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Brian Rinaldi - Developer Advocacy and Fostering Community

Season 5, Episode 1 | March 22, 2022

In today's episode, Dan and Bekah talk to Brian Rinaldi about doing DevRel (Developer Relations) right and playing to your team's strengths. We also talk about the importance of connection and why we as developers need to support each other.


Brian Rinaldi

Brian Rinaldi is a Developer Experience Engineer at LaunchDarkly with over 20 years experience as a developer for the web. Brian is actively involved in the community running developer meetups via CFE.dev and Orlando Devs. He's the editor of the Jamstacked newsletter and co-author of The Jamstack Book from Manning.

Show Notes:

This week Bekah and Dan sat down with Brian Rinaldi, a Developer Experience Engineer at LaunchDarkly with over 20 years of experience as a developer for the web, about how Developer Relationships has changed over the years and why need not just remote community experiences but also in-person opportunities. We talk about the value of different types of communities and how each is necessary to support developers.

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Transcript:

Bekah:

Hello, and welcome to Season Five, Episode One of the Virtual Coffee Podcast. I'm Bekah, and this is a podcast that features members of the Virtual Coffee community. Virtual Coffee is an intimate group of developers at all stages of their coding journey. And they're here on this podcast, sharing their stories and what they've learned and we're here to share it with you here with me. Today is my cohost, Dan.

Dan:

Yo what's up. We are back season five, took a little break off a couple of months off there. Um, but now we're back. We're ready to get going again with the new season, we have a bunch of great guests lined up and. I don't know. I'm excited.

Bekah:

Yeah. And it's not just season five of the podcast, we're also rolling into year three of Virtual Coffee, so I feel like this is not only to be a fun season, but a fun year for Virtual Coffee.

Dan:

Absolutely. Uh, three years is a long time. I don't know. We've been through a lot. I feel like, I feel like I'm still excited about the whole thing, so I don't know.

Bekah:

Yeah, I think, see, I think the third year of Virtual Coffee is really exciting because we're kind of established, we know what we're doing, we know who we are and now there's space to grow and innovate and do new, cool things. And I'm really excited to be able to do that and keep talking with the members of our community as we do that. And a lot of the people that we have on the podcast this season are people who've been around a while. Um, We, we have some newer members too, but it's, it's cool to have that balance where there's a different history of Virtual Coffee that we're talking about.

Dan:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I agree. And it's cool to have all of that mix going on at Virtual Coffee as well. That's cool. So, yeah, we're gonna kick off season five of the podcast with, uh, Brian Rinaldi. Um, Brian is a developer experience engineer at LaunchDarkly, um, and he's also actively involved in the community. He runs to some developer meetups. One is called cfe.dev. And he also runs a local meetup, uh, Orlando Devs. Um, he edits newsletters. He authors, he has co coauthored a book about JAMstack. Um, and he's just, he's been around for a long time and it was a really great time talking with him.

Bekah:

I'm, I really enjoyed this conversation with Brian because I use it as like my personal mentoring session of how do you DevRel, how has it changed? How has community changed? And so, um, really, we always start with a list of questions, but I'm not sure that I really looked at my list as much as I was like, I want to know more about this thing. Please, please tell me about it. So, uh, we, we cover all of those fun topics of DevRel, what it is, how it's changed and, uh, getting his advice as an expert in the field was really awesome.

Dan:

Yeah, absolutely. Okay, we're going to take a quick sponsor break and then we'll hear from Brian Rinaldi.

Bekah:

Looking for developer centered online events? Want to share your knowledge with the developer community? Attend and host online events at codementor.io/events. That's codementor.io/events. We start every episode of the podcast like we start every Virtual Coffee. We introduce ourselves with our name, where we're from, what we do and a random check-in question. We hope you enjoy this episode. Today's random check-in question is: what is your favorite genre of movie? My name is Bekah. I am a technical community builder from a small town in Ohio. And my favorite genre of movie. It's probably action superhero movie. I feel like those are the things that can keep my attention long enough to get to the end. Um, uh, I like a lot of TV shows and that, that would be comedy, but that's not the question. So.

Dan:

Um, hi, I'm Dan. I do computers. I was trying to think of a new thing to say this this season. And, uh, I didn't come up with anything. So I generally do front-end stuff and I am in Cleveland and, uh, yeah, I'd say action-y you know, with, with like, uh, like with the little sci-fi touch, I think is my, my sweet spot. You know, so not the hard scifi stuff, but like Star Wars even, you know, is like, it's not really scifi it's, it's more action in space, you know? And like superheroes are cool. I go along the same, same lines as Bekah.

Brian:

And hi, I'm Brian Rinaldi. I'm based in Orlando, Florida. I am a developer experience engineer at LaunchDarkly. And this is a tough question for me to answer, because like I was thinking about it, I'm like, The probably the best way to answer is like, okay, what are my favorite movies? And like all time, it would be like, um, Raiders of the lost Ark, Ghostbusters, of the Rings series. And, uh, and, um, well, the Batman, one's not then more recent Batman stuff. The, the, uh,

Dan:

Burton ones?

Brian:

No, no, no, no. The Batman Begins, and, uh, and, uh, what was it? Dark Knight, Dark Knight. Christopher Nolan ones. Yes, exactly. I guess a lot of those are action, but like Ghostbusters is comedy. I mean, Lord of the Rings is kind of fantasy, so I don't know. That's where I'm like, okay. I don't really know if I have a genre

Dan:

How about adventure movies? Like you said, a

Brian:

Indiana Jones.

Dan:

Jones made me think of that. And then, you

Brian:

Yeah.

Dan:

maybe it doesn't quite fit in there, but like

Bekah:

of

Dan:

it kind of, you

Bekah:

we'll have those common themes.

Dan:

all good movies.

Bekah:

Yeah.

Brian:

So anyway, um,

Bekah:

movies.

Brian:

I think, I think, you know, nowadays I ended up watching a lot of action in movies. but that's, I feel like that's partly cause like That's. almost all there is.

Dan:

That's. Yeah, that's our only choice.

Bekah:

Well, welcome Brian. We are very, very excited to have you here with us today. I'm talking about developer advocacy, advocacy, um, fostering community, what you're doing with cfe.dev, we always want to start with origin stories here. So why don't you give us your, how you got to this point in your life.

Brian:

Hmm. Well, um, I'm old, first of all. So I got my, I got started in web development, uh, in like the mid nineties and, um, and this was during the dot com boom. And I started, I think, uh, started messing around with flash early flash and, and, uh, cold fusion and in stuff like that. And a buddy of mine helped me get a job at a startup. Cold Fusion development and kind of went from there. Um, but how I got into like developer advocacy is, is I was, I was started writing articles and running user groups and meetups while we didn't call them meet ups back then, which is called the user groups. But I ran user groups and, and I ran conferences and stuff like that. Most of them around like Adobe products. And then I got hired by Adobe to do community management and, and, uh, well, call it evangelism, I guess back then, uh, we kind of dropped that term, which I think is for the best. Um,

Dan:

I haven't heard that one for a, but

Brian:

Yeah. So that was like, 12, 13 years ago, something like that. I don't know. Um, and I've been doing devrel-ish jobs ever since I, cause you know, devrel's one of those areas where like everybody has a different take on it and everybody's role is kind of different. So I've had very different roles. Some of them are straight devrel of like, you know, you're kind of speaking at conferences, writing blog posts, and some of them were more behind the scenes, like handling content and stuff like that, but always in a very similar, Um, devrel adjacent kind of role.

Bekah:

It seems like you've been in devrel since the beginning of devrel, right. Like right as that started to pick up and I'm sure it's changed a lot. What do you think the biggest changes have been.

Brian:

Oh, God. Yeah, I mean, I guess it was very early days of devrel at the time that I got into it. It was like, it was like, Okay. there's a handful of companies. And most of them were big. Um, you know, Microsoft, Google, uh, I had like some devrel folks, but like most companies did not have several folks. Um, I think it was, seems kind of superfluous. Uh, and now I, one of the big things that's changed is you see companies they're startups and there, they don't even have a marketing department yet. They don't, haven't even done their first marketing hire. Their first marketing hire is a devrel person, right. They're like, Okay. This person can handle all the community things and can be. Nope, authentic voice is this kind of, you know, the, the term that's used. And, and so like, I've even had some of those roles where I'm sending email campaigns and stuff like that, which would normally be a marketing person's job. But, but we don't have a marketing person yet. So, um, that's definitely a big change. So like every company seems to kind of come out the gate. If they're focused on developers, they want to have a devrel person right off the bat. And so lots of jobs in it, whereas before it was very hard to break into. Um, and, and one of the great things about that is there's a lot of room for varied levels of experience. Because back when I got into it, you had to already be kind of like a known entity and have been around for a long time. And, and, and this kind of limited opportunities, I think for it was a very well, the industry as a whole was. White male centric. It's still is unfortunately, but, but even more so like that limited opportunities, I think for lots of people who, you know, it basically leaned very heavily towards um, white males because that what they were looking for was people who are already well-known in that field. And it was very hard to find women and who were known. So I think having, having it opened up to different experiences and. The types of people, not just the road warrior as I call them who would go to conferences and conference to conference, to conference and speak, which is also a hard life that only fits certain people. So, um, you know, that's changed. And so I think we've, we've now opened it up to like, it's a, it's a completely different field, um, in many ways. And, and, and for the better.

Bekah:

Yeah, that's great. And I mean, the pandemic of course has had a big impact on what it looks like too. It's just constantly shifting.

Brian:

Absolutely right. I mean, you know, especially for those people who, whose job was to go from conference to conference conference, like it didn't, it wasn't even there. It's still really, isn't, there's very few in-person conferences. So you had to kind of adjust.

Bekah:

Yeah, somebody online who's in devrel was saying it was a tweet that DevRel people in devrel need to really focus on upping their video game because they thought that was going to be the next big thing. like, how do I, I don't want to learn how to edit a video. I just figured out how to. Use a microphone and have a camera that's not connected to my laptop. So I feel like there's just always so much to learn, which makes it simultaneously fun. But also like there are all these other skills that you have to bring with.

Brian:

Yeah. And, but I think, you know, the good companies that do this, understand that not everybody has, like, you can't find very many people. I mean, there are people. Seemingly good at everything. Um, and you know, and I love those people and hate those people at the same time. But, uh, but you know, it's really hard to find somebody who's like good at writing. Good at video. Good at public speaking, you know, Um, And so I think that the companies that do this right. what you're, you know, kind of build on your strengths. Right. me personally, I'm also not, I can do videos. I don't consider myself a particularly good at video person. I, it, it drives me crazy. I love to write, uh, and I love to run events and things like that. And so like, you know, when I've had the roles I've had played to those strengths, particularly when I'm at a company that knows how I, I feel like does differ. All right. Then they play to your strengths and don't necessarily feel like, okay, you can't do video. You're failing in some way. And, um, because you can't get everything out of a single person. That's why you have, you have a team and different people have those different strengths and we play to those strengths.

Bekah:

Yeah, so, okay. So I'm going to back up kind of a little bit five years ago, maybe now. Um, you, so in the midst of all of this, you also started cfe.dev. So why don't you talk a little bit about what that is and why you started doing that?

Brian:

Yeah. So cfe.dev, uh it's yeah. It's about five years ago. I started it. And it's all virtual events. Um, it's we run two virtual meetups a month. Uh, and then I also run obviously virtual conferences and stuff like thejam.dev, which has finished yesterday, um, and moar serverless and, and other, I have flashback conference as well, which was. Well, that one wasn't person, but, Um, what's my one in person events running under cfe.dev. But anyway, uh, and yeah, so this was before pandemic forced us to go virtual. Uh, I, I was, uh, I love running events and I wanted to do some more of it and I just kind of like, honestly, it was initially supposed to be in-person events and then the in-person events are. They're a heavy lift and they're expensive and, and risky. And so I was like, oh, you know what, I'll start running some virtual events and like in build an audience and then run, uh, an in-person event, you know, Um, using, you know, kind of, I already have an audience and then I'll maybe they'll come to my in-person event. And it transitioned to be like, okay, you know, virtual events actually aren't that bad. I was not a believer. I was like, I'll do them just because. And then there, there are things that virtual events are great at. Um, they're not great at everything and you know, that interpersonal react interaction. They're not right. Although you all run one that does do that well, uh, which goes to show you can do it, but it's hard to do. It's, it's hard to get everything out of one event, like to get great speakers and interpersonal reaction, like interactions and stuff like. Um, but they are good. Like for instance, one of the things I love about running the online conferences is people get to interact with the speaker, even if it's via chat and ask their questions. But like asking questions in an in real life event is super, like, it just never works out well. Right? people start leaving at the end when the speakers taking questions and it's, you can't hear the questioner and things like that, like it's just never really worked out. Um, But you can get, you know, kind of directly with the speaker in the virtual event. Like ask, get your question to answer it and have a good conversation. Um, when it's not prerecorded, um, open it up to speakers who are anywhere in everywhere and get speakers who you might otherwise get, because it would be too, or complicated, or they can't travel. Um, You know, or, you know, and you can get attendees from anywhere, right? Like if they don't have to travel, they can the events are free. So there's a lot of great things about them. I, and, and this is coming from somebody who started this as a complete skeptic. I was like, yeah, virtual events suck. But, uh, you know, I'll run, I'll run some and, you know, cause it's, it's a way to get started. And then now I'm fully committed.

Dan:

That's that's it's really cool. I mean, it's, it's really, I've been a fan of, uh, what you've been doing at CFE for awhile. And obviously we do a lot of virtual events well. Um, I kind of actually, it was going to swing back. I had a question stick in my head. I want to ask it before I forget, but, um, so it's. When you were telling me, um, your origin story, you were talking about how you've had these communities that you created your user groups, um, way back, you know, when they were still user groups. Right. And, um, and I think that's really interesting. I mean, I, I, haven't heard of a lot of, um, You know, current devrels that have that sort of experience, you know? And so I, I guess one of the things I was wondering was like, what, you know, Bekah asked, what, what changed? Um, I was wondering like, what what has stayed the same? Like what are some through lines you've seen, um, from running communities, you know, over however long, that's been 20, 30 years not to put a number on it, but

Brian:

not quite 30 yet.

Dan:

Yeah.

Brian:

Um, so, you know, luckily people can't see me and tell me the hell. Wow. Yeah. he's old. But, uh, um, you know, well that part of it hasn't changed like, like the, the need for like local, you know, for developers to kind of meet up in person. Um, we, we don't call it. User groups so much anymore. We, we call them meetups, but like, would they still exist? And they're still, I think, an important part of, of building a developer communities, particularly. Uh, on a more like local level, like, you know, I run one here called Orlando devs. Um, and, and we're probably the biggest, we're the biggest developer group here. I think we're like 6,000 members, which surprises people when they hear Orlando, they don't think like we have a big developer community. Um, but, uh, But yet it's, it's very different because while I love the virtual events, I think we still need to kind of meet up in person. Right. And, and so like I started running when pandemic came, I ran some virtual events for Orlando devs, and I was like, it's weird. Cause I love virtual events, but like this doesn't work for, for meetup, for my meet local meetup, because these are people I just,

Dan:

Yeah.

Brian:

want to meet in person. I mean, the speaker is. I love the speakers, but like, I go there to see the people then they hit the speaker, the speaker. Whereas I go to the online event to hear the speaker and then, hopefully meet some people it's kind of like flipping it. So I think that's a through line that, that has stuck. Um, You know, I think, know, we, a lot of, a lot of it, things haven't really changed that much in the fact that like, you know, the in-person events for devrel stuff is still important. I think, you know, Um, there's developers have, I think, as a community, have a real need to kind of connect, I think, because this is a hard job and as Bekah noted takes constant learning. Um, and so like we're always connecting to try and learn from each other and, and get new techniques and learn about new tools. And because. You know, it's not the kind of job you can rest on your laurels, as I say. Um, so, so all of that's kind of the same. Um, the technology has changed and, and it's expanded, but, but it's not that different. I mean,

Dan:

Yeah. Yeah. That's that's interesting. Yeah. I, I noticed the same thing. We had, I run a react meetup in Cleveland and it's pretty new, you know, but it was in person and we did the same thing. We started trying to do virtual events. Um, yeah, never, never had the same feel. You know? The, the people that would show up were we're the diff we're different people. I think, you know, some people want to have the in-person stuff and. You know, it was, yeah. It never, um, never felt right now. That's interesting. And then you're going to, you can find good virtual events. Uh, but I feel like the ones that have the ones that have started fresh during the pandemic are almost almost a better, uh, in better shape, just because, um, they start with that in mind, you know, if that makes sense, um,

Brian:

Absolutely. I've watched, cause one of the goals of, of Orlando Devs is for actually a not not-for-profit. um, Like we, when we fund other local groups. And so, like, I kind of have my, know, kind of eye on all the local groups and a lot of the other local meetups went away completely. Like they tried to do the virtual thing when this went on much longer, that it just was hard to kind of keep that momentum going. And so

Bekah:

Okay.

Brian:

hard to run the meetup. Number one, like, I mean, it's, it's a lot of effort. Um, and yeah. To run a meetup and try and keep that momentum virtually, uh, when you really just want to meet the people in person is, difficult.

Bekah:

Um, I, I'm going to circle back a little bit to when I met you, Brian, um, as you're talking about this idea of developers, they need community, they need support. Right. And I had, I don't know when we first met Virtual Coffee had been going on for awhile. And, you know, if you know about Virtual Coffee, it was not an intentional group or community that started it just of started from tweet and went from there and we just kept doing it. Right. And so it was all of his learning as I was going along. And people were like, well, why don't you do this? I'm like, well, okay, we'll do that too. Um, but then at some point I think it Meg Gutshall going to be on this season of the podcast to Hey, there's a meetup that's awesome. It happens on Thursdays at the same time as Virtual Coffee and, and we can't ever, like, I can't do both. So why don't you figure something out? And I'm like, oh, okay. so you and I met up and I just remember it being such a good meeting for me because I'd been going through all of this community building and didn't really know exactly what I was doing. And, you know, there were good things that were happening. There were things that were frustrating or felt overwhelming. And you were the first person that I really got to talk to about that. I talking to you, like, why, why are you doing cfe.dev? Cause I was still like trying to figure out, like, why am I doing Virtual Coffee? I mean, it made sense, right? Because I love the community and I loved being able to learn and grow with. But so many people kept telling you, they're like, it is not reasonable for you to be doing Virtual Coffee. And I'm like, is it? Like, who can I talk to about this? And so I very much appreciated being able to have that support and talk openly with you about that. I don't know how I came off in that meeting, probably came off like I was falling off the deep end a little bit, but, but I, I appreciate it, like being able to have that support as a community builder with someone else that had, you know, talked about those things.

Brian:

Thanks. I, I mean, I don't recall it being, I remember it being a great conversation, so, you know, it's nice for me. Cause I honestly like, even though I've been doing this a long time, I don't have a lot of people I could talk to about it. Most of the people really, you know, I don't know a lot of people who run communities like Virtual Coffee or like CFE dev or even, even meetups. I mean, it's a small. Group of people often, even your local meetups are often like run by like the same handful of people who run multiples. Right. Because they just, um, and it's people who are passionate about communities because you certainly don't do it for the glory or the money. Um, because if you're waiting for those, those. They don't really come with with that. Um, you know, so you just really gotta, you gotta love doing it. I mean, every time I ran, for instance, every time I ran a conference, you know, I'd be like, why do I put myself through this? Why do I do this? It's so stressful. It's so, and then, uh, and then it was like the, it came in. It's like, Oh, my God, this is so awesome. I loved seeing everybody. I loved hearing the speakers and, you know, um, And so, so then, then I'll do it all over again and I'll go through that same process, even though I've been doing it, like for like 15 years, it's the same process. Why did I do this? Why did I get myself into it? Um, so it's, I think, you know, being a community organizer like that, like is, is, uh, involves feeling like you're going to quit, all the time-

Bekah:

Yeah.

Brian:

-had it, this is too much. And, know, and I think people also don't realize like kind of the demands put, you know, they, they want to share their ideas and they're passionate about your community

Bekah:

Yeah.

Brian:

then you have all these input coming as the community grows, like from all over the place. And it's like, okay, I can't, I can't please, everybody. Um, so. Yeah, it's, it's not easy. and so I, I totally, I totally get you. And I'm amazed by what you all have done with Virtual Coffee. I mean, you know, the you've got a really, really great community there. I think

Bekah:

Oh,

Brian:

it feels, uh, you clearly found.

Bekah:

yeah.

Brian:

A kind of gap in what people needed, right? Like in, especially during the pandemic, but obviously I think you're going to live well beyond the pandemic, which is just. An easy way to kind of connect with other developers. And it's a very casual kind of friendly atmosphere. And, and I, you know, and nobody's afraid to kind of share their struggles or, you know, talk about, Um, you know, the they're working on and be open with with everybody else. I mean, and that's very, very rare. I mean, Um, You know, even, even when, when I've run, like the in-person ones, right? Like, and we all kind of know each other right. In, it's just like, I'm running this thing. And I got speaker lined up and everybody comes in this room and it's like sitting there and I'm like, you all talk to each other? Please just can somebody just, you know, speak to another person here instead of sitting in the chair, waiting for the speaker to come. I mean, that's the point of this you know, Um, so, so find that you've created a space where people feel open to talk like, Nope, I've never been there where like people don't share. Um, so that's honestly, that's amazing, you know, you've done something special.

Bekah:

Thank you means a lot.

Dan:

Oh, no, I was just, I was still just laughing about the, the, you wanting to scream at people to talk to each other. I tried to solve that with a pizza and would just come and get pizza, and then sit back down their seat.

Brian:

I know.

Dan:

just, just I'm putting all the chairs away. Just talk.

Bekah:

I, I've gone to a couple of in-person conferences in the last couple of months. And you know, that idea of meeting people in person and talking about that being important. I like, I very much felt that at one of the conferences, for sure, because I met other people who were doing like small community building, like we're doing, and to be able to talk to them and hear, you know, what they're going through. And that really resonated because. We are all feeling the same thing. And I continually try and go back to the spot of like, how do we all figure out how to support each other? Because I think small communities are really important because you get to have those open conversations, like rather than jumping into a slack of 6,000 people or, you know, whatever that. Automatically overwhelming, but you know, finding, trying to figure out these ways. I haven't, uh, haven't figured it out yet. So if anyone has ideas, let me know. Uh, but it is nice to be able to have those conversations openly with people that, that you wouldn't see normally, or, you know, I met someone. One of the things that he does best is connect other people at conferences. He's not running the conference, he's just making sure people meet each other and can have those important and pertinent conversations. And that's allowed for a ton of growth and in a way that I would be hard to have somewhere else because you're just spending so much time with people over a period of 48 hours or whatever, um, that it just like, I dunno, There's a different energy and investment into it. I think

Brian:

yeah. Yeah. Couple of in-person conferences too. Um, since things have eased up and how so think when, when you go to these, they're not, they're smaller than they were before, which isn't necessarily bad. I mean, it's tougher on the conference organizers because, you

Bekah:

yeah.

Brian:

they still need to kind of, uh, you know, keep

Bekah:

know.

Brian:

the black, you know, not lose, lose their shirts. Um, but it's, it's kinda good for, for the attendees because like, you know, everybody there is like there because they are eager meet and talk to people. And so, like, I found it to be different, like conferences before, especially as there were bigger, it's like, oh, I go with a group, maybe a couple of colleagues I kind of stick with that group and I never really get to interact with other people outside of that. And it's hard to kind of break people out of those little groups that they came in. Um, but the people at events I've gone to, like more recently, like they were there because they're the kind of people like first is a minute, it opens up even a little bit. I want to go out and meet people. so it was, it was kind of, you know, it was neat to be able to kind of in a small group and be with people who like really. wanted to kind of get out and, and meet other people and we're open to new conversations. Um, but I think, you know, as we open up more, we're going to have to find ways to kind of keep that connection going as the events bigger. And, and, and that's always the tough part, right? Like every community. That starts small. And it's like, this is so awesome. I'm meeting so many great people. And then the bigger and the bigger it gets, it's like, oh wow. Now it's gotten to be a lot of noise. And it's hard to like, know, I don't know as many people and the people I used to know don't show up anymore. And, you know, it's, it's the hard part about keeping a community going for a long time, like in and growing it without losing. What it was that made it special, um, that, you know, I've seen, I've seen a lot of communities kind of struggle with that and I've even struggled with it myself. Um, you know, like particularly the Orlando Devs that got, it's gotten really big, like it's, it's hard. Um, and so, yeah. Um, I guess I don't have any, any special answers I sympathize with-- I'm always figuring it out myself.

Dan:

Ah, it's really hoping you're about to solve all of our problems.

Brian:

I think we, you know, we solve it together, right. Like, you know, we all know each other and we share our struggles and like, you know, we can help solve it together.

Bekah:

So I was talking to some other small, uh, community organizers, and I said, you know, what, if we all just get into a meeting and we talk this out and they're like, that sounds dangerous. Like,

Brian:

Yeah.

Dan:

Okay.

Bekah:

all right, maybe we need an agenda. Uh, I think, you know, the other, the other thing that I see with communities that have been around for a long time, they can be really great. But I think sometimes you have those groups of people that are always there and they continue to come to those things. And if you're a new person, You don't feel like you belong in those situations or, you know, there's there's assumptions. They, there's almost a, uh, They're not able to look at the thing that they've built the community and say, you know, how are we welcoming new people who don't feel like they're part of this club? Because so many of the people that are there are part of that club. And for me, like that's really hard, especially in person conferences. I am afraid of strangers. And so I don't talk to anyone unless they talk to me first. So I just like, sit there. And try and make eye contact with people and like, hope someone takes pity on me and they talk to me. Uh, but, but when everybody is all in their own groups and there's not an opening for you to kind of step into, there are a couple of times I like tried to jump in and eat like lunch with people at a conference recently. And they're like, got up two minutes later, like, all right, see you later. And then I was like, At my table by myself, I guess I think that there are ways around that. And like, I've talked to a couple of conference organizers now about like, how do we make it welcoming for new people in these spaces? But I think it's that you just have to constantly be evaluating, you know, w what is it like to be a new person? And it's not just conferences and communities, you know, it's jobs and, and school groups or whatever else. It can always be hard.

Brian:

Yeah. Absolutely. And there's, I don't know that there's any magic solution. I think think organizers have to, you know, as an organizer, you, you try to create spaces that in opportunities that give people room to meet other people when, if they, um, And then I think people like the person you met, you need kind of people there who, and often the conference organizer is that person as well. Like you can know all the different people in like, oh, Bekah, you should meet so-and-so. Um, come here and join us for, you know, uh, whatever coffee or a drink or whatever it is. Yeah. You know, so that you, and then, you know, cause oftentimes all it takes is that first introduction. And then that person introduces you to other people who introduced the other people. And then all of a sudden it's like, Okay. I met so many new people, but um, but you need to have people there who can kind of help. And I don't want to, I think it's it's you gotta there's people like you who, who want to meet people, but are. A little shy about doing it. And then there's people who like, you know, aren't really, so you got to kind of know that they've not, they, they, they're not as comfortable in those situations and they're not, you know, so maybe they don't actually want to meet people. So you have to kind of gauge what the person's looking for. But there are people who I think are kind of natural connectors and can, can do that and have a good sense. Um, what that, what, what you, what you're looking for.

Bekah:

Uh, so I have this idea. I don't know if it's a good idea, but I keep telling people, so hopefully it's kind of good. So have you ever been to a, I think it's called like a Brazilian barbecue where they have like those big things of meat and then you have these like chips on the table and you put up green, if you want some. Or if you don't want some me. Right. And so like, what if we take that to the conference experience? Right. Because it's always like a thing. If you're there by yourself, like, who do you eat lunch with? If you don't know anybody and sometimes people don't want to talk. Right. They just want to sit there by themselves. So when we have chips that are green or red, and if you're sitting at a table and you're open to other people and talking, then you have a green chip on your table or a red chip, like I just want to eat quiet lunch by myself, but I feel like that reduces a barrier for people to come in. Um, or my second idea along with that was like, what if there are topics on tables and then you have a person kind of like a Virtual Coffee. We always have a room leader. So you designate people for that table. And like, maybe one table says like front end developer or another table says like community and you know that those people want to talk about those things at that table. So then it's like welcoming and you get. A teaser into what the conversation already is. And then you can kind of like, oh, okay. That seems like it would be a good pet fit. And that person is safe because their job is to talk to me. So those are, those are my ideas. I keep telling people about, I don't know. I still don't know if they're good, but.

Brian:

First of all, I love a Brazilian barbecue. I actually, the first time I went to one was like, I was still in high school and this was in the nineties, but it was literally in Brazil. So. It was called El por cow, which is like the pig. Um, and you sat at these giant tables, like pig. They were like huge picnic tables. The place was massive. And just like the amount of meat coming through there. Crazy. Anyway, so that's a whole side issue, but yeah. You got me thinking about that meat. Um, but I think those are great ideas and actually I've seen similar ideas done at conferences. I think it's just not consistent. Like I I've seen ones where they have like, you know, you can put, if you have your, your badge and you have the little badge, like the flags or whatever, I don't know what they call them. You can put there someday. I I've seen, I know I've seen conferences that, that like have kind of, you can that almost like the green indicator, like, yes. I want to meet people. Um, I don't I don't know that it's always like obvious or that people really participate and that's the hard part. I like.

Bekah:

yeah. Or you're like staring at someone's chest, trying to figure out, like, do you have a green thing on your tag?

Brian:

Yeah. So, and, and even like, O'Reilly, uh, used to run this conference call, uh, fluent, which is like a web call in the conference. I mean, it's not the only conference that did this, but they, they would have at lunch, they would have. Uh, I don't remember what they called them. I was like, maybe it was birds of a feather kind of thing or something where it's like and they would usually be like speaker who had agreed to like sit and be

Bekah:

I like that.

Brian:

so that. at least there was somebody there who was talking about that topic, because that's the hard part. Like you can put a topic on the table, but if nobody's there, I'm not going to be the first one to say, so they would have like the speaker go. And usually I know I got picked for that before, like as a speaker and I go grab like a couple of people so that, you know, it's not even just me, cause even that can be awkward. Right. Like you have what looks like a small group already going. Um, and then, and then you start those discussions. So I think those are, so those are great ideas that like, you know, it's just, um, know, uh, I, I definitely think could be implemented more consistently as we get back to in-person events, um, to help.

Bekah:

it's interesting because I think every conference I've been to has had some place for speaker feedback, but I don't know that there's a conference feedback, right? Like how did we do as a conference or, you know, what could we do to create a safer space or a more welcoming space? And it's hard, you know, I mean, we both know like taking feedback is a challenge because you get so much of it and you have to try and figure out what to do with it. So, um, I don't know if there's a, maybe there's some kind of space for doing that more effectively.

Brian:

Yeah. that is tough often. You know, I think even the speaker feedback, like often times it was like, Hmm, it wasn't, it wasn't always that valuable. Usually it was only the people who, who really just wanted to complain about something who actually submitted something or was actually was very, it was either the people who like just gave to every five stars across the board. Cause either. Whatever, and or they are they wanting to complain about something and, you know, I think the valuable, most valuable stuff kind of sits in the middle there. It's like, yeah, I enjoyed that. But here's some ways to improve like constructive criticism as opposed to like, yeah. The speaker sucks... for reasons. Um, So same thing on the conferences. It's it's, you know, so I've seen some that do have more of a general, but I don't think they've asked about what you're looking for, which is like, did we help you connect with other people if that's what you're looking for.

Bekah:

Right. I, the best feedback I ever got in a talk as somebody fell asleep. And so then I knew I needed to do something to take that talk to a different level.

Brian:

I don't, I don't recall, like when I I've seen, I've gotten lots of feedback over the years, but maybe once or twice there was something actionable, but I mean, generally

Bekah:

So you just, so you just wrapped up thejam.dev, right. Um, and I, I made it to the first day, didn't make it to the second day, but it's really great. And you do a really good job of, um, you know, like emceeing or facilitating those conversations and like bringing the questions through and asking things, which, which provides like a really more of a sense of community, then I think some of those other online events that I've seen. So, you know, what is the thought process that you have going into that? And do you organize that all yourself or do you have support

Brian:

So, um, so to answer your second question, first, I partnered with the folks at FITC, who I've known for a long time. Um, and that is fantastic. Cause I mean, I run all the meetups myself, but like, this is a whole other level where like now, you know, you have sponsors and all kinds of stuff and you know, the video, the quality of the video feed has to be super and you have speakers coming in and out during the, you know, throughout the day. And. The a lot of the logistics involved that. Um, so I handle all of like the website and the, and the, and all of the speakers, like getting all the speakers and choosing the content and building a schedule and emceeing obviously. Um, and then they handle like the video and other like speaker logistics and sponsor logistics and stuff like that. So like, that is amazing because it's a lot. Um, and I don't know that. You know, I'm sure I could do it by myself. It would not be as good an event. Um, and, or as polished and I think maybe not as great for the attendees as well. And then he sets his, so I think the combination works. um, but you know, in terms of how I think about the event, I mean, I think you're right. Like, I try to think about what makes virtual. Better in ways that then, then, you know, not better. Okay. I love in-person events, but like what, what things are virtual events better at? And, and so, like, I can't stand virtual events that are like, I call them glorified YouTube playlists.

Bekah:

Yeah.

Brian:

It's like, if I could go to your YouTube, play to a YouTube playlist and get the same basic effect, because it goes from recorded session to recorded session. And like, you know, other than adding that little chat or something like that. And it's like, that's, that's not an, that's not an event to me. the event has to be like, has to be about the community that's there. Right? Like it's about the people that's there, there. So, you know, um, I think. Those live. Even when we have recorded sessions, they always have, like, we have a significant amount of time dedicated to that live Q and A. Um, so like we have like was 30 minute presentation and then 15 minutes of live Q and A. It gives everybody an opportunity to their questions and get them answered by the speaker, which is kind of the critical piece to me, because I could watch your video on YouTube, but I can't directly ask you questions. Right. Um, and get those questions answered. So. So that that part I think is, is great. Um, we try and throw in like, you know, we try and bring in speakers from all over the place, which I think is great, which would be difficult. I mean, we had speakers from, um, you know, every, almost every part of the world. Yesterday, uh, you know, we had attendees from almost everywhere. Um, so, those are things that, that, can be great at. Um, it was free, which is, been, I've been pushing to kind of make these free because there's a lot of costs involved, like I think, you know, I finally was able to win over and make this free, which to me makes, opens it up to everybody. Um, So, I mean, those are the things, um, that the me are important to make it, not just like, I want to make it fun. I try to keep them somewhat lighthearted, which is why, like, all my events have like weird names and stuff like that. Like, like the moar serverless or jammed dot dev I ha I go off with the themes. Like this was a kind of eighties rock band theme. last year was. Wasn't, it was also like eighties, nineties, hip hop themes. So, you know, it's like it has, I just try to keep the stuff lighthearted and fun and, know, um, and hopefully people enjoy it. it seemed like people did. So I'm happy about that.

Bekah:

That's awesome. Um, we're at about time here, but is there anything else that you'd like to anything that's coming up for you that you want to share or any last bits of advice for other people maybe working on communities right now?

Brian:

Um, you know, I I'd say I'd love for people to join cfe.dev, We obviously we run after the afternoon crowd, uh,

Bekah:

Thank you.

Brian:

Virtual Coffee. So you can go to Virtual Coffee and then come join a session. Um, I'd love for people to join that. We have a, um, you know, uh, one a second and fourth, Thursday at 1:00 PM eastern is when we run those. Um, and then trying to expand to do some more stuff on the. I also have a book I wrote with Raymond Camden, that's come. We finally finished. It should be it's already available. And like, you can download it, but like actual print book out print book, imagine that, um, we'll be out in the next few weeks. it's called the JAMstack book if you're interested in jam stack stuff. So obviously I am. Uh, and yeah, I mean, I'm in, of course for you. to check out LaunchDarkly cause I think it's awesome. And that's why I work there.

Bekah:

All right. Thanks so much, Brian. We are very, very happy to have had this conversation

Dan:

Thank you Brian

Brian:

thanks. Thanks so much.

Bekah:

Bye.

Dan:

Thank you for listening to this episode of the Virtual Coffee Podcast. This episode was produced by Dan Ott and Bekah Hawrot Weigel. If you have questions or comments, you can hit us up on Twitter at VirtualCoffeeIO, or email us at podcast@virtualcoffee.io. You can find the show notes, sign up for newsletter, check out any of our other resources on our website, virtualcoffee.io. If you're interested in sponsoring Virtual Coffee, you can find out more information on our website at virtualcoffee.io/sponsorship. Please subscribe to our podcast and be sure to leave us a review. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next week!


The Virtual Coffee Podcast is produced by Dan Ott and Bekah Hawrot Weigel and edited by Andy Bonjour at GoodDay Communications.