Monday, March 29, 2010

Confessions of a Serial Community Organizer

Note: What follows is my Ignite talk submission for Google I/O 2010. As such, it is purposely a bit over the top in the way the information is presented. However, the core facts as they pertain to my work as a community organizer are all quite true.

Update: This talk has been selected for inclusion in the Ignite Google I/O Session which is scheduled for 4pm on May 19th, 2010.

It all started benignly enough when my daughter decided to take part in children's theater. At the mandatory meeting for parent volunteers, I offered to setup a Yahoo! Group (Google Groups were just a twinkle in Larry and Sergey's eyes back then) for us and the theater director turned and said to me, "So, I see you're a community organizer." Before long, I was community organizing every chance I could get. There was my 12 year stint with BayCHI organizing numerous Birds-Of-a-Feather groups. They even started calling me Mr. BOF. ;-)

After that, I decided to start a Java User Group (JUG). Of course, that was not good enough for me. I had to go and create a KML Map that rendered nicely in Google Maps and Google Earth that listed JUGs from all over the world. I even made it a global collaboration project with other JUG Leaders contributing to the project drawing more and more people in to my obsession. Eventually, they made me a Java Champion in hopes that it might slow me down. It didn't though. I went on to form an umbrella JUG for the United States, JUG-USA, which crushed all other JUGs in the annual competition for a meeting with James Gosling at JavaOne in 2009. Bwa, Ha, Ha ...

Having conquered the Java Developer Community, I moved on to the virgin developer community territory for Google Technologies. Although they espouse a "do no evil" policy, Google Developer Advocate Chris Schalk succumbed to the allure of my work as a Java Community Organizer and begged me to apply my community black magic to the Google Technology developer community. Thus, the Silicon Valley Google Technology User Group (GTUG) was formed in January of 2008. It has been so successful that it is now the model being used to spawn GTUGs across the globe.

This developer user group community organizing is fun, but, it is just a sliver of the whole pie. I could no longer be satisfied with only that. So, I felt compelled to attend the first Community Leadership Summit in the summer of 2009. That event was like crack cocaine for someone like me. I was surrounded by a sea of community organizers coming from an incredibly diverse set of communities. I couldn't wait another year for my next fix. I just HAD to organize a West Coast Community Leadership Summit (CLS West) in January of 2010 even if it killed me (side note: it almost did kill me). Not only that, I decided to jump in the Ignite Gurus Pool in the same 6 month timeframe launching the first Ignite CLS West that January too.

Where this story ends is not clear. All I know is that I am counting the days until my next fix at CLS 2010 in Portland this summer. Did I mention that I've been invited to help organize it? I'm no longer just a community organizer. I am now an organizer of community organizers. Bwa, Ha, Ha ...

To get serious for a moment, I do have a takeaway message I plan to "sneak" into my story line. I know I/O is a technical conference and as developers we want to absorb as much information as possible. This can cause people to spend all their time in the technical sessions and very little time networking with other attendees. Since all the talks will be recorded, I want to encourage attendees to take the time to get to know somebody new or get to know better someone they already know. In my community work, I find the personal relationships that can be forged through quality face time with others in my community to be incredibly valuable.

People often ask me how I can put so much effort into my community work. What they don't realize is that I get much more in return from it in terms of the friends I have made in the process. For me, it is a no brainer. In the end, it is always about the people you have touched and those that have touched you even for a geek like me.

Posted via email from Confessions of a Serial Community Organizer


  1. I think your perspective on networking is key. I am your witness that you go above and beyond to Lead by Example in that area.

    I am looking forward to listening to your Google I/O Ignite Talk.

  2. I still can't quite figure out how you manage to do it all... but you surely are an inspiration for the rest of us by showing us what's possible!

    I'm looking forward to your talk!

  3. Leading by example and integrity is key to being a successful Community Leader. In the end, all you have is your name + integrity. Recommend this book: "The Art of Community" by Jono Bacon (Ubuntu's community Mgr.) Thank Van for all that you do.. ---Aaron Houston former JUG helping Adobe w/their communities.