In this episode Matthew Tift talks with Angie Byron, the Principal Community Manager at MongoDB and a Drupal Core Committer. They discuss a wide range of issues related to cultivating well-being in open-source communities, such as:

  • Angie's early experiences in the Drupal project making cultural norms explicit, creating codes of conduct, and establishing procedures for conflict resolution
  • How Drupal has positively impacted the lives of its members
  • Contributing to something bigger than yourself
  • Setting up structures to prevent burnout within communities
  • Challenges in monitoring community health
  • How her participation in the Drupal community affected her personal life, both positively and negatively
  • How community wellness checks might benefit an open-source community
  • How Drupal agencies support the overall well-being of the Drupal community
  • Angie's transition to working in the MongoDB community
  • The joy she gets helping individuals find their place in a community

Since 2006, Angie has done incredible work helping to grow the Drupal community. On the subject of what all of us can do to help cultivate well-being, her advice is "Look out for your people."

The theme music used in this episode comes from the Open Goldberg Variations.

"Look out for your people" —Angie Byron (webchick)

This Episode's Guest

Angie Byron

Angie Byron

Herder of cats, Drupal core committer, Drupal Association Board Member, former Lullabot, Senior Director, former Product + Community Development for Acquia, Principal Community Manager at MongoDB

Transcript

Transcript

Matthew Tift:
It's July, 2022, episode 21. Angie Byron, on cultivating well-being in tech communities. Welcome to Hacking Culture, exploring practices and technologies that contribute to well-being. Hacking Culture is sponsored by Lullabot. I'm your host, Matthew Tift.
Matthew Tift:
In this episode, my guest is Angie Byron, the principal community manager at MongoDB, and a Drupal core committer. I'm really excited that Angie agreed to come on the podcast. In our conversation today, we talk about her early experiences in the Drupal project, as well as topics such as community wellness checks, and Angie's transition to working in the MongoDB community.
Matthew Tift:
Angie has done a lot in the Drupal community, and she's very well known. But to start off today's interview, I asked Angie to give us a brief background of her history working in open source communities.
Angie Byron:
I'm Angie. Hello. I have been involved in the community management space for 25, 30 years. A long time. My first stab at community management was as a teenage. I was a queer kid growing up in the Midwest United States. It was not the happiest time for me, but I found an online community of other queer people, and that got me through. I taught myself programming as a result of that community, because I wanted to make a little website, so we all had profiles for each other. Then that got me into the development space. I got very obsessed with open source. So I was teaching myself Linux, and PHP, MySQL, all that kind of stuff.
Angie Byron:
Anyway, fast forward. I went to school for that. I got into the Google Summer of Code program, back in 2005, and selected Drupal as my project of choice. I had never really been involved in an open source community before that. I thought that was for smart people or whatever. That kind of, "That's not for me." Then got on this side of the wall, and I'm like, "Oh my god, anyone could do this," and so I went nuts. I was just getting involved in everything.
Angie Byron:
I was doing module development, and core patch review. On the security team, and the webmaster's team. Any way I could help out, I did. I got promoted to core committer within there, and I had a really long career in Drupal. I worked at Lullabot, who you may know. I worked at Acquia. Then got to the point where I felt like Drupal was in a really good place. We had created this predictable release cycle around it. The community had some governance structure, and was in a healthy place.
Angie Byron:
So I decided to see if I could try my hands at building a huge community from scratch again. Now I'm over at MongoDB doing that. I'm running community programs there, for doing things like our champions program, our MongoDB user groups, and various other things like that. So that's me.
Matthew Tift:
We've known each other for a while. You actually spoke at Twin Cities DrupalCamp, the very first one in 2011, when I was organizing, and in 2015 I believe. You might know me as a developer. You might not know that I also teach yoga, and meditation. I have found those practices to be very helpful in my life.
Matthew Tift:
As a little bit of background as to what I thought we could get into, I don't have any desire to sit around all day and meditate. I like working on computers. So I've gotten really interested in this idea of well-being, and specifically how all of these different elements come into that. Including, for me, yoga and meditation. But also realizing that there's lots of other people out there that don't meditate. Although they might even say that they do. But that there are lots of other supports for a happy life. I'm curious how open source fits into that. That's what got me to reach out to you.
Matthew Tift:
I'm just going to, if you don't mind, quote you. Because you recently won the Aaron Winborn Award in the Drupal community, and you wrote a blog post about it. In there, you said, "The Drupal community really is something incredibly special. There is an innate desire to enthusiastically share knowledge, to celebrate the wins of others, and to jump in and help where help is needed. We've forged longstanding friendships, and at least a couple of marriages, and we've had many, many laughs, and also a few cries. We've all come together from all over the world, to build something truly amazing."
Matthew Tift:
I saw that, and I thought, "Wow, that sounds like a wonderful place." I wondered, since you've been on the forefront of making the Drupal community a welcoming place, how you think we're doing. It sounds like, based on that, you must feel like the Drupal community has been a pretty welcoming place for you.
Angie Byron:
I would say it is a very welcoming place. It gives me great joy, that when I talk to people at Drupal Con, for whom this is their first Drupal Con, they still feel some of that energy, and inclusiveness, and welcoming feelings that I felt way back in 2006, at my very first Drupal Con. It was a long time ago. Back then, the community was much smaller.
Angie Byron:
One thing that you always worry about as a person concerned with community is, does that feeling, do those cultural values, those core things, translate? When back then, Drupal Con was 80 people. Now it's, I don't know, 3500, or some crazy bigger number than that. Does it still scale with our community, our values, and this kind of thing? It's been awesome to see that, yes.
Angie Byron:
I will say, it wasn't always a welcoming place. I have another blog post from earlier, where my first five minutes in the Drupal community were interesting. Where I was this new Google Summer of Code student. I went in the channel. I was like, "Hey everybody, I'm Angie. I'm so excited to be here, and blah blah blah." They were basically like, "Shut up. This is a developer channel. Don't talk like ..." I was like, "Ahhh."
Angie Byron:
Then that taught me a lot. It taught me about, you need to understand the cultural norms of a community when you enter it. You need to spend some time lurking, and really understanding the thing. So I learned a lot out of that experience.
Angie Byron:
But one of the other things that came out of that experience is, I was like, "Man, if I was not contractually obligated to stay in this community for the next three months, and work on my Summer of Code project, that probably would have been my last five minutes in the Drupal community too." So I set about to make sure that that was never anyone's experience ever again.
Angie Byron:
Tried to really impart that. There were so many different people, and so many different great attitudes. Really finding those people, and accentuating what they were doing. Really trying to lead by example as well, on the idea of mentorship. On the idea of, it's okay if people don't know everything coming in. I had literally never even installed Drupal at the time I was a Google Summer of Code student for Drupal. I came in because I had seen it on the Spread Firefox website, and it was like, "Oh, that's interesting."
Angie Byron:
Trying to reinforce those norms. Because I worked really hard. I earned a lot of respect from my peers. Then trying to use me as an example, whenever I would sense that coming out. I'm like, "Hey man, don't flame up the newbies. That's how people get involved. They learn, this kind of thing. Look at what they are doing." This kind of thing. Over time, you're trying to shift that culture, to one where we don't expect everybody to know everything out of the gate. Where we set out to document those cultural norms, and make sure that people have a way of learning them.
Angie Byron:
Over time, creating more structure, so that it's not like we're all little blue nicknames, and we're all the same. Except if you talk mean to that one person, you're going to get 50 people on your back. This kind of thing. It's creating codes of conduct, things like that, back when that was new.
Angie Byron:
It's been a journey and a process, I think, to really codify that as community values. But nevertheless, despite that initial rough experience, I think Drupal has done so much for people's careers, and well-being, and all kinds of things. So it's a wonderful community to be part of, and I'm happy I could still be part of it, even though I work somewhere else.
Matthew Tift:
When you make a statement like that, that you feel like this has been beneficial, how do you arrive at that? Are there personal anecdotes that you have? Not that you need to name names. But of seeing other people maybe seem like they're a happier person, or a more joyful person, or something like that, as a result of their participation in the community?
Angie Byron:
Yeah. I can speak at this through the lens of ... I mean, I can speak at it through many lenses. But the lens that I'll use is, I'll do it through underrepresented genders in tech. In part of my Drupal time, I led the Drupal Chicks groups, which was later called the Women In Drupal group. Then the Rainbow Drupal group as well. I was a co-organizer of that group.
Angie Byron:
What was interesting about both of those is, we'd have a meeting at Drupal Con, and everybody would be sitting around in a circle. You'd find out, people from Drupal, especially in underrepresented genders, come typically from all kinds of different things. In other open source communities, like maybe the Linux community. Maybe you're coming from more of a traditional computer science background. Like, "I went to school for this, I work in computers. That's my thing."
Angie Byron:
Drupal was not like that. It was like, "I was the most technical person at my church, and so they put me in charge of the website." Or, "I'm an accountant, but my web developer blew me off, and I had to figure out how to maintain my own website." Or you name it, and people are coming from all kinds of non-traditional backgrounds, and finding their way into Drupal.
Angie Byron:
Then when they got here, and they found the community so open and willing to share knowledge, many of them made careers out of their Drupal time. Many of them started companies, leading to other people's careers. It's created this enormous wealth of opportunity, particularly for underrepresented people. Not as good as it should me, you know what I mean? We have a lot of work to do. I don't want to paint it as this paradise or anything. But relative to other open source projects, we have a very strong showing of diverse folks.
Angie Byron:
There's a lot of money in the Drupal ecosystem, and that has led to opportunities. Financial opportunities, networking opportunities. People have changed their whole lives. One prominent core developer grew up in Hungary, very poor, and this kind of a thing, and now lives in Canada, and has this beautiful apartment overlooking the bay. These kind of stories permeate all over the place. That Drupal has been a source of opportunity. It's been a source of lifelong friendships.
Angie Byron:
I went through some rough personal times. I just went down the coast, visiting all these friends that I'd had for a decade or more. It's just that feeling of everyone coming together, supporting each other, this kind of thing. I think that's what I'm alluding to, when I say that Drupal literally has changed lives for the better, in many, many cases.
Matthew Tift:
Wow. So the online community then is leading to in person interactions, and folks being able to support each other. Well-being literature talks about how connection is one of the fundamental components to having a happy life. So that would make sense then, that Drupal can provide that connection.
Matthew Tift:
It seems like it also can provide, like you were alluding to, some sense of financial stability. It can provide social opportunities. I guess I wonder, in what way, that Drupal is providing these positive experiences?
Matthew Tift:
Let me just explain that a little bit. Because when it comes to mental health, if somebody, they have poor mental health, they might turn to drugs, they might turn to meditation, they might turn to therapy. But it seems like some people just show up at an open source community, and blossom. But that seems like a stretch to me. That's not something we would talk about, or at least I have heard people talking about. Showing up at an open source community, and you're writing code, but you're also, it seems like some people almost use it like this is their outlet in life. Have you had that sort of experience as well?
Angie Byron:
I think that definitely resonates with my own experience, and many other people's. I think it's a little bit of a double edged sword. Because to riff on your theme of connection, open source as a general rule, and Drupal as well, falls into this. You really feel like you, and you are, it's not even a feeling thing. You are contributing to something bigger than yourself.
Angie Byron:
If you are working for a customer, and they have a bug, and you fix the bug, it's going to fix it for that one customer. There'll be a Jira ticket about it or whatever. Then it's done, and then that's the end of it. In open source, if you fix a bug, you're fixing it for every single person that uses that software down the line. Then there's no way, in open source, at least in the Drupal project and many other ones, this concept of peer review and collaboration is central to everything. You don't just say, "Oh, there's a bug fix. It's done."
Angie Byron:
You have to discuss it. You have to make a bug fix, and then propose it, and then people riff off it. They say, "Oh, actually, be careful of the coding standards." Then there's a discussion that happens about your work. Then at the end, it's really a team effort that ends up getting in. It's not one individual person's contributions. So the connection piece is almost built into the workflow. Which can be super intimidating for some people.
Angie Byron:
Why I said this is was double edged sword, is because at the same time, that higher calling of, "I'm going to contribute to something greater than myself. I'm going to make a difference." Drupal's users have been ACLU or, you know what I mean? EFF, these organizations that I deeply believe in. It's easy to really throw myself into that.
Angie Byron:
At the same time, people who lean towards that aspirational, idealistic, contributing to something bigger than themselves, also tend to be the type of personality that puts other people before themselves. So self care can be a thing that goes right out the wayside, until you are so far down the burnout cycle, that you don't even realize it's happening. There's been some catastrophic flame-outs in our community too. So I don't mean to paint it like it's all one big happy picture.
Angie Byron:
I myself did that to myself. I worked so hard, for so long, making all this cool stuff in Drupal. Then my personal life fell apart, because I wasn't paying enough attention to it. I wasn't giving it the care that it needed. I myself personally have learned a lot of hard lessons this way too.
Angie Byron:
I think what we've tried to do as a community about that is, we've tried to set up structures to enable things, and not people, to be in charge of stuff. For example, there was a time when the Drupal community was young, where any time there was a conflict of any kind, they would ping me personally on IRC and be like, "What should this-"
Matthew Tift:
Wow.
Angie Byron:
Yeah, I know. They'd be like, "This person's being a jerk." I'd be like, "Oh, okay. Well why don't we all talk about it or whatever?" This kind of a thing. That was not sustainable. I was definitely not trained to do that. It was just that I was nice, and I cared about people. So that was all they needed.
Angie Byron:
Going forward, what we have done is, we've set up a committee for this kind of conflict resolution. It's called the community working group. There are people there that get training on being trauma informed, and things like this, so that they know how to go about addressing a conflict. It doesn't fall on one specific individual, it's a group of people. Setting up those kinds of structures is much better.
Angie Byron:
Again, at one point, I was the only core committer, other than Dries, for Drupal 7. So everything that happened in Drupal was either on me, or Dries, and Dries was starting a company and stuff at the time. So he was a little checked out on stuff. So it was basically me doing a whole lot of work, and staying up at unreasonable hours.
Angie Byron:
Once again, we tried an approach where it was like, "Let's do role definitions. So core committer is not this all encompassing thing. We're going to have different types of core committers. We're going to have a product manager who's focused on the UX. We're going to have a framework manager, who's focused on the APIs and the architecture. We're going to have a release manager that's focused on managing risks," and those kind of things.
Angie Byron:
Now all of a sudden your span is not this entire unwieldy thing. You really can focus in on those particular things. We have multiple product managers, and multiple lead managers, so nobody is stuck being the sole point of burden for the entire project. We've tried to do that in many different aspects. The security team has the security working group, and so on. To try to build that infrastructure and that resiliency into the community, so that individual people, when they need to, can step away. We encourage that, and the whole organization as a whole still continues to run ahead.
Matthew Tift:
Yeah, those structures, that sounds very important. Recently I took part in something called The Burnout and Mental Health In Open Source. It was put on by the CHAOSS community, which is the Community Health Analytics Open Source Software. We had this session. One of the participants said, "You don't have to set yourself on fire to keep the world warm."
Angie Byron:
That's a great quote.
Matthew Tift:
It resonated with me. So what you're talking about sounds wonderful, because you're saying the community can provide that structure, to help protect people from setting themselves on fire.
Matthew Tift:
The CHAOSS community also has this thing called a burnout metric. When you talk about these different groups, and their well-being, you were mentioning the core committers, the contributors, as well as some of the other people that are contributing to the project. How do we monitor well-being of an individual, or a core committer? Or should we do that in a project, or a community like this?
Angie Byron:
That's a great question. First of all, I just want to say, that quote is fantastic. That you don't have to set yourself on fire to keep the world warm. Furthermore, if you do that, I went on mat-leave, it took eight people to replace me. That's not good. You end up creating a situation where one person, when they inevitably leave, for whatever reason, personal or burnout or otherwise, it's a risk to your community. Even though you love those people, and they're like, "Great, I love that you want to help out."
Angie Byron:
So intentionally, setting things like term limits. Intentionally setting things like, there's a maximum number of these committees or whatever that you're allowed to be on. Enforcing those at a policy level is really important, to try to protect those people that are going to be the ones that want to help out with everything. You want to encourage that, but you also have to be mindful that that isn't good.
Angie Byron:
The other thing that we've found by doing that, and replacing me with eight people or whatever, is that that creates leadership opportunities for other people. You want to grow the leadership of your community. You do not want your leadership to be stagnant, and one or two people at the top to manage everything. It's getting that opportunity for folks who are keen in the community, but maybe need a little help, or guidance, or mentorship. Or maybe they don't, and they're coming with a totally different perspective from their past lives. You want to allow for that, because that is where richness of everything comes.
Angie Byron:
In terms of monitoring individual health, I think what the CHAOSS community tries to do is amazing. Which is try to look at quantitative data. Maybe also qualitative data. I'm not as sure. I checked in with that project a couple years ago, and I've been a little out of it. But that kind of thing, that can look at indicators. "This person used to post all the time, and now they're posting only a little bit. What's up with that?"
Angie Byron:
I think, strikes a balance. You've got to strike a balance, because you don't want to spy on people, or ask invasive questions. But at the same time, in terms of community health, you really do. If someone's really struggling, someone reaching out to them and saying, "Hey man, what's up?" That can make all the difference, and it could literally be a life saving situation, depending on what the situation is.
Angie Byron:
I would say, I don't think Drupal does this as a practice. I think we don't have tools like CHAOSS set up, that I know of. We've talked about that kind of idea though. So what tends to happen is, by not having tools for this to predict the future, or look at these trends, what tends to happen, I think what probably happens in a lot of communities is, we find out only after it's too late. So we find out because a core developer got so burnt out, that they're now attacking other people.
Angie Byron:
Now all of a sudden you've got a huge problem, because it's not just an individual community member who's being a jerk. It's someone with a great deal of respect and power being a jerk, and that sets a tone for your community. If you don't deal with that, you are effectively saying that, "We as leadership condone this behavior, because this person is really valuable," or whatever. That's not a road you want to go down.
Angie Byron:
I think the Drupal community does not do enough of that. I don't think most communities do a lot of that. Find out after the fact, "Well I haven't seen that person in a while. I wonder what happened. Oh well." This kind of thing. So I would love to see us be more proactive about it. In a respectful way, you know what I mean? I don't think we should hound people. I don't think we should ... If someone is checked out, don't mercilessly ping them or anything like that.
Angie Byron:
But I do think that somebody caring about this, and doing specific outreach to individuals who are either exhibiting burnout tendencies, or their activity drops off for whatever reason. I think that that would be a really positive step to take. Because had somebody done that for me when I was going through some stuff, I think it would have meant I felt less alone, when I was dealing with a bunch of stuff. My community was there for me. I just had to ask. But some people are not even at the level they can ask. They're really far down the mental health road.
Angie Byron:
So yeah, I'm rambling a lot. I'm sorry. But I would say, I don't think we do enough proactivity in this area. I think proactivity in this area is really important. Then again, I think it needs to be a group of people that does this outreach, and it should not be dependent on one person, or any individual in a community, to take on this role. Because there's a lot of emotional labor involved. You don't know what you're getting into with these conversations, and what can happen.
Angie Byron:
But the net effect of talking to folks, especially if they're on their way out, or they're in a burnout phase, is you learn very quickly, what are the problems that we have? How can we intervene earlier to try to address these things? I think overall, it's really good for community health and sustainability, to look into those issues.
Matthew Tift:
That seems tricky, what you're talking about. With figuring out, is this a human interaction that is monitoring the health? Or are there some other mechanisms or support structures that we could use? Somebody else at that same burnout session I think made a point. "Well, one way you might be able to notice, is if they're making a lot of commits late at night, or all day long, or something like that." I was thinking, "Well that's going to be tricky on a worldwide project of people." You couldn't really tell, are they working late at night? Or something like that.
Matthew Tift:
That does seem like an interesting challenge, because if somebody is struggling as part of a project, there could be so many outside reasons. Really, you can't necessarily just throw a metric on there for a lot of folks, and be able to figure that out.
Angie Byron:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think there's also, I've definitely had points in my life, where my personal life was not great, and work/Drupal was my outlet. I needed that at that time. That got me through. It gave me something concrete to work on, you know what I mean? It gave me that connection, those kinds of things. I don't think that's healthy as your only source of interaction, you know what I mean? But there's definitely been points it's been.
Angie Byron:
I do feel like you could do that in a way, where let's say, just spit-balling here. But let's say the community working group started up community wellness checks as a thing that they do. They wouldn't even necessarily have to show the criteria for it. But they could have some criteria, it's like, "We're going to look at folks who have this, that, and the other thing, and generate a report of individual people who meet these particular things."
Angie Byron:
I actually think basing it off weird late night patterns, or excessive activity compared to their peers, is actually a great metric. There's probably ways to look at their local time zone, and do math, and whatever. But if you wrap it as community wellness checks, and then don't solely talk to those folks. But really, make it about everybody. Maybe have a form where you could request a community wellness ... Like, "I have some stuff I want to say." That kind of thing.
Angie Byron:
Then people don't feel so targeted or singled out. It just becomes, "This is a thing that we do. We just wanted to reach out to you in this larger context. We would like to understand what's working, what's not, and if there are concrete suggestions for our community stuff. Is that a conversation you want to have? If so, let me know." Kind of a thing like that.
Angie Byron:
That proactive one on one reach out I think will be much more effective, than expecting people to come to the community working group because they have some feedback. They won't. They see the community working group as a big scary, "That's where I go if Mommy and Daddy are fighting," or whatever. That type of thing. So I think having ...
Angie Byron:
But again, not calling it the Contributor Burnout Lookout Program. Don't call it that, but call it something that is about the community wellness, community health, of the thing. Include both people that are possible danger zone, but also people that seem to be doing fine. Get a mix of different perspectives. Because you never know who's going to have something awesome to say.
Matthew Tift:
Another related aspect to this, that I've wondered about, is the role of the Drupal agencies, and the other companies that contribute. Because I've had this maybe idealized notion of these Drupal agencies, that are active in contributing to the community. They're the ones that show up at the Drupal conferences, and sponsor everything. They hire people. They give people a livelihood.
Matthew Tift:
I've wondered about how agencies might be able to help with something like this. Where rather than trying to do the scope of the entire community, it might be easier for various groups to somehow participate in that. I don't exactly know what that would look like. But I have thought, that sounds more manageable. So I'm curious, do you think that agencies, and other Drupal service providers, might play a role in helping folks have an enjoyable experience in the community?
Angie Byron:
I definitely do think that. I think that there's a number of ways that agencies can contribute to that. The first is giving paid time to contribute, so people don't have to chisel it out of nights and weekends time. That's really important. Trying to tie as much as possible, the client work that you're doing, and you're already getting paid for, with community work. Really honing that message to your clients that, "Listen, we can make this module for you that does whatever bananas thing that it needs to do. But if we tack on a little bit extra, we can open source it for you. Now we're going to get all of these other benefits from doing that." Really honing that story.
Angie Byron:
One of my favorite examples of this is, there's a module called Five Star, which is a voting module that you use to make a one to five star rating. I'm going to get the companies confused. But say they're competitors though. One of them is a record company, and the other one is a record company. They both had big Drupal sites. So the module was written in open source by Company A, but then Company B ported it to Drupal 7. So it was wonderful because both of these organizations could recognize, "This is not in my ... I'm a record company. I don't want to make voting modules for Drupal as a practice." So they were able to externalize that, and then gain the benefits of this open source community, and collaboration, and things like that.
Angie Byron:
So I think telling stories like that, to get people to really understand it, is important. Because it's easier for a company like Acquia, that's got VC funding, and bananas budgets, and all this stuff, to have a dedicated team to Drupal. That's much harder for an agency that is doing client work, or these kinds of things, and you don't necessarily know where your next bill is coming from. This kind of stuff. So there's a range of things.
Angie Byron:
But I think helping agencies understand how to couple those things together where possible, and really explain the benefits of contributing to the broader ecosystem to their clients? I think that's an important thing.
Angie Byron:
I think also on the burnout scale, that one's trickier. You talk about, "Can we get these companies collaborating together, to get their employees in a good place burnout wise?" I really think this is probably more something maybe the Drupal Association could be doing. Providing these resources that are, "How to talk to your customers about open source. Here's how to contribute to Drupal, in a way that you will not get yelled at." These kinds of things.
Angie Byron:
We talk about Drupal being very welcoming, and it is. But there's also cultural norms that are not always obvious. So helping people through that. At work, we hired some new junior folks who had never been involved in Drupal before. There was a whole process that we led them through about, "Here are norms around peer reviews of patches. Here is where you find the tools to do the coding standards reviews," and these kinds of things. That was great for our few employees, but that didn't help the whole community.
Angie Byron:
Taking things like that, that maybe already exist, or need to exist, and extrapolating them out into a central resource that everybody can draw from. So you don't have to work at a big company with rockstar Drupal developers to get this information to be available to everyone.
Matthew Tift:
You have described a lot of this in terms of contributions, and code contributions, and that kind of thing. I also wonder, if the fact of the Drupal community as people working together, can help support one another in ways that are other than monitoring their contributions, or encouraging more contributions. But simply creating a culture of talking about supporting their employees.
Matthew Tift:
Even things like making sure, if you're offering services like this, talking about the importance of offering your employees health insurance. Or other benefits that lead to happier, healthier lives, that then might make people want to contribute more to the project. But have you thought much about the other sorts of supports that the community can provide? Is it mostly about finding ways to build the community more? Bring more code, bring more features, that kind of thing? Or is there an aspect of the community of supporting one another, that could be cultivated?
Angie Byron:
Yeah, that's a great question. I tend to come from the perspective of contributing, and community, just because that's where I lived for many, many years. I didn't run an agency, and I didn't manage employees, and have to look at HR and stuff, you know what I mean? So that's just my perspective.
Angie Byron:
But yeah, I do think that's a great idea. We know from research that you've done, as well as Dries and stuff like that, that the vast majority of contributors, again, I'm using that word again, but folks in the Drupal community, they work for a company in some way. It's a very different shift than when we first started. We did a similar survey back in, I don't know, 2008 or something like that. It was like, "Four people are paid to work on open source. Everybody else is a volunteer." There's been a sizable shift towards that end.
Angie Byron:
So I love that approach of going at it from an agency level. I think the Drupal ecosystem in general has this great idea. That even though we're competitors, you know what I mean, and we're all competing in the same space, it's a friendly competition. Because no matter what, if open source wins, that's good for all of us, do you know what I mean? That kind of attitude. So I love that idea of getting together leaders from different organizations that are leading in this area, and sharing best practices, and things like that.
Angie Byron:
Again, it feels like something that, maybe there's an opportunity for the Drupal Association to have something like that. A Drupal employee wellness get together, and have folks, do it as a conference, or something like that. Get folks sharing their ideas. Do it as a virtual event, something like that. I guess it's outside of my area of expertise. Because I know, I've never run a business, but I know enough about running a business, that it can sometimes be a challenge just to get your own house in order, let alone collaborating on a bigger house with other people.
Angie Byron:
But I think it is a very important thing to be thinking about, because of that underpinning of the way the economy of Drupal is set up. If you attack it from the health and well-being of employees at these different agencies, that will naturally help with the bigger transition. The other thing is that people who are employees for organizations are paid, versus, we try to drum this up as a community initiative through the volunteer time of folks in there, I don't think it would be as effective.
Matthew Tift:
How are you finding your experiences transitioning to other communities? I say that knowing that MongoDB has a very good reputation, of being a very welcoming place. Do you want to talk a little bit about that transition, and the types of similarities or differences that you're seeing, in terms of community interaction?
Angie Byron:
Yeah. I would say the biggest cultural shift is, Drupal is a GPL open source project. Although big fish such as Acquia exist, nobody owns Drupal. The copyright of Drupal is collectively owned by anybody who ever committed a patch, or wrote a patch for it. There are thousands of people that own Drupal, and no one organization that owns Drupal. The sense of ownership and the sense of, "I want to contribute to this, because it's bigger than myself." That kind of thing comes innately with a project like that.
Angie Byron:
MongoDB, as well as any other corporately run project, is very different. It's almost like if you were contributing to Acquia Drupal instead of Drupal. You're contributing to a product owned by a company, that is for profit. So the incentive models are very, very different. People will not innately, from the goodness of their heart, necessarily want to contribute to this thing. They do it with other motivations in mind.
Angie Byron:
They might do it because they want to get a job. They might do it because their company is paying them to care about this problem. But someone on their nights and weekends submitting patches to MongoDB out of sheer passion is not a thing that we've managed to grow here yet. Maybe some day, but it's very different. Because the governance of the project is, at the end of the day, if MongoDB doesn't want it, it isn't going to go in.
Angie Byron:
Again, I'm not singling out MongoDB. Any project that is owned by a company, WordPress with Automatic, etc, you're going to have the same dynamics. So it's a very interesting challenge, because you have to interact with the community a very different way. You have to get down to the individual level and find out, "What are your motivations for being here? What do you want to do?"
Angie Byron:
There's been an interesting thing too, where the company as a whole is very concerned with things like, "Our shareholder value, and our this, this, this." Not necessarily thinking down the road about their community value, and what they can do. So there's been a lot of education on my end, to make sure that whenever we do request something from the community, or try to get community involvement, that there's always a win-win there. In other words, it's like, "We get the community to be on our track community for Mongo DB World."
Angie Byron:
Great, because we get that external perspective, all that's good. But also, we're going to make sure we call those people out as volunteers, so they get recognition, you know what I mean? So it's always finding that nice sweet spot.
Angie Byron:
I actually think that's a much better way to do things. In Drupal, a lot of times, didn't really have to think about it. Because the motivation would come externally. We didn't have to cultivate it as much. When you do cultivate it, you end up thinking more in a partnership perspective, rather than, "Oh, we have this community, and they're awesome. They're always doing things." If you don't have that, you can't take that for granted, so to speak. You have to be a lot more intentional about how you engage the community, and what opportunities you provide for them, and what collaborations you can set up. That's my general thing that I've really learned.
Angie Byron:
The other thing that I learned that was really cool is, I'm in charge of the champions program over there. Which is where we find folks who are out in the community. They're talking about stuff, they're teaching others, they're creating tutorials, whatever. They're talking about MongoDB in a positive light. They're passionate, and they're experienced, and we go find those people. We build programming around them, so that they have a great experience, and they say more nice things, and that kind of thing, and build the next generation of MongoDB practitioners.
Angie Byron:
I interviewed everybody as part of the program during my onboarding, because I wanted to understand the lay of the land. It was really cool, because every single one of them, and there's a lot of straight white cis dudes in this program. They were like, "The diversity of this program needs to be better. We don't have enough other voices in here." It was like, "Great. This isn't a fight I have to have." Versus, it was definitely a battle I had to wage in the Drupal community. Again, very early on, 2006, 2007. But we had to have that conversation about, "Can we get rid of the gendered pronouns? Can we have a code of conduct? Can we have ..."
Angie Byron:
All of that has already been fought, and it's already accepted here. As, "Yes, of course we want diversity. Now we just need to strategize about how we're going to do that." That has been super refreshing. To not have to feel like that's an uphill battle that I have to fight. That diversity just baked into what we do as a company. What our community wants, and our values are very aligned. That's awesome.
Matthew Tift:
You mentioned motivation a couple of times there. What do you think is motivating the desire for diversity in the MongoDB community?
Angie Byron:
I think if you boil things down to what folks want to get out of programs like this, they want to get access. They want to get access to early information. They want to get access to specific people at the company who know cool things. They want to get recognition. They want to have their name up in lights. They want to be called out as special from their peers in some way, for the different efforts that they're doing.
Angie Byron:
They want learning. They want to be able to learn new things. They want to be able to learn things at a deeper depth than maybe other people are able to do. Then they want networking. They want to be able to meet other people. They want to be able to share perspectives. That kind of thing.
Angie Byron:
So diversity really underpins all of that stuff. You're going to get completely different ideas into little projects we could do together, than you would if it was a very homogeneous group of people. You're going to get exposed to other experiences, and new, different communities, and that kind of thing, that you wouldn't necessarily be aware of, this kind of thing. So I think that's really underpinning it.
Angie Byron:
I think also, it's just a core values thing. Diversity is, if you care about economics and stuff, it's been proven that a more successful company is more diverse, blah blah blah. I don't care about money, but I do care about people. So what you see at companies that really have this thing down is, you've got a wide variety of perspectives. Those perspectives are welcomed and encouraged. People feel safe to be their authentic selves. All of that underpinning a community is so so so important.
Angie Byron:
It basically creates a community that, if it's welcoming, and it's evidenced by the variety of types of people in it, it's more likely people want to participate in that community. So I think there's a bunch of different things that people resonate with.
Angie Byron:
So some of it is self serving. But a lot of it too is just getting into that key thing. "I want to make the world a better place. I want to do that through my work. I want to do that through my volunteer time." So this manifests itself that way for a lot of these folks.
Matthew Tift:
Do you think that sense of caring for people is one of the key values that you have brought, as you've gone from Lullabot, to Acquia, to MongoDB? Do you feel like that's one of your main motivations?
Angie Byron:
I definitely care about people. A little too much sometimes. I think that is true. I think more where I bring my skills is, a friend of mine had me do this skills builder thing. I don't necessarily really believe in all of that, necessarily. But it was cool, because the thing it picked out for me was developer. That doesn't mean I'm a coder, because I'm actually kind of a crap coder, if we're being perfectly honest.
Angie Byron:
But it means meeting individual people. Finding out what makes them tick. Figuring out what they can do, what they can't do, what they want to do. Figuring out how they fit, not only into the bigger piece of things, but individually how to level them up. That kind of stuff, I love. I love doing it at scale. I love doing it on an individual level. That I think is the energy, and the thing I can bring to the project, the company, all that kind of stuff. Because it spans everything.
Angie Byron:
I had to hire people, you know what I mean? I was working with a recruiting team, and figuring out, "How do you guys work? What do you need? What are your motivations? Interesting. We need this." Figuring out how to partner all of that kind of stuff. That really, just finding different groups of people. Figuring out what makes them tick. Figuring out how to get them what they need, while making the thing as a whole bigger at the same time. That's what I really like.
Matthew Tift:
Well, your excitement definitely comes through in your voice. We're getting near the end of our time. I just have a couple more questions for you, to wrap up. Is there some particular tip or trick, practice, or technology that you would recommend to somebody who is contributing to an open source project? Or any project, I should say. Any community, to contribute to their well-being?
Angie Byron:
I really think, this is more a statement for community leadership, so to speak. But I think we all play a role in community leadership, so it's really a statement for everybody. Look out for your people, because the people who are the most driven and the most enthusiastic, the most involved, are the people who have the biggest propensity to way overdo it, and not rein themselves in in time, and skid towards the not good place.
Angie Byron:
I think whether you develop metrics around it, or whether you go by Spidey-Sense, or however you do it, watching for those signs from people, and really checking in on them. Making sure that they're doing okay. I think just a quick Slack message. Just saying, "Hey, how's it going? I noticed this and this. Is everything good?" That can mean a world of difference to somebody, and very few people take the initiative to do that. Again, it's very easy for it to slide until it's too late. So I think more proactivity around looking out for each other would be my, I don't know if it's a tip, but that would be something I would love to see. Yeah.
Matthew Tift:
Some way to keep people out of the not good place.
Angie Byron:
Yeah.
Matthew Tift:
The show that never got made.
Angie Byron:
Maybe I'll be the sequel. You don't know.
Matthew Tift:
Yeah, The Not Good Place. So where can people listening connect with you online?
Angie Byron:
Sure. I would say Twitter is probably the best place. I'm @webchick on Twitter. I have a blog, but I don't update it very much. I'm also on LinkedIn as well, more these days, because I'm trying to evangelize some of the work that we're doing at MongoDB. But yeah, Twitter. I'm always down for a quick conversation. I'd love to talk more community stuff. That all sounds great. I'm also in Drupal Slack, if you want to track me down that way. Yeah, lots of different ways. But yeah, anyway.
Matthew Tift:
Sure, they get the idea. They can find you. You're not hard to find.
Angie Byron:
Yeah, I'm not hard to find. Oh, I will say, don't use email. Because for the love of god, I have too many emails, and I will forget about it. It's just a bad scene, so yeah.
Matthew Tift:
Is there anything else that we haven't covered, that you'd like to close with? Anything else that comes to mind?
Angie Byron:
I just want to say thank-you for the work that you're doing, in really exploring this intersection between wellness and open source communities. It's relevant to all communities. But open source communities, as we touched on at the beginning, really have that propensity for very mission values based people, who will put other people before themselves, and neglect themselves in the process.
Angie Byron:
I think a lot of us can identify as being that person. So the fact that you, and others in the CHAOSS community, in the broader sense of things, are really focusing in on how to bring that wellness piece to folks who are involved in these communities, and emphasizing the positives of these communities. How they create connection with people. Anyway, I just want to say thank-you for all that you're doing, because it's a wonderful place to explore, and I can't wait to see what comes out of it.
Matthew Tift:
Well, that's very nice of you to say. I appreciate it. I definitely appreciate everything you have done for the Drupal community, and for inspiring so many of us, myself included. Well, have a great rest of your day, Angie.
Angie Byron:
You too. Yeah, and thanks so much for the conversation.
Outro:
Thank-you for listening to this episode of Hacking Culture. You can learn more about this show, and subscribe, at lullabot.com/hackingculture. Please follow @hackingculture and @matthewtift on Twitter. This episode is released under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 United States license. Hacking Culture is produced at Lullabot. The theme music is from the Open Goldberg Variations. Thank-you for listening.

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