Community Outreach - Where Should I Go

A few days ago I was talking to a person new to community development and they asked me what guidelines I used to determine the worthiness of a particular event. After our conversation was over I thought about it a little bit more and figured out there are three ways to determine if any event (be it conference, blog, podcast or other social medias) is worth doing: Transferability, Multiplication, and Impact.

Transferability - Is what I have to say useful to the people that are going to hear it. For instance, consider a company that has product offering that can connect up using a number of languages like Scala, Grovey or Java. Sending a Scala expert to talk about Scala and the product is not transferable to a Java User Group, but a Java expert doing the same talk with a Java slant is. Similarly, talking about JavaFX to any Java User Group meeting in Brazil was pretty much a wasted effort until it was open sourced. Once it was open sourced it was well received.

You can also look at transferability in relation to the subject matter that you're dealing with. How transferable is a presentation that I create. Can I, or a technical writer on the staff, turn it into some technical document. Could it be converted into some type of screen cast. If we have a regular podcast can we make a reference to the document, catch the high points or turn it into a interview. Is there a way of using this in the sales group. In other words is the document purely one dimensional or can it be re-purposed in other forms.

Multiplication - On every trip I'm looking for 2 to 5 solid connections that I can make with developers. These are long term connections, because I know that once that relationship is established it will lead to another 2 - 5 from that connection and within a couple of years were talking about some 100 connections from just one developer. For instance, when I was working on JavaHelp in 2000 I hired a science teacher with a programming background. We've developed a very tight relationship over the year though we rarely see each other more than once a year. But at this JavaOne, one of his employees came up to me and said, "Richard (Rick Hard in Czech) told me to tell you that he couldn't make it to JavaOne this year but if I saw you to tell you hi".

Another example is from my Mobile & Embedded days in Brasil. On our very first FISL trip about 5 years ago there were two university students that had created a project called "Marge". Marge was a Bluetooth framework that made connecting bluetooth devices easier. I invited them to a "Sun" dinner that evening. Originally they were planning on leaving that afternoon, but they changed their plans recognizing the opportunity. Their eyes were as big a saucers when they realized the level of engineers at the meeting. They went home started a JUG in Florianoplis that we've visited more than a couple of times. One of them went to work for Brazilian government lab like Berkley Labs, MIT Lab, John Hopkins Applied Physicas Labs or Lincoln Labs in the US. That presented us with an opportunity to show Embedded Java as a possibility for some of the work they were doing there.

Impact - The final criteria is how life changing is what I'm going to say be to the individuals I'm reaching. A t-shirt is just a token, but when I reach down and tug at their developer hearts then I know I've succeeded. I'll never forget one time we flew all night to reach Joan Pasoa in Northern Brazil. We arrived at 2am went immediately to our hotel only to be woken up at 6 am to travel 2 hours by car to the presentation hall. When we arrived we were totally exhausted. Outside the facility there were 500 people lined up to hear 6 speakers for the day. That itself was uplifting.  I delivered one of my favorite talks on "I have passion". It was a talk on golf and embedded java development, "Find your passion". When we finished a couple of first year students came up to me and said how much my talk had inspired them.

FISL is another great example. I had been about 4 years in a row. FISL is a very young group of developers so capturing their attention is important. Several of the students will come back 2 or 3 years later and ask me questions about research or jobs. And then there's Louis. Louis is one my favorite Brazilians. I can only describe him as a big Brazilian teddy bear. I see him every year at FISL. He works primarily in Java EE but he's attended every single one of my talks over the last 4 years. I can't tell you why, but he always greets me and gives me a hug. For some reason I've had a real impact.

And of course when it comes to impact you don't just measure a presentation but every single interaction you have at an event. It's the hall way conversations, the booth conversations, but more importantly it's the conversations at dinner tables or in the cars when you're getting transported to an event. There's a good story that illustrates this.

Last year in the spring I was traveling to GoiĆ¢nia in Brazil. I've been there many times and leaders there no me well. One young man has picked me up at the airport on more than one occasion. We were going out to dinner one evening and he brought his girl friend along. One thing let to another and I eventually asked him, in front of her, "Why haven't you asked her to marry you?" There were all kinds of excuses and she just looked at him and smiled. When I came back in December for JavaOne he came and sought me. "I just want to tell you that I thought a lot about what you said, and I asked her to marry me. We're getting married next Spring."

Sometimes just one presentation is all it takes to make an impact. Other times it takes years. Some impacts are directly related to the company and some are more personal in nature. It doesn't matter which it is because it's having the impact that matters.

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Roger Brinkley

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