Carol Smith manages PROGRAMS, COMMUNITIES, and partnerships. SHE IS A PROGRAM MANAGER IN MICROSOFT’S OSPO AND BOARD DIRECTOR AND SECRETARY OF THE OSI. She previously worked at GitHub AND Google. She has a degree in Journalism from California State University, Northridge, and is a cook, cyclist, and horseback rider.

Managing a Community is Hard to Do

In some ways, I have it easy. I went into managing an open source communitythat was already set up and functioning before I arrived. All I had to do once I got there was not screw it up.And in some ways, I still have to struggle along just like everyone else with a vision for their open source project and the network of support and love they want it to have.

Everyday I answer questions on mailing lists comprised of thousands of subscribers. In truth, I often answer the same questions over and over again even though the answers to those questions are clearly spelled out in our multiple pieces of documentation about the program. I get private emails all the time from our members saying things like, “Wow, Carol, I don’t know how you keep your patience with these people! I would have gotten angry at them a long time ago!”

What I want to say to those private emails (and never do) is something I’ll say here now: managing a community is hard. It’s hard and it’s a really careful balancing act. As a community manager, it’s my job to do the balancing act everyday, with every IRC message I type into our channel and with every email I send. I have to tow a line between making a welcoming space for people and and also letting them be self-directed and figure things out on their own. I have to carefully show people how to get the answers they’re looking for without actually giving them the answers. I have to negotiate with people who don’t have the community’s best interests at heart, and I have to do it all while running a program with dates and deadlines and outside contributors to manage.

I empathize with the people who are managing communities of all different sorts of contributors right now. If there’s one thing the Community Leadership Summit has taught me, it’s that people manage communities of every different kind of person you can think of. They all have different goals and objectives, and they all have to do that same balancing act that I do all the time.

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