Give Local in Distributed Communities03 Nov 2015
I was brought up to, when practicable, both buy, and give local. What this meant in reality, was you took the extra cash in your pocket, or maybe the banana out of your grocery bag and handed it to whomever needed it. It meant volunteering as a bingo caller at the local nursing home, and so on.
Having uprooted and moved about eight years ago, that took on the flavor of the new town. That is, buy Texan and work with small businesses whenever possible. The give local part stayed about the same.
However, after a conversation at a sushi dive in Tokyo over the recent OpenStack summit, I was reminded, that the most valuable thing we can give is our time. As noted in the post on Finding Time, you can see why time is super valuable. You have a finite amount, you can’t save it for future use, etc etc.
Now, there are ways to give local with your time and tie that to your skill-set. Volunteer for youth hack-a-thons, and for the First Lego League at your local high school, and then some. However, for a lot of us tied up in this ‘social’ bit online, in this multitude of overlapping internet communities, what does that mean?
Locality Whilst Online
Local takes on a different meaning when you are attached to a wonderfully rich, vibrant, and distributed set of individuals. There are a number of ways you can conceptualize locality in this context. One can take a Social Network Analysis approach to things, and discover which areas you are most closely connected to. However, other than an educational exercise, you can likely intuit what resources you use most often, be it ask.openstack.org, stackoverflow, the VMware forums, Twitter, or something else entirely.
These communities, and more specifically those whom you find yourself interacting with most often, are the beginning of local in this context.
For me, these end up being a number of IRC channels, Twitter, the vBrownBag G+ group, and a few smaller things.
Contributing to Your Communities
Now this is where things get interesting. Each of these communities relies on people to help them run. Some of these folks are employed by the folks who run the community, but by and large, they are volunteer run. That is, a handful of passionate (often one person), burns the midnight oil to ensure things are flowing smoothly. That abuse is kept to a minimum, questions get answered, and in general folks are engaged. At times they go as far as organizing an event or two.
To keep things going that way, reach out and figure out what you can do to help. Send an email to your VMUG leader, find out if they need help finding speakers, sponsors, a venue, and such. Reach out to a podcast you listen to, ask if you can assist. Become a forum moderator. For as many communities as there are online, there are things very well suited to volunteer effort.
A Call to Action
Generally speaking, like everything else in IT, when it’s going well, folks hardly notice. The community keeps running, folks are generally upbeat, engaged, and so forth. However, when something goes awry, say the food at said event wasn’t up to snuff, or the live stream goes blip, etc, well, the reaction of the community can be disheartening, and make one question going on. Out of this comes the call to action:
In this time of year, what with all the calls to give to a charity, donate toys, volunteer time, etc. I’d like to call on you, to volunteer time and effort to those communities you take part in. Be that help moderate the forum, speak at a VMUG, help organize something, whatever. Reach out, give back. Make a difference for that one. That one engineer. That one fledgling admin. That one struggling with something.
Make a Difference
I’ve told this story, in some variant of it, over and over, in a number of contexts. Today I’ve borrowed it from here.
A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.
She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”
The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!”
The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.
— Adapted from The Star Thrower