Understanding Community: Cliques and Inclusiveness

Mon, June 2, 2014 - Jerry Sievert

There comes a time in every community where members of that community must step back and take a look at how they appear to behave to those outside of them. The operative word is appear, and that's the part I want to focus on.

Communities are hard, especially in software. We've taken some of the most introverted and technical people and tried to mesh them together into some sort of group based on common interests, or community. Over time, as our field has changed, we've had a lot more women and men with differing backgrounds join our community and offer differing viewpoints and ultimately making it stronger with its diversity.

But, in general, we haven't changed. We're still the same old community. In the communities that I interact in, most people know me. I get right up into your face, make my very strong opinions known, and happily buy you a beer or whiskey afterward with a smile on my face (and typically a smile, begrudgingly or not, on yours). But I'm not an outsider; those that I refer to are: right now.

Having just returned from a large technology conference, what struck me the most was some of the comments that I heard from both newcomers and some others that have been going to all of the same conferences as me for several years: our community is becoming cliquish. Whether by design, or out of sheer comfort of dealing with the same people that we've come to know and have been friends with for a while, it is still hard to penetrate from the outside. I like to think the former, I know that at heart we try very hard to be inclusive: but we're failing.

So, the next time that you see a new person entering your community, stop, say hello, introduce yourself, introduce them to your friends. Who knows, they may be the next person to make a major difference in your life, and you saying hello could be the difference between them fading away or making a huge difference.