It may come as no surprise, but I'm pretty active in a variety of technically focused communities. Most recently, I've become a Community Manager for Chef and joined the Board of Directors for LOPSA. I've been an active member of the PowerShell community for about as long as I've been in IT. I try to keep active in my local technical community.
There are a few things in these communities I've been silent on that continue to rear their ugly heads and if I don't address it, I'm just as guilty as those who perpetrated those action.
At Chef, I'm losing a co-worker due to the inability of some people to self-edit and behave in a civilized manner. In LOPSA, we lose people due to a level of hostility (towards women, towards conservatives, towards Christians, towards Windows administrators) present in the IRC chat rooms. In the PowerShell community, we are fractured and cliquish (and lacking a good bit of diversity).
Community is what binds us together
We seek out and become part of larger community to find a place we fit in, with people who have experiences or interests that mirror ours. Some of us stay quiet and lurk around the edges of the community, engaging only when we have to. Others are right out front, sharing their thoughts, opinions, and in the case of technical communities, code, scripts, projects, etc. Many are in the middle, we share occasionally and are quiet participants much of the time.
There will be disagreements
Because we've joined (explicitly or implicitly) a community around a particular subject, we are likely to have strong opinions about topics in that space. That is OK.
We can debate these opinions and we can criticize opinions. That is OK as well.
We can dislike people's personalities. That is natural and almost guaranteed in any community.
But when the disagreements turn personal or we act on dislike of a person, that's where the line is crossed.
So what? People argue all the time
When attacks turn personal, it can encourage them to leave the community, or at least silence them. When the attacks turn physical or to threats of physical violence, we cross into the realm of criminal behavior.
The diversity in opinions, approaches, and experiences is what gives a community its strength and potential. Efforts to minimize that threaten the existence and purpose of the community. It turns the community toxic.
How can we encourage good behavior
First, we can demand our communities have a code of conduct. At Chef, we have some community guidelines. LOPSA has an etiquette policy. PowerShell.org does not have one at this point in time, though after I post this, I'll be reaching out to them to formulate one. Having a code of conduct is a start. There also needs to be known consequences for violating those policies and a formal way to report violations (that is safe for reporters).
Second, know how to report violations of that code of conduct. Even if you aren't directly impacted, you are impacted by the dilution of your community. *Every act that seeks to silence or minimize members of your community is a direct attack on YOU. * You join a community to enhance and improve your quality of life. Efforts to undermine that community are directly impactful to you. People external to your community see these things happen and become less likely to participate in your community.
Third, model the good behavior. Don't engage in "joking" that belittles a person, gender, race, or operating system preference. Call out those that are, or if you don't feel comfortable doing that, use the reporting mechanism you identified as above. Or if you really don't feel comfortable, let me know, either via the contact form on my blog, a DM on twitter (@stevenmurawski), ping me on Skype (steven.murawski) or Google Hangouts (steven.murawski at gmail.com). I am happy to be your advocate. I want people to be welcome in my communities and I want those communities to be able to grow.
Fourth, demand that your organization follow up on these incidents and release as much detail as they publicly can. Transparency (as much as legally possible) is a boon to the community.
What are my communities doing?
I'm advocating for something similar at LOPSA and we are investigating ways to make our etiquette policy more visible and define what the punitive actions are.
As I mentioned above, I'll be reaching out to PowerShell.org to get this on their radar as well.
What are you going to do in your communities?Want more great reading? Check out my reading list!