EP 19: A Community Members Take on Building Community

We talked with a community member to hear how he believes a company should build a community for developers instead of the community builder like we usually do. We wanted to hear from the source what he loves about communities so we talked to Karan Malhi who is Head of Product and Marketing at Datacoral.

He has been a member of the Apache community for a long time, he loves community because you are able to connect with people that do what he is doing and build on technologies he works on. The ability to give back and to learn is something that Karan loves about being a part of the Apache community and others like it.

One mistake he warned companies who want to build community is not to make it strictly about the product, sales and recruiting. The idea is to provide a space to connect and learn about how to become a better developer and help the ecosystem as a whole. He mentioned that you don’t even want to censor talk about other tools in the area because not only is that the natural conversation but the fact that there is no restriction on the content will lead developers to trust your brand.

Overall, Karan’s message is to make sure you are building a community that encourages the developers to work together and learn and they will naturally grow to discover your product and build a relationship with your brand.



[0:00:04.1] DA: Welcome to the C2C Podcast. I am your host, Derek Andersen. After holding my first event in 2010, I went on to create Startup Grind, a 400-chapter community based in over a 100 countries. Along the way, I discovered the greatest marketing tool of all time; your customers. Yet, I couldn’t find anyone sharing how to build a community where people could experience your brain in person, or at scale.

On this show, we talk with the brightest minds and companies on the planet about how to build customer-to-customer marketing strategies and create in-person experiences for your brand and customers before your competitor does.

Today I'm going to be interviewing Karan Malhi the Head of Product and Marketing at Datacoral. Datacoral's an end to end infrastructure stack and we're going to do something a little bit different with this episode, we're going to actually talk to a community member and Karan talks about how he believes branch should interact with developers through events and through other programs. Why it's important to keep an open space for all different kinds of technology at these events as well as how marketers generally should talk to developers. Take a listen.


[0:01:20.8] DA: Karan. Tell us a little bit of your background. Tell us what you do.

[0:01:20.8] DA: In Datacoral, I actually head the product and marketing function, but prior to this, prior to being as a product manager and the product function, I have been in training. A lot of training for companies, corporate, Fortune 500 and I've also been contributing to the Apache Software Project and some other open source projects.

[0:01:45.3] DA: Let's start there. What is your motivation and what are the reasons for you being part of the Apache community?

[0:01:52.7] KM: I think being part of the Apache community kind of happened because I was doing our training, I was learning a lot of technology, but there was always that urge to actually go to a lot more programming better products. And the Apache community at that time was probably the only one which, which I found was available.

There was some other ones too, but the Apache one was available. And what I found very striking was that they were very open to accepting people coming in, you know? So I said, Okay, seems like a lot of interesting projects that are happening there. Seems like some really good people. Let me just try it out.'

[0:02:26.3] DA: I've heard that you've come up with something called 'the confidence index.' How does that work? What is that?

[0:02:33.8] KM: Yeah, so 'the confidence index' is something I mentioned in a past conversation, but basically the idea was that when you, when I started looking at the Apache community, I was very confident about my skills, but I was not very confident about putting my skills out in the open.

And for me to go in and realize that hey, I'll be part of meeting lists. I'll be part of this [inaudible] tickets and this issue tracking systems, my codes going to be out there. People are just gonna be watching everything I do, you know? And being shy by nature, that was very daunting for me.

And there's a lot other, more people like me out there who are itching to contribute, but they're just a bit shy and a bit afraid and less confident about being out there and being so open about what they contribute and being judged by people. So I think that's where I said that, hey, there's still a large pool of people out there who want to come in into such communities, you know, but their confidence index is low.

So if we could somehow measure this confidence index and we could somehow say that the health of the community is by, is — can be measured by this, some sort of an index like this, then that'll be very interesting to see how effective the community is.

[0:03:50.5] DA: Yeah, that's interesting. How would you, if you, I'm sure you have thought about how you would measure it, but how would you measure something like that?

[0:03:56.2] KM: It's hard to measure. It's very hard to measure because it's a very soft — confidence itself is a very soft thing. It's not a concrete thing, but you could measure something like this by, for example, by saying, 'Hey listen, there are a million developers out there, you know, what percentage of them have actually started contributing to open source communities work was a rate of contribution?' And so on and so forth.

And if you start seeing that increase in that rate and the increase in the activity of those poor developers, let's say, then you could somehow say that yes, this community seems like it seems more approachable, you know, from those external set of people. And it seems like people are more confident of going in and being, being accepted and you know, open, with open arms.

The thing is that with communities like Apache, they are super accepting, super open, right? But when somebody actually from the outside first takes a look at it and first takes a look at all the awesome work and, and this very sophisticated code sets being written by some super smart people, it can be very daunting.

So how can you make a community which is full of smart people, still be open to some other more smart people or people wanting to contribute? You know, without kind of silently pushing them away or silently kind of saying that, hey, there are walls but you need to cross.

[0:05:19.1] DA: A lot of companies that I speak with are creating in person or C2C communities for developers. And as somebody that's been a part of them and, and you know, participated in them and you know, how do you think companies should go about creating these kinds of in-person communities specifically for engineers or for developers?

[0:05:41.7] KM: So yeah, I mean if you see a traditional enterprise, a traditional enterprises, very driven by requirements and you know, regular day in the life of an engineer of a person is that, 'Hey, I'm going to get a set of requirements, I'm going to work on them.' And for large enterprises, there's still a lot of isolation.

So, for example, if somebody is working in the middle of their side of things or somebody who's working on the front end side of things, if you really don't know how their work is actually being consumed or they really don't even have that breathing room to innovate and to say that, hey, I'm going to use someone to spend some time and innovate, right? Or try something and put it out there. And I, I've seen it many, many times because I've actually interacted with thousands of developers in the classroom environment and I saw that pattern day in and day out.

So my view is that what I've seen successfully happen is that instead of building one large community, build smaller set of hackathons, and those could be your community, could revolve around hackathons. Where you say, 'Hey, there's a list of developers come in with some ideas which you would like to work on and let's see if you can partner you with that has nothing —' that we have nothing to do with business that may have nothing to do with the current business problem you're trying to solve. Right?

But have a way for them to go in and bring in those ideas, pair up with other people in a, in a meetup like community, like environment and then just tack on it. I think that's what they love to do the most and that's what we should encourage. And that I think is the best way for them to actually open up share skills.

[0:07:13.4] DA: Are there other — a great thought. I think the criticism with hackathons and which seem to really be, felt like there was a hackathon every — I don't know when it, when it sort of was the peak hackathon and be like 2015 or something, but they kind of came in and you know, the late, you know like 2009 — 2010 or somewhere in that area, like started to pop up and then just hackathons everywhere.

Are there — is there some other manifestation of something like a hackathon that A, is maybe easier to execute as an organizer or easier to get into as a developer? Because like sometimes you know, going for a weekend or going for a full day or you know, it just takes time. If you're going to build anything interesting, you've got to spend time on it. So have you seen other versions of that that maybe don't have some of the issues that a hackathon might have?

[0:08:06.2] KM: So I think the issues in a hackathon is that there's no follow up. There are two things. One is that developers are going to fear that if they're going to hack on something, it's going to go into production. Then that set, that's not fully a hackathon, right? What I am talking of is a true level of freedom. See, I'm a product guy right now. I know that the only way to get more creativity and keep things interesting is things where I can give them the freedom to go in and express themselves. Right?

And if I just leave the hackathons as a one time fire and forget thing and don't follow up on that, then this, nobody's going to see value. I mean, if I come in and built something and then it's just thrown away, I don't feel that I've actually contributed. So hackathons may have a bad name or may not have seen been seen as an effective way, but I doubt that is the reason behind that is the hackathon itself. I think it's more around what was the follow up on the hackathon? What was the recognition of the hackathon? How was that effort put to actual use later on?

[0:09:07.2] DA: What about, you know, if I'm organizing developer events for my community and you know the management is saying, 'Hey, we really want these developers will be talking about our technology and to be working on a technology.'

And as an organizer I'm saying, 'They want to but maybe not every month. I want to mix it up with other technologies and other things that are just going to be interesting.' I wonder what your perspective is on that with communities, like should I just continue to push my technology every single month with every event? Should I mix it up with bringing in other things? Like what have you seen be effective or not effective?

[0:09:47.5] KM: We have to be very empathetic to developers and engineers. We need to let them talk about what they want to talk about. You let them do what they want to do. They will use — you not only earn their respect, you earn their confidence, you earn their trust and they will naturally gravitate towards talking about the stuff they're also building towards stuff the technology with the company talks about.

But there's a bigger benefit if, for example, if I am working in a company where we have end to end pipeline, right? Dataflows automated for you. But I am more, you know, I'm more passionate about let's say a server-less piece, right? Which fits into our technology and everything, but I just want to talk about server-less. I should be allowed to as a, as a developer. Right?

And that's my passion. That's where I, that's where I want to talk — that's what I love to do in day in, day out. And that naturally comes out as really well, like when the developer speaks or when they, when they do a talk that comes out naturally as a something which they are passionate about and that reflects well on the company overall, in general.

So it has some ancillary or what I call a second order benefits, right? When people see such developers and such talks and such passion behind those talks, there's belief behind those talks, the company — it makes it easier for the company to actually start hiring more people like them.

Because people naturally get attracted to somebody who is passionate and that's where the community starts evolving. But if we put a mandate on such talks and such, such external facing events, then we are not letting them being creative or we are not letting them express themselves.

[0:11:24.3] DA: Yeah, I think that's a great insight and it's sort of counterintuitive to how sometimes a marketer would think, which is like I got to keep pumping my message home. I've got to keep pumping my product, you know, in into this consumer and this, you know, this developer.

But actually, you know, this idea of being more open and you know, hey look, sometimes they're probably going to talk about your competitor and hey, sometimes they're probably gonna talk about a topic that you're not as strong in or maybe they'll, you know, there's something that your weekend, but that shows openness and that shows collaboration and that shows a willingness to just generally want to support developers, which is sort of where you want to be in their minds it seems like.

[0:12:10.6] KM: Yes, yes. And it's not, it's not like an instant noodle thing. You, you're not just cooking something and seeing it instant result. And also sometimes the stakeholders just want to do something because they believe in feel that they'll get some instant result of which they were measuring with your team in a month or so. These are soft things.

You're talking about humans here, you're talking about people who have a life and they have a life outside of work. They have, they have goals and aspirations, you know, and it's not that they come to work and then certainly the goals and aspirations are totally geared towards the business they're working for. They still have those inner goals and aspirations which they want to fulfill. Right?

You need to let them — you need to make that work time or make that event or make the talk or whatever, that way they want to express, talk to them and address their goals and aspirations so those things needs to come out. In the end, it actually ends up helping the enterprise overall, to have, you know, to provide that expressive platform for the developers and the 10 years.

[0:13:13.0] DA: Are there any communities that you really admire that you think do a really great job? Speaking, interacting with developers?

[0:13:18.1] KM: Interacting with developers, but I can talk about the Apache TomEE project because I contributed to that project. It's still very close to my heart. David Blevins is the lead for the project. I would suggest talk to him someday. He's an amazing community builder. He's one prime example for me of what the community leaders should look like and how to build a community, which is very open. Even on a project as complex as, as a as Apache TomEE.

[0:13:46.7] DA: where do you see the open source communities going over the next five or 10 years?

[0:13:51.4] KM: The open source communities will be here to stay. I think open systems and open source itself has proved that it attracts a lot of very good talent. And that's to my point earlier as well that if you let — why do people go to open source? Because they want to express themselves in certain ways, which they can express at work, right?

At work they have a limited set of things we can do, but they want to be more creative. And I see that there are more and more people coming in software more and more people who are actually want to be that expressive and open source is a great platform because you can just open your laptop checkout [inaudible] or Source Code Control and start contributing and people are happy are accepting those contributions with open arms. You know?

So I think the community has a world, the community in the beginning, which I would see it as more of a something like a barrier or a wall or something I had to jump over, is no longer the case. The open source community itself has — the perception has become more softer and more open and accepting in my opinion, and that's a really good thing for the community and for future entrepreneurs.


[0:15:00.3] DA: Thank you so much for listening. If you like the show, please leave a review wherever you listen to this. If would you like to see more about how to create your own event community, go to bevylabs.com/pod. Again, that's B-E-V-Y-L-A-B-S.com/pod.


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