June 19, 2012

Where Will I Go (Part Three)

So "tomorrow" on Fridays? Means Monday. And yesterday was just way too busy to update. Mondays are the most rough, in my experience. I always feel like they're my least-productive day, too.

Anyway, upon reflection, there were three really difficult things coming onto the Community Team that I had a lot of trouble overcoming:

  1. The Deep End - I got recruited into the Community Team from the CHAOS group, meaning that when I signed on the dotted line, I was not at all familiar with Stack Exchange, the ways and means, or even the tools. This, especially early on, was cause for a great deal of grief, and it yielded a measure of immobility that an otherwise agile marketing team needed to work around. Beyond that, however, is the simple fact that I honestly didn't know how to use many of the tools that were suddenly at my disposal when I became a community manager. I had no familiarity with the moderator panel, no idea what, as my CEO would say, all the knobs in the cockpit could/would do.

    Beyond that, I often felt totally lost in what I was doing, even though I'd been working at the company and with communities for months. How should I approach guidance? What do I tell a user experiencing a question ban? What steps are necessary when working with a new site? What do we look for in pro-tems? What makes a site a graduation candidate? And, even beyond those kinds of questions: Why is this process like this? Why are some of these rules on SO? By being a veritable outsider, and not a Stack Overflow user to boot, I lacked a huge amount of background knowledge and no clear guidance on what I should know or where I could learn it.

    Equally challenging was feeling so isolated from the team. CHAOS is all located in New York. I had gotten accustomed to seeing my colleagues as needed. This isn't feasible with the Community Team, who are scattered across the U.S. Add to that the differences in our preferred schedule times -- myself, Robert, and GN prefer the daytime workings, whereas Shog and Rchern were most active in the evenings -- and you have a host of issues. At the time, the team only spoke to each other twice a week regularly, and the calls were long and incredibly draining, and I often had no sense of what others were working on.

    All of this together basically felt like I had been thrown into the deep end of the pool after maybe two swimming lessons, and even those lessons were with me in an inner tube kicking, whereas I was thrown into the deep end without even a life jacket. It was really frustrating, especially when I was appointing pro-tems and had no idea how to help them well. I don't like to leave things half done, and not understanding all my tools (especially the ones that weren't linked to from anywhere -- don't even get me started on this) put me at a huge disadvantage.
  2. Radio Silence -- A big frustration I felt constantly was the sheer wall of silence from my colleagues. Especially early on, I had no idea if I was doing things correctly, let alone well. I felt very much like the outsider looking in, and had no clue if I was what the team needed. More than once, I wondered if I was even really needed, or if my colleagues thought this about me:

    He => She, naturally.

    I should give credit where it's due; Robert was amazing about taking calls with me regularly, giving me feedback and guidance and providing an amount of mentorship. But Robert is the team lead; he has other responsibilities and needed to attend to those. It was hard; while it was nice to know that my team lead found my valuable, I was concerned that my colleagues weren't. I once remarked to a coworker how the one thing I hate to feel most is useless, and Community Team's radio silence made me feel exactly that.
  3. Inertia -- The single most frustrating thing about Community Team is how I can get to the end of my week and feel like I've accomplished absolutely nothing, despite putting in a solid 50 hours of support and energy. This is a problem I think every community manager faces. An organization that's sufficiently large will move increasingly slowly; that's the nature of size and bureaucracy and, just, life. But it can be hard to provide discrete support to different communities of varying sizes and really be able to see that posts that seem small by comparison are, relatively speaking, huge for that community. Adding TeX support to a site might seem trivial to me, but for them it's massive. Adding protems is a slow, soft process, but the end result can be massive for a single site.

    The perspective is hard to keep, I think, because it's so easy to lose sight of the trees when you look at the forest. Every individual detail may seem unremarkable on its own, but it's pointilism, it's pixels. The image doesn't make sense zoomed in 800%.

These things are the things that I want to fix, moving forward. I want to make a "Welcome to the Team" handy guide, with links and pictures and explanations for what all the tools are. There needs to be a reference manual for the team, because we deal with so much that not having one is actively harmful for people like me. If we continue to only recruit moderators or ultra-super-top users to come on board, then my complaints/concerns are wholly invalid. But if we choose to move away from that, then suddenly one of us has to be ready to take on a mentor kind of role. It's the responsibility that comes with seniority on a team.

The lack of communication issue, I think, we've fixed by changing our workflow. We have a quick meeting each day, we handle issues both large and small in there. I feel like we all communicate more -- and better! -- now, and I don't feel lost on people's projects. I don't need to know every detail of what people are working on, but knowing how their projects are going and having a rough idea of what the end goal is? That's valuable to me. Plus it means I can better refer people when needed.

As far as feeling like I accomplished nothing, I've got a few ways of mitigating this. First, I take pretty careful notes of what I do each day/week. For another, I've taken to celebrating every small victory. Cherishing the small moments keeps me grounded. I dunno if it would work for everyone, but it helps me stay focused, keeps my eyes on the prize. It's small steps, and every inch forward is one inch closer to the finish line.

I think, as a team, we're going to move towards getting more specialized roles on the team. It's definitely something I want to see happen moving forward. I know, you're all completely unsurprised. The Economics major wants a specialized team? How utterly astonishing.

All joking aside, though, I think a group of five people trying to manage a network of 80+ sites as a group of generalists is....inefficient. Take myself, for example. I'm so bad at bug reports. I have no idea how to even begin to reproduce some of the stuff that ends up in the bug report tag. And I'm not willing to download Opera 10 in order to find out.

Or how about feature-requests. Me, I'm pretty naive; if a community thinks they need some sort of thingum in order to make their site better or more attractive, why not? I'm not saying all sites should have, like, custom magic everything. But adding in plugins and rendering support upon request is, to me, not something I see a lot of downsides to. But I'm also a nontechnical person asked to make potentially technical decisions.

But all of that is fluff. For myself, I love working with our moderator staff, and I think I handle emotional outbursts well. I can take it, and I can funnel the feelings into real reflection. I also want to be the point person for promos and intra-site events. Maybe this is me secretly wanting to be on CHAOS again, or maybe it's just something I love doing. Either way, helping put together an event, and covering the aftermath is something I enjoy doing, and I don't mind taking it upon myself.

I know I've spent a lot of wordcount sitting here and bitching about my job. The truth is, I really do love what I do, and I really do love working here. Those two things are never in dispute. Yes, my work is frustrating and emotionally harrowing and time-consuming and anger-inducing from time to time, but there are moments of real reward. Plus, I get to spend my days internetting with a bunch of really cool people. Basically, I got my dream job.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Aarthi,

    New to your blog - found the link via your stack overflow moderator profile page - and I'm really interested in learning more about what you do as a community manager. Stack is such an awesome resource, and working at a small startup myself that currently doesn't have this community manager role, I'm so curious to find out what we might be lacking in our own growing user community.

    I know this post was a few months back, and I'm sure much has changed, as it goes in most tech startups, but would you be able to share more about your experience and work with me? Sorry if this isn't the most appropriate place to reach out to you. It's just that I think responding to this post provided better context than just emailing you out of the blue.