Team blog: more than just a blog.

Motivations

Creating high quality contents takes time. A lot of people write nowadays but very few are writers. In the software industry, most of those who write very well are in the marketing side not on the technical side.

The impact of high quality contents is very high over time. Engineers and other profiles related with technology tend to underestimate this fact. When approaching the creation of contents, their first reaction is to think about the effort that takes, not the impact. Marketers have exactly the opposite view. They tend to focus in the short term impact.

Successful organizations have something in common. They focus a lot of effort and energy in reporting efficiently across the entire organization, not just vertically but horizontally, not just internally but also externally. Knowing what others around you are doing, their goals, motivations and progress is as important as communicating results.

One of the sentences that I do not stop repeating is that a good team gets further than a bunch of rock stars. I think that a collective approach to content creation provides better results in general, in the mid term, than individual ones. Specially if we consider that Free Software is mainstream nowadays. There are so many people doing incredible things out there, it is becoming so hard to get attention….

Technology is everywhere. Everybody is interested on it. We all understand that it has a significant impact in our lives and it will have even more in the future. That doesn’t mean everybody understands it. For many of us, that work in the software industry, speaking an understandable language for wider audiences do not comes naturally or simply by practising. It requires learning/training.

Very often is not enough to create something outstanding once in a while to be widely recognized. The dark work counts as much as the one that shines. The hows and whys are relevant. Reputation is not in direct relation with popularity and short term successes. Being recognized for your work is an everyday task, a mid term achievement. The good thing about reputation is that once you achieve it, the impact of your following actions multiplies.

We need to remember that code is meant to die, to disappear, to be replaced by better code, faster code, simpler code. A lot of the work we do ends nowhere. Both facts, that are not restricted to software, doesn’t mean that creating that code or project was not worth it. Creating good content, helps increasing the life time of our work, specially if we do not restrict them to results.

All the above are some of the motivations that drives me to promote the creation of a team blog wherever I work. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes not, obviously.

What is a team blog for me?

  • It is a team effort. Each post should be led by a person, an author, but created by the team.
  • It focuses on what the team/group do, not on what they will do, what they think or what they want. Why? because a team blog is way more than a promo tool, it is also a reporting one.
  • It is supported by a communication expert as editor, not just to increase the quality and potential impact of every content, but to increase the team skills as writers in a practical way.
  • It is management driven because it requires to embed it in the team processes and group dynamics. So it requires analysis, a clear goal, follow up and activation energy, specially during those moments in which the team workload is high, so writing is not perceived as a high priority.
  • In order to ease the identification of the team with the blog and vice-versa, the promo aspects should serve the team and not the other way around. This is a key difference between this action and other common marketing efforts done by every organization.
  • Selecting the right topics to write about is not a question since, as mentioned before, the team blog is about what the team is working on. The question is about when to publish, together with the approach used to create the articles. Again, a management point of view is essential here. That view can come from different areas of the organization or within the team, but has to be there to take full advantage of the effort.
  • It feeds engineering reports. It saves time on this task in the long run.
  • If the goal of the action and the vision brought up by the editor are set up correctly, the team blog should also feed the technical marketing and customer engagement efforts of the organization/business unit.
  • In the mid term, the blog serves as input for evaluating the performance/accomplishments of the team as a group, when associated with the key objectives previously defined. This is true not just from a management or customers perspective. What is more important, the team blog serves as evaluation input for the team itself too. The retrospective that this action can provide is essential for the growth of any team.

Core Dump

I am pushing such action once more, this time at Linaro. The name of the blog is Core Dump. My presentation describes the motivations and goals that drives it. There is a talented group of professionals behind it so I hope that in just a few months we will be able to evaluate the results. I am confident we will succeed since we have every required ingredient.

Sponsored vs supported

Probably the most relevant non technical action that a community executes is events. Most mature communities organize one or several big events in different part of the world with different goals, but one of them is common in every single case: engagement needs face to face relations. We are humans….after all.

In order to organize these events, sooner or later you need a legal organization that provides financial support to these actions. You might not know that, in words of the founders, this was the main reason behind the foundation of KDE e.V. .

And when you want to bring contributors together, most organizations end up having as goal to financially support some of them since they cannot afford it:
  • The trip is expensive since they come from the other side of the world.
  • They come from countries where the cost of the trip or accommodation represent the salary of a year.
  • They are students, so they have little income.
  • They have family and they cannot afford the expenses derived from being a week far from home.
There are many more use cases.
So one way or the other, most organization that support FLOSS communities dedicate resources for supporting contributors to attend to its main event(s). But if we look closer, there are small differences among different organizations.

Some differences among organizations.

Since resources are limited, organizations try to make sure they support those who have made significant contributions to the project throughout the year. Being supported/sponsored though, have frequently attached an expectation of being heavily involved in the event itself. Giving a talk or helping the organizers are the more obvious expected actions.

The difference comes when making these variables a plus or a requirement for being sponsored.

The process for being sponsored is also different. The tools used to manage the request/reimbursement process and the “amount of support” too. I will not get into those.
There is a “motivational” difference that do not have much impact but that I have always found interesting. Some organizations support their contributors “as a reward” and some do it “as a duty“.

The first case means that some kind of “thank you” is expected/required, linked to that support, as usual when you receive a prize. This act of gratitude might come in different forms but usually tend to publicly reflect that support. The basic idea behind it is to justify the investment in order to increase the level of sponsorship the organization gets from donors. It is a very popular approach in other industries/areas and there are a good number of FLOSS organizations that follow this model.

The other approach, the “support as duty“, is based on the principle that if you have made a significant contribution, that is, you are part of the community, and since the organization is there to support the community , it is its duty to support you. So the support comes with no recognition as requirement.  No “public thank you” is expected.

Some refer to this as the difference between being sponsored versus being supported.
My view on this last topic

In different countries/cultures, the sense and consequences of “thank you” are different. Also, the reasons that can “invite” you to ask for support might not be fun to talk, or being being questioned about. You might not feel comfortable by being identify as “sponsored“. It also might generate some undesired debate about who is being sponsored or why among people that do not have all the information.

Over the years I have changed my mind. Lately I identify myself more with the second approach, which do not mean I am against the first one. It has a point too.

In any case, what matters is that FLOSS organizations has supporting contributors to attend to the community event as one of their main goals.

A request

If you are not very familiar with how Free Software is developed, all this might sound strange. Investing money in paying trips and accommodation to go to an event to have fun with no or very little deliverables in return?

When thinking about donating to a community project or sponsoring it, ask for this particular topic to the Board of the organization behind it or the coordinators of the travel support program. You will be surprised by how important is this topic for them. They will provide reasons that, I am sure, will satisfy you.

For me, and many others, is one of the main reasons why these organizations deserve to be sponsored. Face to face meetings are essential to build a healthy community or ecosystem and many people have no way to attend if third parties do not sponsor/support them.

Summary about what the openSUSE Team @ SUSE is doing

openSUSE 13.1 is about to be Released (Nov. 19th) and I would like to share what the team I am part of is doing.

I joined SUSE in June 2012, almost 18 months ago. I haven’t written much about anything during this time. And it haven’t been because I hadn’t time, but because I haven’t have enough energy. I have received though these past months several requests to write a little about what I do at SUSE, so here we go….

The openSUSE Team is a good mix of long term SUSE employees and fresh blood, youth and experience, openSUSE and other distros background, on site and remote workers, people with management or commercial/customer support experience together with integrators and developers, people coming from R&D or product focus companies together with people with a strong community profile…. a very diverse (1 Taiwanese, 2 Czechs, 1 Dutch, 1 Serbian, 4 Spaniards and 3 Germans) and talented group. We also have trainees in the team. Having students is something I like because it helps any team to develop engagement skills.

The Team has as major focus the openSUSE distribution. It is element around which the whole project circles. It is the key point that sustain everything else in openSUSE. Obviously we put effort in other actions but we try that everything we do is directly related, have its roots, in the distribution, in the software. Obviously we are not the only force in openSUSE, not even the most numerous. There are hundreds (literally) of people that participates in this collective effort.

The team have a big impact since we are dedicated full time to work on the project, we have focused our activity in limited areas and we are fairly well organized. But in terms of effort, the rest of the community has a much bigger weight than my team… fortunately :-).

Those familiar with KDE will understand what I mean if I name Blue Systems work in the project today.

From the community perspective we have focused our action in two major areas:
* The openSUSE Conference.
* openSUSE news portal (marketing).

In 2012, like it happened before, SUSE took the lead in organizing the Conference. This changed in 2013. A group of contributors led by Kostas and Stella, reputed community members, organized it, opening the door for a new model within openSUSE.

SUSE role in the organization changed. Now we support the organizers in different tasks instead of leading the organization. For me, this is a relevant success story that should serve as example for many in the future. I feel very comfortable in this new role because the efficiency of our contribution has increased significantly. Organizing an event FOR a community is different than supporting the community in organizing THEIR event, right?

In marketing my team makes a significant impact by keeping the News portal as a reference point of information about openSUSE. We focus most of our action around the openSUSE Releases. We also link the innovation brought by SUSE into openSUSE with our community. We help SUSE Teams in marketing their work when it makes sense.

These two actions leave us little time for supporting further initiatives in the news portal. We do it once in a while though, not in regular basis. The situation in this regard is not much different than other communities I know. Keeping the main news portal up and healthy requires more people than usually is available. A more collective approach is what we all want. It is not an easy goal to achieve in any case.

So we basically have concentrated our effort in three main areas:

  • What we call “the future”. You will know more about it soon.
  • The openSUSE Development and Release process, that will have openSUSE 13.1 as the main result, coming in a few days (November 19th).
  • Community work. Specially around the openSUSE Conference and the news portal.
I hope this overview provides some answers to those of you interested in what I am up to lately. You can follow closely our actions through our Team blog, that has Jos Poortvliet as main editor and the whole team as authors.
This week I am participating together with other colleagues in SUSECon’13 and openSUSE Summit 2013. If you are in the Orlando Area, FL, US, consider coming. You won’t regret it.

A champion instead of a leader.

I am one of those who actively supported Canonical in the past. Mark Shuttleworth succeed in linking his success to our success in Ubuntu’s early years. I believe that customers/users are smart. Ubuntu became, still is, the number one distribution for good reasons.

In his journey toward success, Mark played hard, too hard sometimes. Not many put attention on it because the results were spectacular. Some did. KDE did and we suffered attacks for not following the trend. What some didn’t understand back then is that there was a price to pay for Canonical’s success. Mark made that price unaffordable for KDE. We have being around for over 15 years also for good reasons. We survived the early attacks to Qt, Nokia’s disaster…  and obviously we were confident we would survive the explosion of Ubuntu and Mark’s particular way of understanding leadership. We had our own roadmap. We still do and put quiet some effort on explaining it.

But we as a community were not blind or insensitive to what Mark Shuttleworth and Canonical were doing. The fact that Kubuntu is the number one distro among KDE developers and that Mark has been in several Akademy is just a reflection of the way most people in KDE appreciated what he represented. Canonical’s effort, Ubuntu success, has been good for all of us, including KDE. I have no doubt about it. There were more things we shared than those that separated us. I still think this is the case nowadays.

I use an Android based phone. I am becoming more and more concerned about the embedded space. Linux based devices are becoming more and more popular but our freedom has not increased significantly. We need a strong action towards freedom, focusing not just in software but also in data and services. At this point I think that the problem has been identified. Now it is more about taking action. This is why in KDE we have been working on it for some time. And this is why, once more, KDE and Ubuntu might share a vision. We have another opportunity to work together to achieve it.

The situation today is different from the one in which Mark’s leadership was born though. Today he has a history that can be evaluated and the battle ahead of us in the embedded space has very little to do with the desktop one. Mark’s action will need to leave a greater room for other players, for other opinions, for other technologies. He cannot expect to be followed this time just because his vision is shared, just because his success is good for all of us. He still don’t seem to understand that, for many, it is very important how success is reached.

But to me there is something else he needs to demostrate. Mark needs to create a profitable project, compatible with the Free Software spirit, so he can sustain his effort long enough, unlike he did in the past. The battle we need to fight in the embedded world will be long and expensive. Mark has demonstrated he is not persistent enough. I don’t know if it was because he did not want to or he simply couldn’t. He failed explaining his “turns”.

Instead of avoiding the mistakes he made in previous years, he is digging into them. Instead of searching for allies in his new effort, he moves toward isolation. Instead of concentrating more on making his project sustainable, he is increasing costs by creating new technologies on his own and increasing the barrier to adopt them. Instead of leading us toward a solution, he is dividing those who should fight by his side.

He works toward becoming a champion, not a leader.

Most of my colleagues has nothing against Canonical becoming a champion of freedom in the embedded space. He is putting his own money and reputation in place. All my respect for that. But many of us do not understand the motivations and reasons behind Canonical decisions (Unity, Mir… ). We are not stupid. Mark simply failed in explaining them. So it is hard for me to digest his irritation when KDE colleagues do not support him as he expected.

Mark Shuttleworth has done and will do many relevant actions for increasing our freedom. He has created a great company full of talent and positive energy, capable of achieving a remarkable success once again. Ubuntu is still a great community, of course. I wish them nothing but luck in this trip through the embedded world. I just hope Mark understands AND assumes the consequences of the choice he made some time ago: becoming a champion instead of a leader.

Meanwhile, I would like to see no more of this “Tea Party” game, that hurts us all so badly. My colleagues at KDE do not deserve it. Ubuntu community and Canonical employees either. Even Mark Shuttleworth’s reputation deserves better than what he is receiving lately. It is in his hands to revert this situation that he has created. I encourage him to, at least, not making it worse. We all have enough challenges already.

Are you a senior KDE developer? Join openSUSE Team at SUSE

openSUSE Team at SUSE is looking for a senior KDE developer that is willing to join the company to work on openSUSE distribution and customer products where KDE technologies are present.

As those of you who are closer to KDE and/or openSUSE know, Will Stephenson has been leading this area the last few years. He is now facing new professional challenges within SUSE so we are looking for somebody that coordinates the openSUSE Team efforts related with KDE together with the openSUSE community, upstream and other SUSE Teams.

Our default openSUSE desktop, KDE, is obviously a relevant piece of our puzzle. But beyond pure KDE work, the selected candidate will also work in other areas of the distribution and will play an important role as openSUSE/SUSE advocate in technical forums.

openSUSE currently ships other desktops too so it will be important for the selected candidate to drive high levels of cooperation with the openSUSE GNOME (and others) team and upstream in cross-distro development efforts.

As a preferred choice, we are looking for a KDE developer willing to move to our Headquarters in Nuremberg, GE or to our office in Prague, CZ.

If you are interested, please check the opening details and send your CV through the SUSE Careers website. Links to your contributions to KDE and contacts for references are welcome.

In a more personal note……

Will, thanks for standing strong and work hard for openSUSE and KDE. Good luck in your new position.