Space and time to help our neighbors

I wrote the following in response to Mark Lawler’s original post.

Hey Mark,

We’ve never met. I’m not currently on the board of Legion of Tech, but was one of the founding board members.

I currently am chair of the Open Source Bridge conference and am deeply involved in the open source community both in Portland and throughout the world.

It saddens me deeply to read what you’ve written.

As a person who devotes a substantial amount of her time to volunteering in technical communities, and is also a full-time software developer, I know that the volunteers who work on tech events are the life-blood of our community. Without them, and the incredible number of hours they volunteer, we would have no portland tech “scene”, “community” or an environment that new tech companies or startups would consider being part of.

As points of reference around “decay” – Reductive Labs, a VC-funded startup that develops an open source product, moved to Portland *because* of our vibrant, diverse tech scene. Small Society, Raven Zachary’s consultancy, stayed in Portland because he loves it here – and he is a fixture in our community. Urban Airship (VC funded) is made up of Pythonistas and advocates who have been regulars and organizers of user groups like PDX Python and a new-ish Django group. @al3x, a lead developer at Twitter, is moving to Portland from the bay area next month and will be joining Rael Dornfest, who develops the user experience for Twitter. ShopIgniter just got funded and is hiring.

These are just the examples I have off the top of my head – were I to consult the Silicon Florist blog, I’m sure a dozen more would immediately pop out.

When I look at our community, I see productivity, diversity, opportunity and passion. I see acceleration.

Drumming for consolidation seems to me to be a fundamental misunderstanding of what could be done further to best serve the needs of this community. That’s what these volunteers do – they directly serve the needs of the Portland tech community.

Their goal isn’t to be on a national radar – their goal is to be productive citizens, making the place that they live better. It’s great when others notice, but we work for the gratitude of our neighbors and friends, not national recognition.

And, so, when thinking about the fragmentation, I recommend that you consider whether what you are saying and doing is providing a space and time for people to help their neighbors. Because that’s ultimately what matters to us.

4 thoughts on Space and time to help our neighbors

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  1. Because of the guarded references, it’s hard to know what really happened (and hard to “take sides”, if that’s of any value). Did someone make an actual commitment that they backed out on later that night? Was it not really a commitment because the person that made it did not have the authority to speak for the group? Both of those are bad behaviors and unfortunate. Or did Mark want to consider it a commitment when it hadn’t really reached that stage yet? While appreciating Mark’s efforts and enthusiasm, it would be wrong to twist that into what was described in his post. It also seems harsh to paint the entire volunteer community as detractors based on the actions of one person, perhaps one group.

    I fear that posts like Mark’s may be more damaging to the community spirit than whatever lack of communication led to it.

    As to the situation in general, while it might be valuable if the cats could be successfully herded, I’m not sure the existence of cats (instead of goats) indicates a cancer exists in the community. As Selena points out, you can get the cats to go the way you want when they understand what’s in it for them.

    Does that make the cats selfish? Consider that these cats are volunteering to begin with, so how really selfish are they? They signed up to help their org get to Point A, now someone would like them to go more towards Point B. It’s perfectly reasonable, if not convenient, for them to say “That’s cool, I can see how that might be useful. And I’d rather spend my free time doing something else.” The time they commit could be spent with their family or friends or in their gardens or on the ski slopes or staring at clouds.

    Doesn’t seem right to me to claim that their volunteering is destroying or detracting from anything. It may not be helping to build it, but that’s different.

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  4. Call me silly, but I guess I consider 3 out of 6 board members asking a group to expand an event to include theirs and over a month of joint planning with them as a commitment. That and one showing up to the mayor’s office with us that morning to promote the expanded event… Call me silly. It is what it is though and I’m over it. As it turns out the member that showed up with us at the mayor’s office decided to continue to work as an independent volunteer on the effort after this all hit the fan, for which I know the organizers are greatful and very thankful. Good did come of it.

    You do raise very good points though that I am chewing on. I am glad that you expressed them.