Software and Community Management with Josh Heyer and Jon Ericson

Josh Heyer (Developer Advocate for EnterpriseDB, former Community Manager for Stack Overflow) and Jon Ericson (Community Manager for College Confidential, and former Community Manager for Stack Overflow) sit down to talk about the intersection of community management and software development.

Josh Heyer (Pronounced "Higher", sorry Josh) aka Shog9 can be found at shog9.com
Josh is a Developer Advocate for Enterprise DB https://www.enterprisedb.com/
Twitter: @shog9

Jon Ericson : https://jlericson.com/ and on medium at https://medium.com/@jlericson
Twitter: @jlericson

I uploaded a remixed version that should result in a higher volume for Josh Heyer on 10 July 2020.  If you listened to it before then and were annoyed by the levels; that was my fault, and I hope I've fixed it. If not, please reach out.

Rough Transcript (Powered by Otter.ai -please submit corrections!)

George Stocker 0:00
Hello, and welcome to the build better software podcast. I'm your host George Stocker, and today I'm joined by john Erickson and Josh hair. Welcome to the show.

Josh Heyer 0:11
Hi, hello,

George Stocker 0:14
john and Josh, for people who may not be familiar with who you are and what you do. Tell us about yourself.

Jon Ericson 0:21
Sure, we both talk at the same time.

George Stocker 0:23
One, one after the other.

Josh Heyer 0:26
To talk over somebody.

Jon Ericson 0:29
If we let you talk first, this will be the end of the episode, right?

Josh Heyer 0:33
Yes, that is plausible. I'm just this guy, you know. So, john. Uh,

Jon Ericson 0:40
well, you probably if you know me at all, it's because I was a community manager at Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange. I did that for almost seven years. And and now I am a community and product operations manager at college confidential, which you is a forum site for people who are applying to school for college and universities?

Josh Heyer 1:09
Yeah, that's a good intro. I'm going to just steal that. So pretend I said what john just said, except replace seven with nine and replace college confidential with enterprise DB or EDB. A Postgres company.

George Stocker 1:24
Cool. Now, I'm not gonna let you get away with that either of you know, yeah, so Josh, you were actually the first Community Manager hired for Stack Overflow, as I understand it, you were I

Josh Heyer 1:36
was, I was, let me see. 123 I was either the third or fourth. I'm gonna say third. It was Robert cortino. He was number one. Although we all had different job titles in the early days. I don't think we settled on Community Manager until like a year. He was Robert could Hannah was was the first year Community coordinator. And then and then it was Rebecca turnoff. Remember Rebecca?

Jon Ericson 2:08
Yeah, our turn Archer and yeah,

Josh Heyer 2:10
yeah, she was she was number two. Now. Now see, Rebecca was Rebecca was not originally community coordinator. She was I think it was community evangelist or developer evangelist, something like that. And then we all we all kind of coalesced on Community Manager after a while, as the least offensive generic name we could come up with, I was never comfortable with evangelists. That was that was what Jeff suggested to me. Right away and I was like, man, and then I came on as adjunct community coordinator, yeah. And working part time for the first year. Just kind of trying it out to see if, see if maybe the company just go under. I could save myself some work. And when that didn't And I came on full time in 2012.

George Stocker 3:03
Yeah. And so you know when to remember back in the day these this is 10 years ago is that community management from a public internet community perspective was still very new. And in fact, the only way I knew of it was through video games was that places like dice had community evangelists and community managers that helped manage manage video games, or manage the communities for video games. So, you know, in this fresh new world of community management, how did you all acclimate to that job?

Josh Heyer 3:39
So first, I want to say video games are like, the trendsetters in this field. They, they they were and still are kind of leading in terms of what it means to manage a community because I have I think they figured out way ahead of just about everybody else that you, you really do need people who are focused on that specifically, a lot of other companies had people doing similar things. But it was almost like, you know, this is something you got to do in your part time, above and beyond your real responsibilities. and video games pretty quickly figured out especially the massively online multiplayer versions, they figured out that, oh, we actually need to culture to nurture to guide this community of people that we depend on in order to, you know, have a viable game and, and put focus squarely on that. So we took our lead from that in a lot of ways. JOHN, we brought in because He was super awesome in our community. He was writing stuff that was better than what we were writing. Okay.

George Stocker 5:13
So how did you how did you come to be at StackOverflow? JOHN?

Jon Ericson 5:17
So I was I was a beta, user on stack Stack Overflow, and then I threw a fit, because I didn't like some of the things that Jeff was doing. I thought closed, closed votes, some closing questions was dumb, like, Are we going to run out of bits on the internet? And so I quit and then and then Stack Exchange came along, and they're all these crazy sites. And I was like, Oh, these are interesting. I thought gardening and philosophy. That was my, that's gonna be my entry back into it. And it turns out, it's hard to do gardening when you only have a little apartment, condo thing. And

Josh Heyer 5:57
fluffy is great man space.

Jon Ericson 6:01
I so I knew so little bad gardening, and I've got a house now I actually could use the gardening site. And then, but the thing that really got me going was biblical hermeneutics, which is about interpreting the Bible, which was really something that I still am fascinated by. And so I got into that. And I think what Josh was saying, at one point, there was a bunch of controversy over what the site meant. And I ended up spilling tons and tons of digital ink on the meta site. So why not work

George Stocker 6:39
biblical from a memetic? site? mentor? What what what almost almost like

Josh Heyer 6:43
hermeneutics and exit Jesus are not words you use in everyday conversation? I

George Stocker 6:48
can't even pronounce them.

Jon Ericson 6:51
Yeah, so. So the difficulty with biblical hermeneutics is that some people look at that and they're like, Oh, cool. I'm going to be an evangelist, too. pick up another word that Josh isn't a huge fan of.

Josh Heyer 7:05
For people who actually legit are evangelists I don't I don't feel like it's a great job title for people who are, you know, doing community management?

Jon Ericson 7:15
Yeah. Well, I guess it is a geeky connotations, right?

Josh Heyer 7:20
It is located. Yeah, it is complicated. You you there was another word by the way that you you guys struggled with a little bit unexpectedly. And that was biblical. Yeah.

Jon Ericson 7:34
Why? Why is that?

Josh Heyer 7:35
Well, different people have different ideas of what the Bible is.

George Stocker 7:40
That's right. Catholics, we would there, you know, five extra books for Roman Catholics in the Old Testament that aren't present next version.

Jon Ericson 7:52
And those five books, I mean, this is a huge, huge problem for us. So we got to, we got to excommunicate you. You're not A lot on our site.

Josh Heyer 8:01
And then there's there's like a whole group of people who who consider, you know, the entire New Testament, even calling it the new testament to be.

Jon Ericson 8:12
So but uh,

Josh Heyer 8:14
yeah, yeah. So

George Stocker 8:16
this is about to become a Bible podcast, podcast where we talked about we can totally make it No, no the

Josh Heyer 8:22
head during this period when we were launching these sites, we would have I kid you not three to four hour conversations every day involving the team, we would try to hash this stuff out, really. And clearly, we didn't succeed because the problems were still in existence when the site launched. And so john got stuck with them.

George Stocker 8:41
So how do you do that as a, as a community manager, you know, you're you have this new thing. You know, in the case of Stack Overflow, obviously, it was all new to everybody. But by the time you're getting to this biblical forum site, you've got, you know, you've got, hey, we want to put this thing out there. We're gonna have Have people using it? How do you? How do you make any of that happen?

Josh Heyer 9:08
So prayer for peace in war, wait, the opposite of that.

Jon Ericson 9:14
I was gonna say it's not necessarily given that people will use it. And so like, I think that's a that's a problem that like, it's actually a nice problem to have if you've got people are using it, you're like how we're gonna direct it so that it's, you know, people are playing nice with each other. And my philosophy was always a like, give empower, empower the users to make the space what they want, which is why I ended up in lots of controversies over like, Hey, why don't we just let those Catholics talk about those extra five Bible books? What What do I care? It's just another question on the site. And other people like no, no, no, that's that's not that's not what it is. And so my philosophy was always like, Sort of cliche, but sort of democratize the community, like make it so that everyone has a say everyone has input into it. I wonder if I wonder if shark has a little different perspective on the thing?

Josh Heyer 10:15
No, that sounds all about.

George Stocker 10:18
We'll see. So why are you sitting up there on the Bible site, you know, Josh, or shark and you'll hear us call them refer to miss shark throughout this entire recording simply because that's how we've known him for years. But Shawn, you are dealing with the expansion of Stack Overflow, and taking over from really being the full time voice of community management from Jeff Atwood from the founder of the site, and you started doing, you know, those those public interactions with communities that he used to do.

Josh Heyer 10:51
Tell us about that. Yeah, so what do you do when you have Have a very very opinionated voice effectively leading a community that just suddenly disappears. I, I struggled with that problem for a while because I didn't particularly want or think I should be a replacement for that voice. I didn't feel like that was appropriate for numerous reasons. And I quickly repented of that attitude because what actually happened was Oh, to use a biblical analogy, the Book of Judges, every man doing what was right in his own eyes. You ended up with chaos. To to bring us forward a few thousand years. We we had the The chaotic natural law that Thomas Hobbes wrote about. You can have people all with very honorable reasons, doing what they feel strongly is the right thing and still end up with all at war. Because those those perspectives conflict, people try to make use of the same resources in different ways in different ways that are not compatible with one another. And if you don't have somebody willing to come in and say this is how things look, and this is the way forward. There is no possible resolution to this. And in fact, we've seen in human history over and over again, where these situations arise. Someone will always take on that role. And if you if you don't, if you try too hard to avoid that, all you're really accomplishing is setting up a situation where you have no influence, or you have no voice in the government that is eventually constructed. And

George Stocker 13:27
decisions are made by those that show up.

Josh Heyer 13:29
Decisions are made by those that show up decisions are made by those who are willing to put the time and willing to put the effort in to to convince others. And I, I came into StackOverflow in 2008, with a very strong opinion about what I wanted the site to be. And I didn't presuppose for a moment that that was the only opinion or that that was necessarily how it should come out. But I wasn't willing to stand by and see it, turn into something else.

George Stocker 14:00
Now you've got that you've got those users. And that goes to the to the point of the show today is that community is an integral part of software, whether that software is a public q&a forum. Oh, sorry, not forum, public q&a site, or whether that software is really incidental to the problem being solved. But you, but you have people, and you're always going to have users and they're always going to have opinions. And as software developers, we need to effectively mold and fashion those opinions, and listen to those opinions to help us produce good software. And that's why I have both of you here today, because you have different takes on that. And you're both in different verticals. Now. Both of you started out Stack Overflow, which is, as you said, a very opinionated place. And now you're dealing with different types of communities. How do you form for teams that may not have what StackOverflow had was a very public presence in a very public way of managing your community. How do you find your users? How do you interact with them if you're not dealing in such public software?

Josh Heyer 15:14
So first I want to say you don't have to you can you didn't totally blow him off. I mean, that's, that's an option you have, it's not necessarily a good option. But if you don't have the, the desire, or the wherewithal to, to handle dealing with the community, you can you can't really ignore it, but you can absolutely squelch it. Apple is fantastic at this site, a very large example they they sort of have a community in spite of themselves.

George Stocker 15:54
Are you referring to the latest with the no actually

Josh Heyer 15:57
that if you're talking about DHH? No. No, okay. I, I i've been using them as an example of this for years, I think they, they tried very hard to sort of keep their community at arm's length. And, and that works for them. I don't think it will work for most companies that their scale. It's definitely a risky move. But that's how they do things. And it's not, you know, it's not a accidental decision that that attitude pervades their organization. And, and they, they work towards that from many, many different angles in their development and rollout processes in their marketing in their support organization. I I wouldn't Recommended. But if you got a Steve Jobs complex, and you really want to go whole hog on it, yeah, by all means, throw up the middle finger to your community and just roll on and see how that works out for you, john?

Jon Ericson 17:18
Yeah, so the question about how you interact with thick meat, it's, for one thing I have to say we have, like college confidential is a form. It's so freeing, I can say forum and no one would yell at me. We actually have forums, that's the adjustment I'd make. It's not one forum as many forums. And and I agree like you can, you can totally play hands off with it. And, you know, things things can could work that way. That's, in fact, the model that I stepped into was, they didn't really like the people who own the forum didn't know what to do with it. They didn't have necessarily a vision for it. They just sort of fell into their lap. They bought another A couple of years part of this company. And and so when I stepped in the one of the things that I decided early on was I'm going to engage with the community. And that means, like, I do some posting, I happen to have a son who is considering school, going to college. And so I have, I have a voice I can, I can talk about what I'm experiencing, so I can be part of the community. And then and then there are spaces within you know, like, one of our forums is for parents, and I can talk directly to the parents on the forum via that space. And I try opposite of the apple approach. I I don't have a lot of secrets. We don't have big reveals. I kind of considered a mistake if people find out about something, the day that we release it. And that may work for Apple but it doesn't work for for our team because Our community wants to have input, their input is actually valuable. Like we've seen, we had a major redesign. Last year, this is before I was part of the company, and it fell on its face, because none of the user feedback was was incorporated into the design. So I just like I feel like it's a pounding the pavement, go out, meet people as much as I can shake babies and kiss hands, is that what you're supposed to do as a politician? sounds right. The other way around.

Josh Heyer 19:38
All of those words are in there somewhere

George Stocker 19:40
in some form or fashion. So that that's interesting, because one of the issues that we all have, most recently that I dealt with was through slack or slack changes or UI, and they're like, Hey, we're changing our UI. It's so awesome. I looked at I don't know how to use this anymore. And we even see to a certain extent, with StackOverflow when they would make changes, and you'd get the people who were really invested in, in the software as it was saying, like, Hey, you move my cheese. How do you deal with that as a community manager?

Josh Heyer 20:14
I got opinions here. So first of all, I want to address the idiom there. The moving cheese corporate table is complete bullshit. Anybody want to argue about that? No.

George Stocker 20:34
I want to hear why it's complete bullshit. Because this is gonna

Josh Heyer 20:36
be good. No, no, it's okay look. as as as as creatures. We are optimized from top to bottom for efficient use of energy. Our brains are muscle memory. our nervous system chews up a massive amount of energy both in thinking and in mistakes. When we have to retrain, there's a huge cost to that. I mean, you can think of a simple example, something you do every day some, some some little tool. You're you're moving from, I don't know, a pair of scissors to a left handed pair of scissors, and suddenly you have to figure that out. You're gonna be super annoyed if you I don't know if you're one of those people who's super into keyboards.

George Stocker 21:41
I'm not but I know people who are

Josh Heyer 21:43
you Do you know what I'm talking about keyboards. I hate I get flustered and irritated if I got to move to a keyboard when they put the return key in an L shape instead of a bar shape like God into But there are people who will switch up between normal keyboards and split keyboards, and cord keyboards and weird little keyboards that like scatter their keys all over creation and, and retrain themselves on that. And you know what if that's your hobby, more power to you, but I just want the words in my head to appear on the screen. I don't want to have to stop and think about it. And I would argue that most people are in that same boat. We don't want to expend energy to accomplish a task we already know how to do.

George Stocker 22:37
So how do you help the community when you have something like a redesign or a new feature or a change in a workflow? They're used to First

Josh Heyer 22:44
off, you're starting at negative 100. Right? You you assume that when you go to announce this, your post, it may not reflect it yet. 100 people hate it right out of the gate. And then you have to dig yourself out of that hole, right?

George Stocker 23:11
So

Josh Heyer 23:13
don't come in with the idea that hey, I'm gonna roll out this huge, impressive, shiny new feature. And everybody's gonna love it. You may love it. You've spent three months thinking about it, maybe longer. Nobody else has. The first thing they see is wow, I have to expend energy. I have to burn hours of my precious life and calories that I worked hard to obtain in order to do the same thing I was doing yesterday.

George Stocker 23:48
No, that's an interesting change. I hadn't thought about it like that.

Josh Heyer 23:52
So that's, that's where you're coming in. You have to dig yourself out of that hole. You have to you have to crawl up Out of this pit that you were starting in, how are you going to do that?

George Stocker 24:05
That's why, tell me,

Josh Heyer 24:06
ideally, you don't, you don't dig a pit with straight wall sides, right? You You spend those three months that you're working on this thing. digging a nice, gentle ramp down into there, you you lay the groundwork for this explanation you're making for this announcement, you go and talk to people in your community. You shop around the idea, you find ways to address concerns more than anything, you find ways to convey the advantages that this change is bringing that they might not have thought of. But once they get it in their heads that hey, yeah, this is going to cost me time and energy in one regard. But in the long term, it's an investment, it's going to save me time and ever or maybe it's not going to say anything. Maybe I'm going to have to pay a cost but for some others portion of this community, it's going to be a win. If you can get all that stuff together, especially if you can get a cadre, a posse of people in your community who are already on board, when you make your big rollout, then you don't have so much work to do. You've got that nice ramp out of your pit that you can just roll up out of. You've had all of the arguments before you have honed your presentation, your your your announcement, to the point where any concern somebody raises. You're standing right there to address it. You have the phrasing and the presentation ready to go. I was telling somebody earlier today, I've written a tremendous number of announcements in 30 minutes or less. But in all those cases, I have spoken Then months preparing to write that announcement, I've spent months doing the research doing the the acclamation to the concept that I'm introducing to the design that I'm presenting. If you don't put that prep work in, it doesn't matter if you spend a week agonizing over what you're writing. It's still gonna go over like a lead balloon.

George Stocker 26:27
JOHN, I see you, I see you nodding.

Jon Ericson 26:30
I can totally concur with that. So an example that some of you may be aware of, we had this project called documentation. And documentation was for Stack Overflow for Stack Overflow. It was built in a in a lab. No one was allowed to enter the lab, and then they float open the doors and people are like, What is going on? And you know, I thought that was a fun project to do. It had a lot of nice features to it, but it failed and So that, you know, you're kind of doomed both ways if you do a poor job of announcing it, and then you get people who actually figure it out and are enjoying it, and then you have to shut it down. Like, that's another, that's another spot where people have gotten used to Google Reader to name an example. And now you're taking it away. And you're saying you can't use this piece of software anymore. And so at the same experience that Josh was talking about, where, like, it literally took me a couple hours to write the worst sunsetting documentation, meta post. I did it, you know, a few hours in the afternoon. But that wasn't the first time I had thought what we were going to do when we shut down this documentation. I had written six months before a like, this is what I'm going to say when we shut down documentation, which I didn't, you know, broadcast to anybody in the company because like, you don't want be labeled as the Put Doomsayer. But But I had that ready. I knew it was, it was a possibility. And so I had been thinking about it for four months. And also like, what's my victory lap? going to be? So like, I had those thoughts in mind. So what what sharks that is absolutely true.

George Stocker 28:19
So that gets us to a touchy topic is telling your users The truth is how is dealing with the fact that you have users of your software who are invested in it. And you have to tell them something that they don't want to hear. What What do you do? How do you do it?

Josh Heyer 28:48
So first off you you need to understand why you need to understand why they don't want to hear why they're apprehensive. Second, you need to understand why you You need to tell them that why why they need to hear that why you're doing the thing that you're doing, or can't do the thing that you're not doing. If you don't understand both of those things, then you're really not going to have a good time to communicate.

George Stocker 29:22
You work for enterprise DB a company. JOHN, you work for college confidential. A company, Stack Overflow is a company and companies exist to, you know, put money in their bank accounts so that they they exist day after day. And but your users don't have that point of view your users are they

Josh Heyer 29:44
absolutely can.

George Stocker 29:46
They can, but I, in my mind,

Josh Heyer 29:49
the fact that companies need to make money.

George Stocker 29:52
Yeah. So how do you square that circle where you know, you're like, Hey, we got to shut down documentation. It's not making any money right? losing time losing effort losing money and you've got users that have put hundreds, if not thousands of hours, probably only hundreds because it didn't last that long. They put hundreds of hours of their life into it, like how do you how do you tell people the truth when the truth is, you know, money based when the truth is, you know, a misalignment of, I guess values.

Josh Heyer 30:26
So, I think john actually did a really good job of this. In terms of communicating that thing. If you go back and look at the documentation project, there were a lot of mistakes.

Jon Ericson 30:46
A lot of mistakes, as I said,

Josh Heyer 30:49
and these mistakes were not a secret. They were called out at the time or Very shortly after they were made,

George Stocker 31:02
some seem tactical now for our audience, people who may not be aware of what this is documentation and I'm going to say a little bit about it and you guys fill it in, fill in the parts I missed documentation was an effort to expand beyond question and answer and actually go into the things that we saw from poorly maintained documentation across the internet for programming, API's frameworks, all sorts of things related to programming, either library or framework, what have you, and actually putting the documentation with examples in a way that was easily searchable, editable, and stayed up to date. Now, that's how I saw it. How did you guys see it?

Jon Ericson 31:42
So you mentioned the key word, and you just slip right past it. examples. So the concept was, it wouldn't just be replacing the documentation. It would be giving you examples, focusing on code that people could have read and understand. And so there was debate about whether the whole thing should be called examples or documentation. And naki toots Yes, I forgot about Dr. toots. What is Dr. toots? documentation tutorials?

Josh Heyer 32:17
Ah, the compromise solution you see.

George Stocker 32:20
Now it's funny as you say that, you know, documentation has been tried multiple different ways across the internet. There's read the docs. There's a few others that I can't offhand mention, but I know exist. And documentation is just slides always. This is a bland usage that no one actually ever uses it that way they use it, you know, in furtherance of something else that the documentation never covers. So why not examples? Why did that lose? Because that sounds like a really nice reframing of what it did.

Jon Ericson 32:55
Why did that lose? So So like, it's part of it as politics like internal politics, but part of it is just like, documentation sounds like a bigger idea than examples. Right? And so there's this temptation to say, Okay, if you've got two choices, we can do the grand idea, or we can do sort of the focus, practical idea. And your odds of of accomplishing a focused practical idea are better than the grand idea. But, like, oftentimes, it's easier to sell the grand idea internally. Like, you say, documentation means so many different things to so many different people. And it can be more people signing

Josh Heyer 33:41
on because they think they're signing on to something they want. Exactly what you're actually doing. This by the way, it comes back to my thesis of you have to know why you're doing what you're doing before you start writing.

Jon Ericson 33:57
Yeah,

Josh Heyer 33:58
so that sounds like all almost almost a tautology, right.

George Stocker 34:02
Right. But it is truism. Yeah,

Josh Heyer 34:04
it it it is. It is a something that a great many people, including myself, strive to avoid in almost every project because it requires work up front. He requires discipline to define what your goals are and what your goals are not. It requires discipline to be precise in your wording, which we all hate. And it, it requires, it requires work. It is way too easy to come out of a meeting. really psyched, just just really jazzed about this thing you're doing. And then to sit down and start writing it out. to shop that idea round to the other people who are on the same call. You were And to suddenly realize that, number one, it isn't actually as exciting as you thought it was. Number two, we don't actually all agree on what we thought we had agreed to build. And now, you feel like you've lost momentum, right? You feel like you've done this thing, which was tedious, and took a lot of focus to do. And it hasn't bought you anything. It's cost you the energy that you were going to use to build it. So you have this kind of innate motivation to not do it. But of course, we all know where that leads. George, you talk a lot about test driven development, and I think this fits into the same boat with that. It isn't a ton of fun to write tests, especially to write tests up front. And worst. Once you have that, you find that your code is failing. those tests like all the frickin time, and you got to go fix that instead of just, you know, getting in the zone and speeding away, right and page after page a logic that you're pretty sure is rock solid. It feels like it saps your energy.

George Stocker 36:15
You're right. And you said it earlier and it wasn't about test driven development No, it could have been is that you've got to know what you're trying to accomplish while you're trying to accomplish it. You've got to have a crystal clear picture of your goal with TDD. Otherwise, you'll get halfway through and realize, wait a minute, the way that I thought this architecture was going to flesh out doesn't work. And oh, by the way, all that stuff I did, it's got to go away. And nobody, nobody wants that.

Josh Heyer 36:39
Well, so that's it, right? It's an investment. You have to look at it that way. You can't look at it as like this is this is going to be the fun part of the process. You got to look at it as like, this is gonna save me so much stress and time later on. It's an investment in The future success of your project. And it's absolutely just as true for you communication as it is for the actual code you write.

Jon Ericson 37:12
One of the things that happened on documentation was, we didn't do some of that investment. Ironically, there wasn't enough documentation, run documentation. And we showed it to people inside the company. And the first time we sat down, did a like a usability interview where we just said, go here, show me what you think you should do. People had no earthly idea what to do. Like the goal of the project was confusing to people using using it the first time. And that meant we had to throw away a bunch of work that's been done or revamp it or change the way that it worked. And it just seemed tedious like, Well, the problem isn't my software. The problem is these people who don't understand The very obvious thing that we're trying to do, and and it's so easy to overestimate how quickly people will pick up on something because we spent six months or something, some number of months working on it. And of course, it felt natural to us. We'd seen happen built from nothing up into this, the system. So super easy for us, but you throw an average person and say figure it out. They need more than that. They need a lot more because they can

Josh Heyer 38:30
catch up. I struggled with it. I just figured you guys were smarter than me. We were smarter than you.

Jon Ericson 38:38
See, here's the problem. Like you can't just like there's not enough people who are as smart as we were. That's why it failed

George Stocker 38:46
you everybody has to be at this level and we're trying to ride this ride. Now I'm gonna I'm gonna ask a question and this is purposely a loaded question for the sweet summer children among us that have never dealt with this but why not just assigned personas and why not just build software to those personas? Why deal with community at all?

Josh Heyer 39:06
That's George, that is a fantastic idea. As long as your community is composed entirely of fake people, it will work 100% of the time. Um,

Jon Ericson 39:18
yeah. So I'm working with a great marketing department, and that should not come out as sarcastic as that might sound. Like, honestly, they're wonderful. And they came up with these personas. And I looked at him, I was like, Wow, that is fantastic. This is great. This before I really knew anything about the community, and I started meeting the people in the community. I was like, which member which persona is this one? And, and then later, I did a poll, I tried to do a poll of who's actually using the site. And we had three personas for less than 20% of our population. And we had four personas total. So that one persona had to take on a lot of stuff. Yeah. Yeah, and so it was it was all wrong and like we're still using them. I mean, there's nothing wrong with having those personas from a marketing perspective. But you have to realize it's, let's call it aspirational. These are the people who would like to be using the site. But to get to that point, we need to actually work with the people who are using the site. We can't be you can't live in the aspirational space, you have to live in the space that you're where the work has happening already.

Josh Heyer 40:29
You ever done that thing, where you're like really dreading a conversation. And so you rehearse it in your own head, like and you make up the responses that the person you need to talk to is going to be given to you and somehow, you know, after a few practice runs, maybe that conversation just goes off perfectly. You You have no snappiest responses to to every reply you get from this figure of your your target In your head, and and then you go to have the conversation. And they got the temerity to not give any of the responses that you imagined them giving and instead say completely other things and you're sitting there stumbling over your words, trying to figure out why they're being so rude to you. And, and now let you just pair it all of the candy lines that you have so diligently rehearsed and eventually it dawns on you that you know maybe I didn't really know the person that I intended to talk to. Maybe I just thought I did.

Unknown 41:40
Mines me

Jon Ericson 41:42
reminds me Shaka, you make a terrible straight man. Like you do not respond the way that I expect when I asked you a question. So all my fingers that I've been preparing weeks in advance, they just fall flat because you didn't set up properly.

George Stocker 41:57
Ah,

Josh Heyer 41:59
there's a there's A tangential story I could tell there but we're, we're at about 10 minutes or something, so I'll leave it for another call. But, you know, this is the thing people are people are complex people or rich people are like, like a, you know, a good craft beer. You can expect a good solid glass of Coors banquet. But that's not what you're gonna get. And you just got to kind of roll with it. You can, you can practice you should practice. But you should practice with real people. Because that's the only way you're you're actually going to learn how to deal with real people.

George Stocker 42:43
What's that phrase? plans are dumb planning is essential. However. I'm sure it makes Diane's God laughs

Josh Heyer 42:55
No, I mean, look, we're all in some sense where we're doing We're doing improv here. We're trying to get to a goal from a starting point, but we really don't know what the road there is going to look like. And the more detailed and inflexible we make those plans, whether that's communication or code, the more likely they are to break and leave a stranded out in the boonies someplace, no road in sight.

George Stocker 43:27
Now both of you were at Stack Overflow. And this is really interesting because both your stack overflow from one extreme to the other. When Stack Overflow started out, it was extremely transparent. And then over the years, it gradually became less so to the point that they're trying now to bring transparency back as a avid I guess, I think they have it as value so that it now that's on the wall as a value, maybe we'll do it. But they're trying to bring transparency back now as community managers you sit at a you sit between Users of your software and the company who is producing that software extensively for a financial reason, you know, how do you how do you deal with the users wanting transparency? And the company? Maybe not, you know, having transparency is their, their top priority.

Josh Heyer 44:20
I gotta say irony of this is, john, you go ahead.

Jon Ericson 44:25
I would probably say the same thing. Who knows, but I was gonna say, there was probably more of an illusion of transparency when I first started then then you might imagine, so we were free Intel telling, you know, telling the community what's going on, but there was a lot going on behind the scenes where he was sort of manage transparency. And I think that's perfectly fine. I don't think there's any problem with with that. And so just the question is, it's not like I didn't feel like it's necessarily extremes. It's more of like how, you know, what sort of transparency Lucian is probably a little too cynical, but like, you know, like, what are you gonna share? How are you going to share?

George Stocker 45:07
Yeah, the near?

Jon Ericson 45:09
Yeah, something like that. And I don't know, I mean, I never felt like we were completely transparent or even that that was necessarily appropriate. But you can have functional, functional non transparency unfunctional and I felt like there you know, kind of, like you said if transparency is a value that you have to get back to maybe something went wrong along the way.

Josh Heyer 45:37
I think at the point you put it on the wall, you've you've lost sight of what the purpose of trends so I'm gonna I'm gonna dispute something you said, john, I think I don't think there is perfect transparency. I think all transparency is superficial. Hmm. From a certain perspective, trends transparency is something you have to struggle to achieve and I Ideally, you know why you're struggling to achieve that you you have specific use cases in mind, you're building out transparency for a purpose. Once again, you have to know what you're doing and why you're doing it. You can't just say we're going to be completely open and transparent. This is the this is the open source conceit, that, you know, given enough eyeballs all bugs are shallow. Well, that's probably true, but it's true in the same sense. As you know, putting Infinite Monkeys in front of typewriters is going to give you Shakespeare, it's not necessarily a practical utility, unless you happen to have an infinite number of monkeys sitting around in which case you have a bigger pool probably run on a typewriter robot. That's it's hard to find now, man, the so so when you're designing I wrote an essay on this a few months ago, but the when you're designing for transparency, the first thing you've got to establishes Why do I want this What? What purpose? Is the transparency supposed to achieve? Who is it for and and what are they trying to do that they needed for. And once you've done that, you may end up building a facade that is transparent. I use the analogy of the the the electronic control system in your car, where the actual functionality of your engine is anything but transparent. You go in there with your your analyzer, your code reader, and see what the ECU is telling you. It is a it is a fiction based on what the computer thinks it knows about what your engine is doing. But it's a very useful fiction. In almost all cases, it will give you a better idea of where a problem is or what you need to do to fix a performance issue. Then sitting there with an old school analyzer hooked up to the spark plugs is going to tell you, you have a lot better summary of the information than what you would have otherwise and you're able to make good decisions based on that. And that should be your goal for transparency and if you can be transparent down to the atomic level, okay, fine, great, more power to you. But if you can only do that at the cost of the actual utility, then you're not helping your audience by doing this. Your unbridled

George Stocker 48:36
transparency all disasters what you're saying,

Josh Heyer 48:38
I it doesn't have to be but you have to keep in mind your gold. I mean, you know, I got a hammer hanging on the shelf next to me here right now. It's pretty transparent. Even though I can't see through it. I can see exactly how it works. All of the important bits The business and the client, the bit that I hold on to. Those are all very visible to me. I can pick that up blindfolded and probably even hit something with it. Although possibly that would be my thumb.

Jon Ericson 49:15
So I'm thinking of a

Josh Heyer 49:17
glass hammer I just cut out didn't I? Just you did

George Stocker 49:21
at a weird point. Ah,

Josh Heyer 49:23
I don't need a glass hammer was my was my punch line, but I completely destroyed the setup to that.

Jon Ericson 49:30
Well, I was gonna, I was gonna use that analogy with the class hammer. I don't know if I will use class hammer but I was thinking, you know, the aphorism should be people who live in glass houses shouldn't take showers. Because Oh, man, maybe there is such a thing as too much transparency.

George Stocker 49:49
So what are you guys doing? Now? Like what do you how do you spend your time now john?

Jon Ericson 49:57
So some of that shocked me earlier this week was I had a little moment of grief. And it turned out that I haven't been programming like at all. And when I was at Stack Overflow, I could always pretend like, Oh, yeah, I'm a programmer a little bit because like, I'm working with programmers. And I work with people who are definitely not programmers. And I had a moment of grief, realizing that's not my field anymore. And so I'm actually a people manager as much as anything else. I've got a small team of people that that work I work with, but they work for me. And so I do a lot of meetings. I am, this is I've had a meeting, straight meeting since eight this morning. So I'm glad glad we were able to fit this in. Yeah. I have a short period of time where I don't have meetings and and then I write a lot of documentation about what I'm hoping to accomplish with our platform. The changes we're trying to make. I guess I talked to the community, because I believe that's important. So, yeah, my manager.

George Stocker 51:14
That's its own field. So I guess it's okay. Now, Josh, what do you do now?

Josh Heyer 51:20
So funny enough, I'm writing documentation. At this at this moment, I've, I guess a few other responsibilities or areas I'm investigating. But my big focus this week is writing introductory documentation for a few different programming concepts. Which has required me to step back and spend a lot of time analyzing what people who are very new to a system struggle with, where they get in the weeds. Because I can look at the existing documentation, I can look at the stuff that's out there. It all looks fine to me. It's perfectly easy for me to get up and running with it. And so I need to put that out of my head and stop writing phrases like you simply do x. And then y is easy. You just do z.

George Stocker 52:25
You don't use simply injustice in the documentary you become so much better. Right?

Josh Heyer 52:29
If If I was writing for me, I wouldn't be writing at all. I'm writing for the people who are posting on StackOverflow reposting on Twitter, reposting in the in the slack rooms or IRC who are struggling with stuff that I already know how to do that. The existing documentation is sufficient for for me, but not for them. They've gotten in the weeds. There's some concepts there's some idea terminology, something that they don't don't quite have their head around yet. And I need to identify that I need to identify where they're struggling and try to make sure that I'm taking the time to explain that ideally without writing, you know, 3000 words about it. because nobody's got that kind of time.

George Stocker 53:20
Now, I guess, final question for our audience, who, you know, may or may not have community managers on their team, but for software teams, should all software have community managers is this or is this a bit like asking a barber if I need a haircut? Oh, dude,

Josh Heyer 53:38
I, this this we could go another hour on this, but I'm gonna throw something at you. Software is government. That's not an analogy. That's not a metaphor. I'm saying software is literally a form of government. Do you agree Jon's nodding his head? Yeah, you guys are on

George Stocker 53:59
the phone. I think my I think my head is now blown Actually, my mind is blown up my head. But don't make software. For my government, I

Josh Heyer 54:08
had a camera, I would point to my wall, string and the little cutouts for software is a form of government. If you go back to good old Thomas Hobbes, who I mentioned earlier, and think about his theories on government, you'll see this becomes immediately apparent government is a structure put in place by mutual agreement, maybe not in reality, but effectively. That allows us to delegate control in exchange for some measure of safety. Or to broaden that a little bit in exchange for something that we couldn't have without delegation. What do we do for software, we delegate control in exchange for the freedom to do something else. And whether you're talking about social software like Stack Overflow, Facebook or Twitter? Are you talking about application software like Microsoft Word, or I don't know, the venerable tar utility. All that software is doing is constraining your freedom in exchange for something else. It accepts a limited set of inputs, it will produce a limited set of outputs based on those inputs. And you are accepting those restrictions in exchange for something that it gives you effectively in exchange for time. possibly an exchange for accuracy or freedom from thought, ultimately, in exchange for calories, which is life, which is freedom.

Unknown 55:45
So,

Josh Heyer 55:47
software is a form of government. And I think this if you look at it from the perspective all software is in some sense social software. Everyone using Microsoft Word alone on their computer at home is implicitly accepting this social contract that their documents will take on certain formats allowed by the application and will be stored in a format dictated by the application. They are accepting that certain people will be able to accept those documents and read them. certain other people will not everyone using tar is accepting that, you know, it's not going to write zip files. You have to use something else for that. This I think explains a lot about the classic Unix philosophy of one tool one task as well as the the other classic Unix philosophy which is I think something along the lines of libertarianism forever ah the ultimate point of this In frustrating little rant is is that you don't necessarily need a community you don't necessarily need community managers. But in some sense your software is social. And if you want to serve the, the group of people governed by it if you really want to serve them as a body, if you want to leave your government unassailable from our servers, you do so you you then you ignore the needs and wants desires of your, your constituency at your peril. And a community management team can be the bridge to what your users as a group are needing, are suffering under

George Stocker 57:58
with a hierarchy. approval rating the Congress, I assume?

Josh Heyer 58:02
Well, you know, I, I strongly suspect that certain companies have a lower approval rating Congress right now. So you could you could do worse than Congress. What's, what's the phrase, everybody hates Congress, but everybody loves their congressperson.

Jon Ericson 58:21
It is true. I do love my Congress person.

George Stocker 58:25
So what about you, john? is essential or separate from us.

Jon Ericson 58:30
So I, one of the things on this job, we have all these trainings, and I'm skeptical of trading, but we had one that was called change management. And unfortunately, change management. The acronym for that is CME. And so I saw people at my company who didn't have much. I'm the first basically the first CME that they've, they've had, using this acronym that I had an immediate idea for They were calling it change management. So community management. Then I took the class and I discovered that what change management is, is the people side of change. And so you're managing, like reactions when you change something on them. You're trying to figure out where the resistance is you're trying to, you know, like we were talking about before, what's in it. For me, it's a big phrase. And what I realized is there is almost a one to one relationship between change management, community management. And I was thinking about sharks example just a minute ago, and I actually know of a piece of software that that doesn't change or is pretty much locked in Ember, and that's the tech formatting system. At Donald Knuth, a bunch of words that are hard Knuth has me pronounce. He's basically said there, there aren't going to be any more updates and the updates are only like very rare. And it's a great system, I love it. But like it, you have to build on top of it, you have to build something more to make it usable, it's really hard for the average person to write in raw tech, you have to use some other extension to it. And one of the advantages for him is it's it's locked, he doesn't have to argue with people about how do you change, you know, what's the next change to it, you can just say it's not changing. And, and so the place where community is happening, and that software is at the extension level at the law tech, or other other extensions. And, and so I think I think it's absolutely true that because when you change something, you have to deal with people's response to it. If you want your software to change, you're going to have to deal with how people respond to that change. And that's whether you call it change management or community management is is 6100 Doesn't have another you are going to have to gonna have to talk to people and figure it out or you don't have to but like shark says a lot easier or it's a lot, a lot easier. things work out better in the end, I think.

George Stocker 1:01:16
All right. And on that note, john and shag or Josh, thank you for joining me today. Hey, you bet you This is absolutely. Alright folks. That's it for this week. Join me again next time for the build better software podcast. Thanks

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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