OK, before I begin, this is going to be a terribly presented ramble. I have written it, proof read it, and proof read it again, and it still sounds like a child with a crayon wrote it. This is because my thoughts are unstructured, but I am keen to share them anyway. Patience is appreciated, friends…

Recently I have been thinking about how my work as Ubuntu Community Manager balances out between the work I perform with volunteers in the community, and employees of Canonical who contribute to the community as well as other business units. The reason for these thoughts is that recently I have been feeling that I could do a better job of spending more time with our volunteers and supporting them with their goals. We have a tremendous, inspiring, hard-working and excitable community…and I have just been feeling like I could improve in how much “face time” I have with our active contributors.

So, I have been evaluating methods in which I can do this. As I thought more about it, I came to the realization that part of the limitations on my time these days is because my responsibilities today compared to my responsibilities when I started this role are two quite different places.

Just under four years ago when I joined Canonical as the Ubuntu Community Manager, life was a lot easier. Back then it was just me, I had no team, the company was a lot smaller, and not only were there no direct reports for me to manage, but there were far fewer other departments, units, teams, and other entities that needed input from me. When I started I had three primary high-level responsibilities:

  1. Provide leadership and guidance in a core set of community projects.
  2. Help to resolve and unblock issues and problems across the community.
  3. Provide inspiration and encouragement for the community to feel passionate about the problems we are trying to solve and the opportunities that we are seeking together.

The majority of time working on these goals was working with our volunteers. I certainly did have tasks and objectives within the company, but by and large the majority of my focus was with our volunteers. One might suggest I was “foot loose and fancy free”, if you can say that about someone who plays in a thrash metal band…

Today things are quite different. I now have four employees who report to me, I am now a platform manager (this means I am one of the managers on the Ubuntu team), and the company has grown significantly in size, which means far more departments, units, teams, projects, and other entities who have subsequently requested input and assistance from me. Of course, I myself have experienced this change and growth first-hand, and so have my colleagues, but I have also realized I have not done a very good job talking about this change with our community.

Today my role has evolved to include an additional three high-level sets of requirements:

  1. Provide leadership and guidance in a core set of community projects.
  2. Help to resolve and unblock issues and problems across the community.
  3. Provide inspiration and encouragement for the community to feel passionate about the problems we are trying to solve and the opportunities that we are seeking together.
  4. Manage a team to help them be successful in their own work and bring value to the community.
  5. Provide guidance to other teams and units inside Canonical.
  6. Provide a public face and representation for Ubuntu (and increasingly, Canonical).

The challenge that I have faced is that these latter three additions require a significant amount of work. As one such example, my team is very distributed — I am based in California, Jorge is in Detroit, Daniel is in Berlin, David is in València, and Ahmed is in Cairo. With us being so distributed, I consider 1-on-1 time with the guys as very important in helping them to be successful in their roles and feel a strong sense of team spirit and morale. As such, it is important to me that I have an hour each week with them on a voice call for 1-on-1 time. When we take those four hour-long calls and also add our team call, that already sucks up half a work day just for the team. When we then factor in all the other interaction between the team and the guidance the team rightly expects from me, “managing the team” takes up a significant amount of time. Of course, it is valuable time, and time well spent and important for our team, but it is also time in which I am primarily working with my colleagues as opposed to volunteers.

Another element has been the sheer growth of Canonical. We are much bigger than we were, and I see a core responsibility of my role and my team’s role is in helping those who join us, particularly those who don’t come from an Open Source background, to get a strong sense of our community values and commitments. This not only involves helping to on-board new team members, but with six times as many employees than when I started, it also significantly raises the number of instances in which such team members are looking for help and guidance to ensure that such community relations, which are so important to the company, are well executed. Again, this is important and valuable time well spent, but again time in which I am primarily working with the company and not volunteers.

Finally, Ubuntu has become a global phenomenon. It has become increasingly a house-hold name, a common sight in coffee shops and trains, and with this success has developed (a) a lot of press interest and requests for comment, and (b) an increasing level of critique and expectations from a wider demographic of users. As one of the more public personas associated with Ubuntu and Canonical, I am therefore often expected to provide input and commentary to the press and elsewhere, particularly with anything community-related (which is a pretty wide spectrum of content both actually within and often outside my domain). Again, important and valuable work, but time handling company responsibilities as opposed to working with volunteers.

Of course, while the scope of responsibility has increased with these additional three areas, my time available has not really increased (it increased a little as I work longer days now and I travel a lot less ever since I got married), and as such the additional areas of responsibility have naturally cut into the time that was originally devoted to the first three areas I outlined which were primarily volunteer-targeted. This is why some of you who have been following my work for a long time may have picked up that I am spending a little less time collaborating with our volunteers than I used to – I am basically knee deep in these other responsibilities.

Now, this is to be expected. I now have a team, and priority is my team and their success. Part and parcel of having a team grow up around you is that you end up spending more and more time being a manager and helping your team to enjoy a structured, safe, and enjoyable work environment. In traditional management, this is common and the manager becomes a little less visible to the team as she is focused on managing the team and the expectations of the team from key stakeholders in the company (and in our case, the community).

The problem is, I don’t want to be less visible.

I believe that having a close and hands-on relationship with the Ubuntu contributor community is important, and irrespective of whether it is “important” or not, I just enjoy spending time with our community; they are my friends, my peers, my colleagues, and in many cases people who inspire me.

So, after all this rambling I wanted this blog post to achieve two primary goals. Firstly, for those of you who have not seen me as much as you did a few years back, I hope this explains a little about why that is. Secondly, if you have any ideas and suggestions about techniques and approaches that I can use to continue to fulfill my expectations to my team and peers, but squeeze in more “face-time” time with our volunteers, I would love to hear. Oh, and before some smart arse suggests it…spending more hours in front of a computer is not really an option; I don’t want solve one problem (trying to find smarter ways of working to spend more time with our volunteers) and replace it with another (my wife get the hump that I am working too much).

Thanks for reading.

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