Makers and Managers: The Community Version

I recently caught up with a good friend who also works with the developer community. They spend their days at one of NY’s more mature tech startups, and we discussed how community efforts took shape in the early days, and how they’ve evolved. They spoke of the process of starting off as an individual contributor, and moving to where they are now: facilitating the work of a team of individual contributors.

It got me wondering, is this the only way? Is it is always necessary for more mature community managers to become team leaders in order to feel their work is relevant? Or is it possible for a seasoned community manager to stay hands on working with their communities, facilitating interactions directly on the ground, and to still feel like they’re adding value and making traction in their careers?

In the software development world, there are typically two tracks for an engineer: become a manager, or remain an individual contributor. In organizations that know what they’re doing, one is not regarded as being above the other. They’re both viewed at as critical but different ways to add value. Baked into this is the fact that software engineering is a highly specialized skill, so the people doing the day to day work of making software are viewed differently than those working on an assembly line. 

As community management gets to be more mature, my peers and I are increasingly moving into team leadership roles. While it definitely suits many of us, I also think we’ve felt like since the product of our work isn’t code, we haven’t had much choice. We’ve needed to follow traditional business protocols that show when we’re stepping up. I wonder whether by following some traditional assumptions, we’re potentially misusing great talent.

As good companies move beyond the startup phase, and start considering what it takes to keep community managers (and teams of them) happy it’ll be an important thing to consider.