channels.

He can be found on Twitter as @solarce cat gifs, memes, and sometimes interesting links.

1 comment :

nate said...

community building and cultural change are hard. the first step is to be passionate about something and have a willingness to do something about it. thanks for your work, brandon.