Interview with Tristan Lombard

Becoming a better community builder

This post-interview was published on the 08th of September 2021, during my collaboration with Uncommunity Club, the curated gateway for tools and resources to build internet communities + expert interviews on community building.

In this issue, the Uncommunity team introduced a new guest newsletter, Tristan Lombard and he is the one who has added all the sections of the newsletter including content to read and favorite tweets.

Tristan is a community builder that is passionate about test automation, software quality, and building inclusive communities. Previously built community programs at Testim, Sauce Labs, and in the non-profit sector prior to tech.

Mohammed Rafy

Building a community is hard, but building a technical community is harder. What are a few things to keep in mind when building a technical community?

Building communities from scratch, regardless of your desired community members, is hard work. Period. A lot of the knowledge that I learned from building community programs in the non-profit sector was transferable to product-based communities in the test automation industry. The first rule is to remove the false binary of technical versus non-technical, as no one knows every facet of every framework, programming language, and/or emerging tool. As a community builder, regardless of technical knowledge, I build trust and elevate those that have the answers to solve queries that the community needs to be addressed.

Everyone building community talks about providing value. How do you actually do that?

From building product-centric communities, the #1 way to provide value is to provide inclusive, equitable, and live spaces where customers can connect with product and dev leaders, gain early access to new and experimental features before the general public, and asynchronously continue the conversation after the event. We had a feature that we delayed to GA because of our customers’ invaluable feedback. I have worked at companies where the opinions of enterprise companies were prioritized above all else, and I told myself, “While I know that we are no longer in non-profit life, why are we not giving an equal seat at the table to these small innovative startups not burdened by years of legacy code and who are doing really awesome things.” Customers in your community gain value by being heard and they feel inspired to give back to the community.

I have also worked to build a community where everyone was invited not just customers. In addition to finding ways to influence the product roadmap, continuous learning was super important to our community. What does your PR process look like? What are some strategies for scaling test automation architecture regardless of your tech stack? Whether it’s a 30-minute AMA where you elevate a member of the community, a certification program to help people up-level their AI test automation skills, and/or a DevOps Leadership Book Club, you need to listen to your community members. The value will follow.

What can other community builders learn from technical and open-source communities?

When you try to please everyone, you please no one. If you are trying to cater to every new shiny automation solution, you lose out on your core audience. Community is all about celebrating the diversity of thought and experience, but as a builder, it’s your job to manage how you prioritize program initiatives. This applies to any community. In addition, from my experience working closely with developers and engineers, I have truly come to understand that the person behind a keyboard is not always going to present themselves the same way in a virtual coffee. Be adaptable to diverse cultures, communication styles, learning curves, and how people like to be celebrated (or not). I always say that you can automate your tests, but you can’t automate your relationships. When wanting someone to contribute to an open-source repo, for example, you have to sell the value with both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. Anyone wants to be seen, appreciated, and respected by their colleagues, peers, and community. It’s your job to make that process happen, but make it seem organic, which sometimes it is.

We have 100s of software/developer communities but less in testing, does it get challenging to scale up and stand out, while building a niche community like this?

Nope. Challenging to scale? Yes, 1000%. Stand out in a niche community? Not really. It’s about the value that you bring as a community and the relationships that you build with developers, testers, and product managers across technologies, regardless of whether they are using your product or not. Be sure that you are not afraid to lean into the human parts of your community members. For example, with this global panini, people don’t always want to just share a repo, a new blog, or talk about that test case issue. Sometimes they want to share a creative art project, a fitness goal, leadership strategies, etc. Create the channels of communication needed to make this happen, and empower those members to co-lead.

Everyone has a community these days, but what is the unique value that your community provides to members? Are they learning new concepts? Are their queries being answered in a quick manner? Do they feel included? If they leave their company and stop using tools, will they feel like they are missing their community too? You have to ask yourself these questions in the weekly virtual coffees that you have with community members.

You have been a strong diversity advocate, what kind of impact can a focus on diversity make on community building?

Having been homeless as a teenager, I wouldn’t be where I was without the leaders in my community who helped raise me. This is also why I spent most of my career as a social worker, and to be honest, the majority of the skills that I use to build community today come from that experience. In a Sept. 2020 Glassdoor survey, 70%+ of survey respondents said that diversity, equity, and inclusion was the top 3 factor in them deciding their next role. This is no different for communities because, spoiler alert, people again here. If we want to build inclusive communities, we have to elevate the leaders from diverse backgrounds and lived experiences that are leveraging our test automation solutions to deliver results to their companies. I have reminded executives in past jobs that silence is a statement and you don't shy from sending love while addressing current socio-political events. Whether it is recent conflicts in the Middle East, Black Lives Matter or the ways COVID is ravaging parts of the world, it’s your job to lead what kind, of inclusive messaging looks like. We’re not selling social justice software, but we have an obligation to address issues, elevate the voices of others, and provide inclusive, diverse thought leadership as community builders.

TL;DR = diversity, equity, and belonging are the foundations of any inclusive community.

How much technical background is important for a community builder to cater to technical communities?

As a recovering social worker that fell into test automation and community management, I wish that we would stop with technical versus non-technical dichotomies - see previous response. You need to know the community members' needs and if you don’t have an answer, and can’t get needs met from internal teammates and/or community members, then you should consider your community-building strategies. In an April 2021 article, Forbes looked at the top 8 skills that jobs are looking for in this COVID-job era.

Guess what? Curiosity, empathy, communication skills? These were a top priority for hiring managers. On the same note, it’s your job to educate yourself, take the certifications that you can (shoutout to the Ministry of Testing, Test Automation University, University of Provar, and countless other educational platforms available), attend meetups, and read up on DevOps recommended practices.

I am a lifelong learner and what I love about working in highly technical communities is that my ego was dead years ago, I am always inspired by my dev and engineers’ willingness to share knowledge with others, and how we all grow together. Never let a “you’re not technical enough” putdown keep you from growing your career. My DMs are open.

Remember that strong interpersonal skills are equally important to building on program management competencies.

What are some of the advice you got that you follow to be a better community builder?

As I mentioned previously, remember that when you try to please everyone, you please no one. This goes for internal company community needs and building. People underestimate the hard work needed to build internal consensus, articulate the business and personal value of your community programs to key stakeholders, and integrate honest feedback back into your community’s success. I learned this early on from my friend, Alissa Lydon, who co-started Secret Sauce, a customer community at Sauce Labs that I had the pleasure to rebrand, launch, and scale.

Follow Tristan on Twitter.

Weekly Reading List

  • Demystifying Developer Advocacy. A seasoned Developer Advocate's answers to the most common devrel faqs, such as what does a developer advocate do? Why would a company hire a developer advocate? Is developer relations a form of marketing? Do developer advocates only create content about their employer’s products? Is engineering experience required to become a developer advocate? Do developer advocates still get to code? Check out answers on GitHub.

  • Rosieland conversations with community leaders. Listen to Rosie Sheery talking about community with leaders and how she’s revealing how to build communities from scratch, using Twitter to build and refresh your community. Listen here.

  • Community Operations: A Beginner's Guide. Community Operations are not new. If a community has been around for a while, or if it has grown and scaled in any way, it would have been impossible without Community Operations. In this article, Tiffany Oda, Director, Community Operations at Venafi explains what is Community Operations. Read Guide.

The Community Operations person is looking across the following areas but considering both internal and external components at all times:

  • Process: Improvement areas, bottlenecks, efficiency, automation

  • Programs: Scalability and maintenance, policies and guidelines, documentation, logistics

  • Tech Stack: Overall tech stack management, tools and resources, integrations

  • Reports & Dashboards: Integrated reporting, data integrity, trends and behaviors, outliers

  • General Everyday: Community roadmap, community budget, feedback cycles

  • Other: Miscellaneous projects, surprise and delight initiatives, innovation.

Weekly Tweets

Belonging. Belonging. Belonging. Not Growth & Engagement.

Running a community is community operations.

A community that links these components will rise.

Coming in hot. Value people. Make friends.

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