On Tuesday 30th August 2016 at 9am Pacific (see other time zone times here) I will be doing a Reddit AMA about my work in community strategy, management, developer relations, open source, music, and elsewhere.
For those unfamiliar with Reddit AMAs, it is essentially a way in which people can ask questions that someone will respond to. You simply add your questions (serious, or fun both welcome!) and I will respond to as many as I can.
It has been a while since my last AMA, so I am looking forward to this one.
Feel free to ask any questions you like, and this could include questions that relate to:
- Community management, leadership, and best practice.
- Working at Canonical, GitHub, XPRIZE, and elsewhere.
- The open source industry, how it has changed, and what the future looks like.
- The projects I have been involved in such as Ubuntu, GNOME, KDE, and others.
- The driving forces behind people and groups, behavioral economics, etc.
- My other things such as my music, conferences, writing etc.
- Anything else – politics, movies, news, tech…ask away!
If you want to ask about something else though, go ahead! 🙂
How to Join
Joining the AMA is simple. Just follow these steps:
- Be sure to have a Reddit account. If you don’t have one, head over here and sign up.
- On Tuesday 30th August 2016 at 9am Pacific (see other time zone times here) I will share the link to my AMA on Twitter (I am not allowed to share it until we run the AMA). You can look for this tweet by clicking here.
- Click the link in my tweet to go to the AMA and then click the text box to add your question(s).
- Now just wait until I respond. Feel free to follow up, challenge my response, and otherwise have fun!
Simple as that. 🙂
A Bit of Background
For those of you unfamiliar with my work, you can read more here, but here is a quick summary:
- I run a community strategy/management and developer relations consultancy practice.
- My clients include Deutsche Bank, HackerOne, data.world, Intel, Sony Mobile, Open Networking Foundation, and others.
- I previously served as director of community for GitHub, Canonical, and XPRIZE.
- I serve as an advisor to various organizations including Open Networking Foundation, Mycroft AI, Mod Duo, and Open Cloud Consortium.
- I wrote The Art of Community and have columns for Forbes and opensource.com. I have also written four other books and hundreds of articles.
- I have been involved with various open source projects including Ubuntu, GNOME, KDE, Jokosher, and others.
- I am an active podcaster, previously with LugRadio and Shot of Jaq, and now with Bad Voltage.
- I am really into music and have played in Seraphidian and Severed Fifth.
So, I hope you manage to make it over to the AMA, ask some fun and interesting questions, and we can have a good time. Thanks!
We just cut the cord, and glory is ours. I thought I would share how we did it to provide food for thought for those of you sick of cable (and maybe so people can stop bickering on my DirecTV blog post from years back).
I will walk through the requirements we had, what we used to have, and what the new setup looks like.
The requirements for us are fairly simple:
- We want access to a core set of channels:
- Comedy Central
- Food Network
- Local Channels (e.g. CBS, NBC, ABC).
- Be able to favorite shows and replay them after they have aired.
- Have access to streaming channels/services:
- Amazon Prime
- Be able to play Blu-ray discs, DVDs, and other optical content. While we rarely do this, we want the option.
- Have a reliable Internet connection and uninterrupted service.
- Have all of this both in our living room and in our bedroom.
- Reduce our costs.
- Bonus: access some channels on mobile devices. Sometimes I would like to watch the daily show or the news while on the elliptical on my tablet.
Our previous setup had most of these requirements in place.
For TV we were with DirecTV. We had all of the channels that we needed and we could record TV downstairs but also replay it upstairs in the bedroom.
We have a Roku that provides the streaming channels (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Crackle, Spotify, and Pandora).
We also have a cheap Blueray player which while rarely used, does come in handy from time time.
Everything goes into Pioneer Elite amp and I tried to consolidate the remotes with a Logitech Harmony but it broke immediately and I have heard from others the quality is awful. As such, we used a cheaper all in one remote which could do everything except the Roku as that is bluetooth.
The New Setup
At the core of our new setup is a Playstation 4. I have actually had this for a while but it has been sat up in my office and barely used.
The Playstation 4 provides the bulk of what we need:
- Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Spotify. I haven’t found a Pandora app yet, but this is fine.
- Blueray playback.
- Obviously we have the additional benefit of now being able to play games downstairs. I am enjoying having a blast on Battlefield from time to time and I installed some simple games for Jack to play on.
For the TV we are using Playstation Vue. This is a streaming service that has the most comprehensive set of channels I have seen so far, and the bulk of what we wanted is in the lowest tier plan ($40/month). I had assessed some other services but key channels (e.g. Comedy Central) were missing.
Playstation Vue has some nice features:
- It is a lot cheaper. Our $80+/month cable bill has now gone down to $40/month with Vue.
- The overall experience (e.g. browsing the guide, selecting shows, viewing information) is far quicker, more modern, and smoother than the clunky old DirecTV box.
- When browsing the guide you can not just watch live TV but also watch previous shows that were on too. For example, missed The Daily Shows this week? No worries, you can just go back and watch them.
- Playstation Vue is also available on Android, IOS, Roku and other devices which means I can watch TV and play back shows wherever I am.
In terms of the remote control I bought the official Playstation 4 remote and it works pretty well. It is still a little clunky in some areas as the apps on the Playstation sometimes refer to the usual playstation buttons as opposed to the buttons on the remote. Overall though it works great and it also powers my other devices (e.g. TV and amp), although I couldn’t get volume pass-through working.
Networking wise, we have a router upstairs in the bedroom which is where the feed comes in. I then take a cable from it and send it over our power lines with a Ethernet Over Power adapter. Then, downstairs I have an additional router which is chained and I take ethernet from the router to the Playstation. This results in considerably more reliable performance than using wireless. This is a big improvement as the Roku doesn’t have an ethernet port.
Overall, we love the new setup. The Playstation 4 is a great center-point for our entertainment system. It is awesome having a single remote, everything on one box and in one interface. I also love the higher-fidelity experience – the Roku is great but the interface looks a little dated and the apps are rather restricted.
Playstation Vue is absolutely awesome and I would highlight recommend it for people looking to ditch cable. You don’t even need a Playstation 4 – you can use it on a Roku, for example.
I also love that we are future proofed. I am planning on getting Playstation VR, which will now work downstairs, and Sony are bringing more and more content and apps to the Playstation Store. For example, there are lots of movies, TV shows, and other content which may not be available elsewhere.
I would love to hear your stories though about your cord cutting. Which services and products did you move to? What do you think about a games console running your entertainment setup? What am I doing wrong? Let me know in the comments!
A few weeks ago I flew out to Las Vegas with HackerOne to help run an event we had been working on for a while called H1-702. It was a hackathon designed for some of the world’s most talented security hackers.
H1-702 was one piece in a picture to ensure HackerOne is the very best platform and community for hackers to hack, learn, and grow.
This was the event that we invite the cream of the crop to…hackers who have been doing significant and sustained work and who have delivered some awesome vulnerability reports.
Hacking For Fun and Profit
For the event we booked a MGM Grand Skyloft for three evenings. We invited the most prolific hackers on HackerOne to join us where they would be invited to hack on a specific company’s technology each night. They didn’t learn about which company it was until the evening they arrived…this kept a bit of mystery in the air. 😉
Each evening Hackers were provided with the scope and then invited to hack these different products and submit vulnerabilities. Each company had their security team and developers on-hand where they would be able to answer questions, review and confirm reports quickly (and then fix the issues.)
Confirmed reports would result in a payout from the company and reputation points. This would then bump the hacker higher up on the H1-702 leaderboard and closer to winning the prestige of H1-702 Most Valued Hacker, complete with a pretty badass winners belt. As you can imagine, things got a little competitive. 😉
Each evening kicked off at around 7pm – 8pm and ran until the wee hours. The first night, for example, I ended up heading to bed at around 5.30am and they were still going.
There was an awesome electricity in the air and these hackers really brought their A-game. Lots of hackers walked out the door having made thousands of dollars for an evening’s hacking.
While competitive, it was also social, with people having a good time and getting to know each other. Speaking personally, it was great to meet some hackers who I have been following for a while. It was a thrill to watch them work.
Taking Care of Your Best
In every community you always get a variance of quality and commitment. Some people will be casual contributors and some will invest significant time and energy in the community and their work. It is always critical to really take care of your best, and H1-702 was one way in how want to do this at HackerOne.
Given this, we wanted deliver a genuinely premium event for these hackers and ensure that everyone received impeccable service and attention, not just at the event but from the minute they arrived in Vegas. After all, they have earned it.
This was an exercise in detail. We ensured we had a comfortable event space in a cool hotel. We had oodles of booze, with some top-shelf liquor. We provided food throughout the evening and brought in-chair massages later in the night to re-invigorate everyone. We provided plenty of seating, both in quiet and noisier spaces, lots of power sockets and we worked to have fast and reliable Internet. We provided each hacker with a HackerOne backpack, limited edition t-shirts, and other swag such as H1-702 challenge coins. We ensured that there was always someone hackers could call to solve problems, and we were receptive to feedback each night to improve it the following night.
Throughout the evening we worked to cater to the needs of hackers. We had members of HackerOne helping hackers solve problems, keep everyone hydrated and fed, and having a good time. HackerOne CEO Mårten Mickos was also running around like a waiter (amusingly with a white towel) ensuring everyone had drinks in their hands.
Overall, it was a fun event and while it went pretty well, there is always plenty to learn and improve for next time. If this sounds like fun, be sure to go and sign up and hack on some programs and earn a spot next year.
Earlier this week I was asked this on Twitter:
An entirely reasonable question given that I had entirely failed to provide clarity on how my content is licensed on each page. So, thanks, Elio, for helping me to fix this. You will now see a licensing blurb at the bottom of each post as well as a licensing drop-down item in the menu.
To clarify, all content on my blog is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. I have been a long-time free culture and Creative Commons fan, supporter, and artist (see my archive of music, podcasts, and more here), so this license is a natural choice.
Let’s now explore what you can do with my content under the parameters of this license.
What You Can Do
The license is pretty simple. You are allowed to:
- Share – feel free to share my blog posts with whoever you want.
- Remix – you are welcome to use my posts and create derived works from them.
…there is a requirement though. You are required to provide attribution for my content. I don’t need a glowing missive about how the article changed your life, just a few words that reference me as the author and point to the original article, that’s all. Something like:
‘My Blog is Creative Commons Licensed’ originally written by Jono Bacon and originally published at http://www.jonobacon.org/2016/08/12/my-blog-is-creative-commons-licensed/
will be great. Thanks!
To learn more about your rights with my content, so the license details.
What I Would Love You Do
So, that’s what you are allowed to do, but what would I selfishly love you to do with my content?
Well, a bunch of things:
- Share it – I try to write things on this blog that are helpful to others, but it is only helpful if people read it. So, your help sharing and submitting my posts on and to social media, news sites, other blogs, and elsewhere is super helpful.
- Include and reference it in other work – I always love to see my work included and referenced in other blog posts, books, research papers, and elsewhere. If you find something useful in my writing, feel free to go ahead and use it.
- Translate it – I would love to see my posts translated into different languages, just like Elio offered to do. If you do make a translation, let me know so I can add a link to it in the original article.
Of course, if you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch and whether you just read my content or choose to share, derive, or translate it, thanks for being a part of it! 🙂
Update: my talk has been moved to 1.30pm on Friday 19th August 2016.
Just a quick note to let you know that I will be zooming my way on the reddest of red eyes to Pittsburgh, PA to speak at Abstractions next week.
I first heard about Abstractions some time ago and I was pretty stunned by the speaker roster which includes Jeffrey Zeldman, Richard Stallman, Mitchell Hashimoto, Larry Wall, and others.
I absolutely love events such as Abstractions. The team have clearly worked hard to put together a solid event with a great line-up, professional look and feel, great speaker relations, and more.
Building a Community Exoskeleton
I am going to delivering a talk on Friday at 4.20pm called Building a Community Exoskeleton. The abstract:
Community is at the core of all successful open source projects. The challenge is that building empowered, productive, and inclusive communities is complex work that lives in the connective tissue between technology and people. In this new presentation from Jono Bacon, he will share some insight into how you can build an exoskeleton that wraps around community members to help them to do great work, form meaningful relationships, and help each other to be successful. The presentation will delve into success stories in open source and elsewhere, the underlying behavioral principles we can tap into, infrastructure and workflow decisions, and how we get people through the door and involved in our projects. Bacon will also cover the risks and potholes you will want to delicately swerve around. If you are running an existing project or company, or starting something new, be sure to get along to this presentation, all delivered in Bacon’s trademark loose and amusing style.
I am hoping I will get an opportunity to see many of you there (details of how to attend are here), and I want to offer a huge thanks to the Abstractions team for their kindness, hospitality, and service. I am looking forward to getting out there!
I spend a fair bit of time traveling. Like many of you, this involves catching planes, trains, and automobiles, schlepping around between airports and hotels, figuring out conference centers, and more.
Some years back I shared a room with my friend Pete Graner and was amused by how much crap he packed into his bag. Despite my mild mockery, whenever anyone needed something, Pete got pinged.
Over the years I too have learned how to tame the road, and I want to share some lessons learned from how to pack the right items, book your travel wisely, stay connected, and more.
Build a Backpack
Your backpack is your travel buddy. You will carry it everywhere and it will contain the most critical things you need on your journey. You want it to be comfortable, contain the essentials, and be ready for action whether in your hotel room, at the office, at an airport, or elsewhere.
First, you need to get the bag itself. Don’t skimp on cost here, this thing is going to get thrown around and trust me, you don’t want it to drop apart in an airport. Some essential features I look for in the bag:
- Handles that can wrap around the handle on your suitcase. This means you can then attach it to the suitcase and not have to carry the bag when rolling your suitcase along.
- Includes at least 4 different compartments, which I would use for:
- Your laptop/tablet. Some bags can open up to make it easier for scanning laptops in X-Ray machines. Not essential, but nice to have.
- Travel documents and important things (e.g. cash).
- Your cables, chargers, and other peripherals/devices.
- Medicines and other consumables.
- A means to attach a water bottle (e.g. an included hook) or pocket to strap it into.
- Bonus side pockets for sunglasses, tissues, and other items are always nice.
More than anything, ensure the bag is comfortable to wear. This thing is going to strapped to your back a lot, so make sure it feels comfortable to carry and doesn’t rub up against your shoulders.
OK, so we have a nice shiny bag. What do we put in it?
You want to ensure you carry items not just for your common tasks, but also for a few outliers too. Also, I recommend many of these items always live in your bag (even if you buy duplicate items for your home.) This then ensures that you don’t forget to pack them when you travel.
Here is a shopping list of what I carry with me, which could be inspiration for your own bag:
- Laptop – the jewel in the crown. This always comes with me.
- Other gadgets – I often also carry:
- Laptop charger – obviously this is pretty essential if you want some juice in your laptop.
- Cables – I carry a bunch of cables, including:
- 2 x Micro-USB for phones and devices.
- 1 x Lightning for Apple devices.
- Fitbit charging cable.
- Multi-outlet adapter – a handy travel multi-outlet adapter where I can plug in 4 devices into a single outlet.
- USB outlets – these are those little gadgets with a USB socket that you plug into the wall. I carry at least two and they are used to juice my devices.
- Outlet adapters – these are the devices that convert between different power outlet types for different countries. I have been through dozens of these, so spend your money on quality. Be sure to buy one that supports every socket in the world. I always carry 2.
- Battery pack – this is one of those battery packs that you can use for charging your devices when out and about. Get a decent one (at least 12000mAh) with both the 1A and 2.1A ports so you can get a fast charge.
- USB sticks – I carry a couple of USB sticks around in case I need to transfer data between machines. I often have one as a bootable Ubuntu stick just in case I need to boot into Linux on another machine.
- Headphones – get some decent headphones (with a built in mic), you will be using them a lot. I use Bose headphones and love them. They may be more expensive, but totally worth it.
- Notebook and pen – always handy for scribbling down ideas, notes, and other musings. Also critical if you working with a company that doesn’t let you take a laptop into their office due to security measures – you will use this to take notes.
For the ladies reading, adjust to taste (e.g. perfume, not cologne):
- First aid kit – always have this just in case.
- Tissues – get a couple of pocket packs, useful for when you have the sniffles.
- Mints – no one likes travel breath, so this is a handy way of combating it when you have to run straight into a meeting after a flight.
- Hand sanitizer – other people are icky, wipe them off you.
- Headache tablets – get tablets your doctor recommends. I carry Aleve, but make sure the ones you get are safe for you (that you are not allergic to).
- Diarrhea medicine – always handy to have and critical for some further flung destinations. I carry Pepto-Bismol tablets.
- Cologne – I always like to smell good and usually carry two colognes with me. You can buy an atomizer that you can pre-fill with your cologne before you travel. Or, buy a travel size cologne.
- Deodorant – essential. You never know when you are going to be stuck in a hot place and you don’t want to get sweaty. I usually carry a roll on.
- Band-aids/plasters – I carry a few of these, not just in case I cut myself but also in case I get blisters on my feet when I have bought new shoes.
- Gas/heartburn medicine – always handy to have, particularly for some destinations with richer food.
- Hangover medicine – it has been known that I have the odd beer here or there on the road. Some scientific research has resulted in me carrying some Blowfish. Be sure to check what you carry is safe (some medicines have ingredients you may be allergic to).
- Sunscreen – as a pasty white chap, the sun can be my enemy. I carry a small spray can that I can lacquer myself with if I am going to be outside for a while.
- Water bottle – I always carry a quality water bottle. When traveling you should stay hydrated. Be sure to get a bottle that can strap to your backpack. If there is no means to strap it, buy a carabiner hook. Also, get a bottle where the spout is covered and the cover is lockable. This will ensure you don’t get germs on the spout and that water doesn’t spray out while walking.
- Cash – I always carry a small amount of bills and coins in my bag. The bills are handy for tipping and purchasing small items when you have run out of cash in your wallet. The coins are helpful for parking meters.
- Sunglasses – always handy in sunny climbs. I have a dedicated travel pair of sunnies that always lives in my bag so I never forget them.
Get Expedited Customs Entry
If you are traveling regularly, you should strive to make your overall journey as simple and effortless as possible. One easy way to do this is with expedited customs entry.
The latter, Global Entry, means you can skip the lines when you arrive from an international trip and simply go to a machine where your documents are checked. It can literally save you hours stood in line after a long trip.
TSA Pre is a program in which you can get expedited screening in American airports. It means you can join a shorter line and you don’t have to take off your shoes or belt, or take your laptop out of your bag. TSA Pre is awesome.
If you apply for Global Entry you also get TSA Pre, so that is the way to do. Sure, it involves you filling in a large form and taking a trip out to the airport for a meeting, but given the amount of time an frustration it saves, it is critical.
Tip: When booking your flights be sure to specify your Known Traveler number (which you get with Global Entry) when booking. If you don’t specify it you won’t be able to use Global Entry or TSA Pre on your itinerary, which is rather annoying.
Book Your Travel Wisely
For the majority of trips you take there will be a mode of transportation (e.g. plane, train, car) and a hotel. When booking either of these you should always (a) choose the wisest providers, (b) book the best trips, and (c) always work towards to status/rewards.
Pick good providers
For picking the best providers, do your research. Ask your friends what their favorite airlines are, which hotels they like, and other opinions. Also do some online research.
As an example, a couple of current viewpoints from me currently about airlines:
- United – pretty average service but cost effective and have a great rewards program. Also easy to spend your miles (few blackout dates).
- Virgin Atlantic – awesome airline, but more expensive. OK rewards program but I have found it difficult to spend miles (lots of blackout dates).
- Southwest – great airline, services a lot of the USA. Really nice staff, but their rewards only really gets you on the plane earlier.
Do your research and find the right balance of service and value.
Book the trip that works for you
A few tips for booking flights;
- When picking seats check SeatGuru to see if it works well for you. Always pick your preferred seat when you book your flight.
- Always check the layover time – I never layover for less than an hour. Too risky of you have a late takeoff time.
- Sometimes I also check the cancellation/delay record of an airport. For example, Shenzhen has a pretty poor record and so I have taken a train to reduce the risk of a canceled flight.
- Remember that bulkhead seats don’t have movable arms so if you get a row to yourself you won’t be able to stretch out.
Work towards rewards
Most airlines and hotels offer rewards programs for regular business. Where possible, you should try to book with the same providers to build up your status. This will the open up perks such as free flights, lounge access, free bags, complimentary upgrades, and more.
When evaluating which rewards plans to use, consider the following:
- Assess how the rewards program works. Some can be a fairly complex and some are simple. Make sure you understand how you can get the most out of it.
- Choose airlines that have lots of flights from your nearest airports. This will make it easier to ensure you pick the same airline for most flights.
- Review how easy it is to book free flights. Do they have lots of blackout dates that make it difficult?
- Review the perks of the airline. Is it worth it and can you accomplish the different status levels with your typical travel?
Load Up Your Phone
When you are on the road your phone is your trusty companion. It will keep you entertained, informed, and connected.
Aside from ensuring it is always charged, we want to ensure it is connected and has the right apps on to make our trip easier.
Choosing a Plan
Be sure to check what your carrier’s travel/roaming rates are. This varies tremendously between carriers and getting this wrong can cost you a fortune.
Where possible, I always recommend that you are able to have roaming and data when you travel. While it is often slow, it can be essential as part of your trip for contacting colleagues/customers, coordinating travel, finding places to eat, learning the local culture and more.
As an example, T-Mobile has phenomenal unlimited international roaming. Ever since they switched this on it has made travel infinitely better and more reassuring.
Be sure to check the parameters of how this works though. As an example, with T-Mobile, for me to have a call with my wife in America it is better if I call her (the rate is much lower) than if she calls me. Be sure to know these specifics so you can make the most out of your service.
Install Essential Apps
Everyone will have different requirements here, but I recommend you install the following types of apps:
- Itinerary – I love TripIt. It is a simple app you can forward your email itinerary confirmations to and it provides a simple way of viewing them and providing additional information.
- Airline – be sure to install the apps for the airlines you fly. Often you can check-in with the app as well as use an electronic boarding pass so you don’t have to print your boarding pass at the airport.
- Carsharing – be sure to get Uber / Lyft and any regional travel apps (e.g. taxi apps for towns that have banned ridesharing).
- Business discovery – be sure to install Yelp and TripAdvisor which is hugely helpful for finding decent places to eat, fun bars, and more.
- Translation – I also recommend you install the Google Translate app. It can not just translate text but also translate text in photos and via the camera too.
- Entertainment – be sure to install the video, music, reading, and games apps you love. This is always handy for evenings when you just want to relax in your hotel room or for the long trips.
So, there we have it. I hope some of these recommendations are helpful.
Outside of getting prepped for your trip, here are some random tips that might be handy for while you are on your trip:
At the Airport
- Check in as soon as your flight opens. When you make the booking, add a cell-phone number so you get texted when check-in opens. This will ensure you get a decent seat choice.
- Before you fly, buy some essentials in case you need them in the air:
- A few bottles of water.
- A few snacks (e.g. protein bars).
- I always like to eat a big meal before a big flight. Plane food is usually not great and they may have run out of the option you want.
- Explore off-site parking options. Often it can be way cheaper for parking. Also, check for coupons, there are usually decent discounts available online.
On the Plane
- Wipe down your tray table and arm-rest with a sanitation wipe. This can prevent getting sick while traveling (which is never fun).
- When you get to your seat, take your headphones, e-book reader, and tissues out of your bag. This means you don’t have to wait for the seat-belt lights to go out before you can grab them.
- Track your flight time and be sure to hit the restroom around 45 minutes before landing. When they announce the plane is descending there is often a bum rush for the loo.
- When they offer drinks and they pour you a little cup, ask for the full can. They usually give it to you.
At the Hotel
- If you wear shirts/blouses, be sure to check if an ironing board and iron is in your room when you arrive. If not, ask for it to be brought up before you go to bed so you are not rushed in the morning.
- Don’t have an ironing board and have creases in your clothes? Use a hairdryer on your clothes while you wear them. It often gets most of the creases out.
- When you got to bed, plug everything into charge, including your portable battery pack. This will ensure you are powered up the following day.
- You can call reception for a wake up call, but always set a wake-up call on your phone/tablet. Too many hotels forget to actually wake you up.
- As soon as you wake up, switch the shower on and see if there is hot water. Some hotels take a while to warm up and this prevents you getting delayed.
- Have one of those rooms where you need to enter your room card to keep the lights on? Just put any other card in there (e.g. an old subway pass) and it usually works. 😉
I would love to hear your tips though. What travel secrets have you unlocked? Be sure to let everyone know in the comments…
Earlier this week, @naval (CEO and co-founder of AngelList) asked a question on Twitter:
At the heart of his question is an interesting observation. As automation and artificial intelligence replaces manual jobs, how do we retrain people in the new knowledge economy where information handling and management is in high demand?
I thought I would share some experiences, observations, and recommendations based upon when I did this previously in my career.
Back in 2004 I was peddling my wares as a journalist, writing for the tech press. I was living in the West Midlands in England and heard about a new organization in nearby Birmingham called OpenAdvantage.
The premise was neat: open source was becoming a powerful force in technology and OpenAdvantage was set up to provide free consultancy for companies wanting to harness open source, as well as individuals who wanted to upskill in these new technologies. At the time in the West Midlands lots of industry was being automated and moved out to Asia, so lots of Midlanders were out of jobs and looking to retrain. This required, by definition, retaining the workforce as knowledge workers.
OpenAdvantage was funded by the UK government and the University of Central England, had a decent war chest, and was founded by Scott Thompon and Paul Cooper (the latter of which I met when he heckled me at a talk I gave at a Linux User Group once. 🙂 )
So, I went along to their launch event and wrote a piece about them. Shortly after, Paul and Scott invited me back over to the office and offered me a job there as an open source consultant.
I took the role, and this is where I cut my teeth on a lot of open source, community, and working with businesses. We had crazy targets to hit each month, so we ended up working with and training hundreds of organizations and individuals across a wide range of areas, and covering a wide berth of open source technology and approaches.
All of our services were entirely free IF the person or organization was based in the West Midlands (as this is the area our funding was supporting.)
Training Knowledge Workers
So, what lessons did we learn from this work that can be applied to Naval’s question? I have 10 primary recommendations for training new knowledge workers…
1. Understand your audience and their diversity
Many people who are being retrained will come from varying backgrounds and have different levels of experience, goals, insecurities, and ambitions. As an example, some people may not possess the foundational computing skills required for the topic you are training, yet others will. Also, there may be different concerns about connectivity, social media, and networking based on how much your audience have been exposed to technology.
Be sure to understand your audience and craft your training to their comprehensive set of needs. A good way to do this is to survey your audience before they join. Then you can tune your training effectively.
2. Teach skills that have clear market value
When someone needs to change careers, their top concern is usually supporting their family and bringing financial security to the home. They will only consider skills that have clear market value. So, be aware of what the market needs and train based on those skills. The market is ever changing, and thus are the requirements, so adapt your program to these needs.
So, even though you may love Haskell, if the market is demanding Ruby developers, teach Ruby. Sure, you may love SugarCRM, but if the market demands Salesforce, do the same. One caveat here though is always keeping an eye on new trends so you can provide training on technologies and services as they ripen so you can equip your audience for the very best and most timely opportunities.
3. Tie the training to direct market benefits
Aside from market value, you also want to ensure your audience understands the potential of acquiring those skills before they embark on the training. Benefits such as job security, good salaries, health/insurance benefits, and more can be a useful forcing function that will get them through the training.
Also be sure to train a mixture of vocational skills (e.g. technologies) as well as best practice, methodologies, and approaches for being successful in the workplace. This could include topics such as project management, leadership skills, time management, and more.
4. Provide training at zero (or very low) cost
One of the major benefits of our work at OpenAdvantage was that we provided free services. This made it a no-brainer for many people to consume these services.
You should also try to engineer a situation where your training is also a no-brainer and the cost is free or as close to free as possible. If you charge a high sticker value for the training, many people may not be able to justify or afford it.
A good way to offset costs is with partnerships and sponsorships. Explore different vendors to see if they can sponsor the training, talk to local chambers and charities to see if they can help, and see if local businesses can provide venues, equipment, and other resources to keep the costs low and your training as accessible as possible to your audience.
5. Build in clear intrinsic/extrinsic rewards
For the training to really succeed, the audience needs to gain both intrinsic rewards (such as better capabilities, confidence, digital literacy etc) and extrinsic rewards (material items such as t-shirts, trophies, mugs etc).
Focus on the intrinsic rewards first: they are the confidence and opportunity boosting benefits that will get them over the hump to changing careers and succeeding in their new profession.
The extrinsic rewards can be a boon here though, but where possible, ensure they are useful in their career development. Items such as notepads/pens, USB sticks, books, training materials, and other items are good examples that can support your audience and make them feel rewarded. Avoid gimmicks or tat that doesn’t play a functional benefit as a knowledge worker.
6. Teach by doing, not just by presenting
Having someone sit down in front of a day of presentations is boring. Instead, present short bursts of core skills, but get your audience doing stuff, talking, and working together. Have them execute tasks, experiment, and play. This is what seals the skills in.
My favorite approach here is to teach multiple short presentations (15 minutes or less) and then provide a “challenge” or “task” for them to complete to exercise these new skills, explore, and experiment.
This is important not just for skills development but it also encourages your audience to talk to each other in the session, collaborate, solving problems together, and build relationships.
7. Provide follow up service and connections
It is tempting to assume that when that exhausting day of training is over, you are done. Not at all.
Always follow up with your audience to see how they are doing, introduce them to local communities, show them useful tools, introduce them to other people they may find helpful, connect them to organizations looking for staff and more.
Retraining people is not just about soaking up knowledge it is about bridging the gap to new industries and the people within them. These additional recommendations, connections, and introductions can often be one of the most empowering parts of the overall experience.
8. Teach them how to teach themselves
One of the major challenges with education is that it often teaches skills in a vacuum. Sadly, this just isn’t how the world works.
The most capable and successful people in the world develop the abilities to (a) always learn and grow new skills, (b) always be willing to challenge themselves and their assumptions, and (c) be willing to experiment and try new things. This is a lifelong process, but you should help your audience to learn how to teach themselves and expand their skills.
For example, teach them how to research problems online, how to find support forums and groups, ask meaningful questions, and how to experiment, debug issues, and solve problems. These are critical skills for knowledge workers to be successful.
9. Teach streetsmarts
Another element that is often sadly lacking in traditional education are streetsmarts such as modern trends, memes, and methods of engaging in technology and beyond.
Teach your audience some of these streetsmarts. Examples of this could include the do’s and dont’s of online communication, how to deal with trolls/critics, trending technologies and cultures, how to be successful in an internationally diverse world, and other areas. Again, this will reinforce their capabilities beyond the skills they need to do a job.
10. Build their confidence
One of the most notable things I remembered from my OpenAdvantage days (and have seen since then) is that a lot of people who are transitioning into the knowledge economy feel overwhelmed by the task. They often feel there are too many tools, too many things to learn, that they will never figure it out, and sometimes that they are too old to get started.
This is insecurity, and it can be conquered. The vast majority of people can traverse the challenge and do well, but they need confidence in themselves to get over the bumps in the road and that feeling of being overwhelmed.
Give them that confidence. Help them to understand that this is just technology, and it often looks harder than it really is. Help them to see their potential, what benefits this will open up for them, and how much bigger the market opportunity will be for them. Remind them of the abundance of choices that will open up to them, the confidence it will give them, and how their social and professional networks will grow. Remind them of the good they are doing for their family and the brighter future they will be building.
So, there we have it. I hope some of these learnings are useful to those of you doing this work, and I hope this provided some food for thought for Naval’s question on Twitter.
I would love to hear your thoughts too. What other ideas and methods can we use to make it easier to retrain people as knowledge workers? Which of my points can be expanded or improved? What are your stories from the trenches? Let us know in the squarkbox…
In my work I tend to create a lot of material both on my website here as well as on other websites (for example, my opensource.com column and my Forbes column. I also participate in interviews and other pieces.
I couldn’t think of an efficient way to pull these together for you folks to check out. So, I figured I will periodically share these goings on in a post. Let’s get this first Bacon Roundup rolling…
How hackers are making products safer (cio.com)
An interview about the work I am doing at HackerOne in building a global community of hackers that are incentivized to find security issues, build their expertise/skills, and earn some money.
8 ways to get your swag on
A column about the challenges that face shipping swag out to community members. Here are 8 things I have learned to make this easier covering production, shipping, and more.
10 tips for new GitHub projects
Kicking off a new GitHub project can be tough for new communities. I wrote this piece to provide 10 simple tips and tricks to ensure your new GitHub project is setting off on the right path.
The Risks of Over-Rewarding Communities
A piece about some interesting research into the risks of over-rewarding people to the point of it impacting their performance. This covers the research, the implications for communities, and some practical ways to harness this in your community/organization.
GC On-Demand Podcast Interview (http://podcast.discoposse.com/)
I had a blast chatting to Eric Wright about community management, career development, traversing challenges, and constantly evolving and improving your craft. A fun discussion and I think a fun listen too.
Taking your GitHub issues from good to great (zenhub.com)
I was invited by my friends at ZenHub to participate in a piece about doing GitHub issues right. They wrote the lions-share of this piece but I contributed some material.
Finally, if you want to get my blog posts directly to your inbox, simple put your email address into the box to the right of this post. This will ensure you never miss a beat.
Incentive plays an important role in communities. We see it everywhere: community members are rewarded with extrinsic rewards such as t-shirts, stickers, gadgets, or other material, or intrinsic rewards such as increased responsibilities, kudos, reputation, or other benefits.
The logic seems seems sound: if someone is the bees knees and doing a great job, they deserve to be rewarded. People like rewards, and rewards make people want to stick around and contribute more. What’s not to love?
There is though some interesting evidence to suggest that over-rewarding your communities, either internal to an organization or external, has some potent risks. Let’s explore the evidence and then see how we can harness it.
Back in 1908, Yerkes-Dodson, psychologists (and potential prog rock band) developed the Yerkes-Dodson Law. It suggests performance in a task increases with arousal, but only to a point. Now, before you get too hot under the collar, this study refers to mental or physiological arousal such as motivation. The study highlights a “peak arousal” time which is the ideal mix of the right amount of arousal to hit maximal performance.
Dan Ariely in The Upside of Irrationality took this research and built on it to test the effect of extrinsic rewards on performance. He asked a series of people in India to perform tasks with varying levels of financial reward (very small up to very high). His results were interesting:
Relative to those in the low- or medium-bonus conditions, they achieved good or very good performance less than a third of the time. The experience was so stressful to those in the very-large-bonus condition that they choked under the pressure.
I found this choke point insight interesting. We often see an inverse choke point when the stress of joining a community is too high (e.g. submitting a first code pull request to your peers). Do we see choke points for communities members with a high level of pressure to perform though?
Community Strategy Implications
I am not so sure. Many communities have high performing community members with high levels of responsibility (e.g. release managers, security teams, and core maintainers) who perform with predictably high quality results.
Where we often see the ugly head of community is with entitlement; that is, when some community members expect to be treated differently to others.
When I think back to the cases where I have seen examples of this entitlement (which shall remain anonymous to protect the innocent) it has invariably been due to an imbalance of expectations and rewards. In other words, when their expectations don’t match their level of influence on a community and/or they feel rewarded beyond that suitable level of influence, entitlement tends to brew.
As as such, my graph looks a little like this:
This shows the Yerkes-Dodson curve but subdivides the timeline into three distinctive areas. The first area is used for growth and we use rewards as a means to encourage participation. The middle area is for maintenance and ensuring regular contribution over an extended period of time. The final area is the danger zone – this is where entitlement can set in, so we want to ensure that manage expectations and rewards carefully. In this end zone we want to reward great work, but ultimately cap the size of the reward – lavish gifts and experiences are probably not going to have as much impact and may even risk the dreaded entitlement phenomena.
This narrative matches a hunch I have had for a while that rewards have a direct line to expectations. If we can map our rewards to effectively mitigate the inverse choke point for new members (thus make it easier to get involved) and reduce the latter choke point (thus reduce entitlement), we will have a balanced community.
Things You Can Do
So, dear reader, this is where I give you some homework you can do to harness this research:
- Design what a ‘good’ contribution is – before you can reward people well you need to decide what a good contribution is. As an example, is a good code contribution a well formed, submitted, reviewed, and merged pull request? Decide what it is and write it down.
- Create a platform for effectively tracking capabilities – while you can always throw out rewards willy-nilly based on observations of performance, this risks accusations of rewarding some but not others. As such, implement an independent way of mapping this good contribution to some kind of automatically generated numeric representation (e.g. reputation/karma).
- Front-load intrinsic rewards – for new contributors in the growth stage, intrinsic rewards (such as respect, support, and mentoring) are more meaningful as these new members are often nervous about getting started. You want these intrinsic rewards primarily at the beginning of a new contributor on-ramp – it will build a personal sense of community with them.
- Carefully distribute extrinsic rewards – extrinsic rewards such as clothing, gadgets, and money should be carefully distributed along the curve in the graph above. In other words, give out great material, but don’t make it too opulent otherwise you may face the latter choke point.
- Create a distribution curve of expectations – in the same way we are mapping rewards to the above graph, we should do the same with expectations. At different points in the community lifecycle we need to provide different levels of expectations and information (e.g. limited scope for new contributions, much wider for regular participants). Map this out and design systems for delivering it.
If we can be mindful of the Yerkes-Dodson curve and balance expectations and rewards well, we have the ability to build truly engaging and incentivized communities and organizations.
I would love to have a discussion about this in the comments. Do you think this makes sense? What am I missing in my thinking here? What are great examples of effective rewards? How have you reduced entitlement? Share your thoughts…
Last week I was interviewed by the wonderful Eric Wright for the GC On-Demand Podcast.
Over the years I have participated in various interviews, and this was a particularly fun, meaty, and meaningful discussion. I think this could be worth a listen, particularly if you are interested in community growth, but also leadership and facing and traversing challenges.
Some of the topics we discussed included:
- How I got into this business.
- What great communities look like and how to build them.
- How to keep communities personal, particularly when dealing with scale.
- Managing the expectations of different parts of an organization.
- My 1/10/100 rule for mentoring and growing your community.
- How to evolve and grow the skills of your community members and teams in a productive way.
- My experiences working at Canonical, GitHub and XPRIZE.
- Increasing retention and participation in a community.
- Building effective leadership and leading by example.
- Balancing open source consumption and contribution.
- My recommended reading list.
- Lots of fun anecdotes and stories.
So, go and grab a cup of coffee, and use the handy player below to listen to the show:
You can also find the show here.