How To Build An Ember Community With Luke Melia Part 2
Erik: How did the Ember.js NYC meetup begin?
Luke: Yeah so, it started back in 2012 as I mentioned we had started working with SproutCore in our editor and Ember on the mobile side of our app. That January I happened to be in San Francisco for the first Ember meetup. I was visiting some family, my wife's brother lives out in the bay area and I saw this pop up and I had to go check it out. I went to this relatively small affair, maybe 30 people or so. Tom Dale spoke and Yehuda was there chiming in and afterwards I went and showed him our app, a work in progress, and the phone and they we were like. Whoa this is so cool! When I got back to New York I said I had to get a community going. From that experience and also I had a lot success in the previous company that I worked for recruiting out of the local Ruby community. Which I was pretty involved with and I helped organize the first Gotham ruby conference in New York. I spoke a few times at GRC.
I felt like this thing needed to exist if I was going to have a chance to be able to hire talent out of it. Not just hire but learn from other people going through the same kind of process that we were going through and having the same kind of challenges. So I had to figure out how to start this up. There was this SproutCore NYC meetup on meetup.com. I signed up and I was excited to go to the next one. There wasn't one scheduled though. I ended up meeting and getting to know one of the organizers a guy named Jubair Nell (sp?) who was working at the time on a SproutCore app. I chatted with him and we talked a little bit about him potentially joining Yapp, but at the same time he was also talking to Netflix and going to the west coast. He ended up going to the west coast and he joined Netflix. When he did Andy Parsons (sp?) who was his co-organize in SproutCore NYC. He said hey Luke there is not much going on with this meetup but there is some members and some history and it exists. Are you interested in taking it over? I said sure, I would be happy to do that. It was March of 2012.
Erik: I didn't realize how early it was in Ember's history.
Luke: Well Ember had started but there was still at that point of time, if you can believe it, SproutCore was a much larger community then Ember was. The first thing I did when I took over the meetup I sent an email to everybody on the list and said hey, I'm taking this over, here's my background and this is going to be the SproutCore/Ember meetup. In other words we were open to talks about Ember and SproutCore. To get things kicked off I reached out to Yehuda through Leah his wife. I said hey I know Yehuda is going to be out speaking in Philadelphia for the Philly tea conference, what's the possibility of him going through New York and helping me kick off this meetup? They said that sounds great, he needs to be in DC so if you guys would cover the cost of him changing his flight I'm sure we can make that work.
I went to the Phily conference which I already had a ticket for anyways and ended up driving Yehuda from Philly to New York. It gave me a chance to pick his brain and talk to him a bunch on that ride. Which was a lot of fun. Then we kicked things off in the New York meetup with around 125 people. It was jam packed because obviously Yehuda is a draw for anything he talks about. It was mostly a Ember focused meetup which Yehuda was excited about. He did an intro to Ember talk and I did a experience report on our experience in building in SproutCore and building in Ember so far. That was the beginning and we haven't missed a month since then except a couple of Christmases. We tend to do the meetup at the end of the month and the end of December isn't a great time getting anyone together. It's been going great, we are up to like 1400 members and the meetup on any given month and anywhere from 80-140 people I would say come out. Great talks and as you mentioned in the beginning of the call we video tape everything. The YouTube channel has an incredible backlog of talks and we been live streaming since last year. Which has been a lot of fun also.
Erik: What is Hacker Hours?
Luke: We recently renamed this project nights at the suggestion of the Ember London community. The basic idea is this, when I joined the Ruby community in New York, in probably 2004, 2005 time frame the meetups was about 12 people. It was something about the dynamic for me that I learned a ton. I also established really strong relationships with all the people that were in that group. They are all doing amazing things today. They've started their own companies, they've written books, they are CTO of places. It was a really cool group of people.
Things have changed since then. Due to the power of social media and the general evolution of the tech community. In NYC if your doing a meetup on something that is remotely interesting your going to blow past 12 people in no time. We started our first meetup with 125 people. Since then we've never been below 50. Often we are well above it. While that is awesome and it's great to have that kind of excitement there is something about a dynamic of a smaller group that I miss. What if we could cultivate as additional part of the experience Ember NYC in hacker hours. It would be more intense and hands on. The way we keep the numbers down was sort of silly but has worked really well. We charge $1.00 to attend and for whatever human psychology that cuts the numbers down to mid teens to low twenties. Which is where we want to be. We've been doing that from anywhere from one to two times a month consistently for the last two years. It's been great for us as a place for new people to come and be able to ask questions where there is not a possibility to ask at the big meetups. It's been fun to dig into specific niche topics. We did some things on addon authoring with a bunch of people who had their own addons who were trying write an addon a couple of week ago.
That's been the basic idea and that's also related to the advice I would give to your local community in Reno. A lot of advice I give when I talk to inspiring meetup organizers in small communities is there is nothing wrong with small. Small is fantastic. We've gone out of our way to create small because we don't have it. Embrace that, the Seattle Ruby community is kind of famous for not doing talks. They meetup at a coffee shop. Back in the early days 4 to 8 people would show up and they produced the most amazing stuff out of that meetup. All these open source projects that we were all jealous of in New York.
Erik: In Reno we have a small but thriving tech community. We just started having lunch meetings and people really like that. I know you are big into community as you just mentioned. I saw online a slide deck where you presented at GORUCO on how to grow a tech community. Can you talk about that?
Luke: Definitely check out that talk. That was a 10 minute talk that I did for the Gotham Ruby Conference last year. I really had to boil down my thoughts into a small number of bullet points for a 10 minute talk. I think a lot of it comes to just thinking about human nature. What you just described having lunch is a great example, bonding over food and drink also. That's just part of who we are as human beings. One of the things we do every month without fail is after the meetup we go for drinks. We feed people at the meetup, we have pizza thanks to our sponsor. Every month afterwards we go out to a local bar and we try to encourage people to go. Whether you drink or not, or if you want to drink water that's fine, just come out and socialize. There is a lot of fascinating technical and non-technical talk that happens in that context.
Relationships and formed and bonds are formed. When you have a strong relationship with somebody it changes the dynamic of your open source and technical collaboration a lot. For example there is a whole large group of people I'm unafraid of to ask a stupid question to. Right? Doing Ember as long as I've been it's easy for me to be in a situation where I have a concept that I don't understand and I feel like I should understand. After all I'm an Ember consultant and I run the meetup. It sort of embarrassing to not understand this. Thankfully I have enough people around me between my colleagues and the New York community and the open source community. That I can ping them and ask them a question and not feel like there going to judge me for very long.
Erik: I've felt the same way. I need to do that more often, reach out of my comfort zone and ask for help. There has been plenty of times I've needed it.
Luke: Yeah that's huge. A few other things I've been trying to do is not to be afraid to ask for help in organizing the community. We've been really lucky in having a whole bunch of great volunteers, I mentioned Lee but also Kevin Cornman (sp?) who for a long time was responsible for making hacker hours run on schedule. Lately Jorge Devilla (sp?) and Kevin Prentiss (sp?) have been helping on that front. All sorts of people have stepped in all sorts of ways. To make this happen it's easy to feel a lot of pressure as a meetup organizer, like wow I have these 11 or 12 slots every month and it's up to me to find content. It's up to me to find the sponsors and it's up to me to find a venue. When you get help it goes a long way.
Erik: Have you done any advertising or reached out to get people to come to the meetups?
Luke: Yeah I think it pretty much spreads itself. The closest thing to advertising we've done is some talks on Ember and other people have done talks on Ember for group meetups outside of the Ember community.
Erik: That reminds me you did a talk at South by Southwest, how did that go?
Luke: From a logistics perspective it was challenging because about 40 minutes into the talk the fire alarm in the hotel started going off. We had to deal with that. The consequence of that was I basically had no voice by that evening. But it term of the content and audience it was perfect. South By has a reputation in the tech community of being more marketing focused. I didn't even know if there was going to be a development community to attend this talk. It turns out there is, there is developers there to at least fill the 200 person room that I was speaking in. It was really cool to see people eyes light up and some cases see their jaws drop. I showed them all the awesome stuff going on in the community. When you think about the fact that we have the Ember inspector and Liquid Fire and all the incredible addons that are in the ecosystem now. All of these are community contributions and it's amazing. It's so cool. That was not lost on the audience. That really resonated and the stability without stagnation message. This resonated with people a lot. The decentralized readership message, that fact the Ember core team members work on Ember apps themselves and this is not a project that's owned, so to speak, by the major corporations. That really resonated with folks.
Afterwards people came up to me. They were going to try Ember and another two people came up to me from London that had just built a really ambitious app and project. They were embarrassed to say that they did a half-ass implementation of half the things I talked about for their project, that they can't even reuse. That was really satisfying it was the first time in several months that I had done something like that. It was cool to see the feedback. I had done that in the New York python community as well. I think it's really great to spread the word and grow the community.
Erik: To wrap this up I just have a few more questions. What can we do to grow the Ember community? Do you think we should focus on reaching out to other groups like you did at South by Southwest? What do you think about all the talk we hear online and offline on the React vs Ember vs Angular debate?
Luke: I'm glad you asked that because it's something I was just talking about with someone else a couple of days ago. I'll answer the first question first. I do think it's a great way to grow the community. When you think about how bands become popular and how presidential candidates campaign they are touring and going person by person spreading the message. There are obviously augment that with social media, and other channels. But the fact that these musicians and politicians still invest an incredible amount of time is evidence of how you grow a movement. I do think that to the extent of being a part of the community and giving those talks is a great way to spread the word. The other related important thing to do is work on documentation, work on what I would call polishing the rough edges of Ember. If you encounter an error message that you know would be confusing to you or confusing to a new person. Take some extra time and go and submit a PR to improve that error message. Those are all things that create a more welcoming place for new folks.
That would be my main answer to the question but stepping back for a second it is easy for a lot of folks, depending on your personality type, and how innately competitive you are, it's easy to get wrapped up in this competition. In the beginning it was Ember and Backbone and Ember and Angular and lately it's more focused on Ember and React. From my perspective I choose Ember for a variety of reasons. The technical superiority of the framework, if I'm being honest was not high on the list. I felt it was innovative and solid and did the things it needed to do. But I would not go on record and say , wow this is the most technically correct or has the greatest performance solution out there. The reason I chose it because it was in an ecosystem with a broad philosophy and had a community that resonated with me. It was a virtual place where I wanted to be in my life. It's like being on a team, you know your team mates are not always 100% each day perfect. But there your teammates. Right? And part of the value you have from your teammates is you know how to work together. And that your going to back each other up, and that you trust each other and share values. You share community, you had meals together, you had drinks together. If you get defeated you are going to pick yourselves back up and your going to go back out to battle.
That's the way I feel about the Ember community. This is the team I'm on and we are really good. It's not like I'm on a crappy team. We are really really good. On any given day at any given game are we the best? Maybe, maybe not. But we are in it together and we are improving together and we are learning together and we are establishing bonds and relationships that are going to last a lifetime. That's my broader perspective on the question. To me honestly it doesn't matter that much. It's about what we can do to fulfill this vision of Ember. We are not an unique snow flake, we are in it together and we are solving 90% the same problem in all our various companies and projects. Let's pool our resources around those areas and make the most elegant and fun joyous, correct solution that we can around that. Give ourselves some space to bring that unique 10% to the world that we can by building. We are standing on each others shoulders and building that unique addition on top of it.
Erik: That just about sums it up! Thanks again for your time Luke!
Luke: Thanks for having the conversation it was a lot of fun.
Thanks again to Luke for doing this interview. I learned a lot, and I hope I can apply some of the things I learned and apply them to our community in Reno.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.
Image Credit To Luke Melia