After this year’s ZendCon, there’s a question that’s been sitting in the back of my mind, bugging me to come up with a good answer – what role should companies take in the developer community ecosystem? The problem with the question is simple, though, because no two user group situations are the same.
I’ve heard things from both ends of the spectrum on this one. Some groups prefer to keep the companies away from their groups and rely on the support of those that make it up (much like a lot of the general PHP community) and there’s others that swing far to the other side and want any and every company that could potentially help them out to come walk through their door. The tricky part comes up when you get into that gray area in the middle. Some groups want help when they need it, but don’t want a company coming in and using that same influence to change the course of the group or to try to leverage it for their own purposes (“sure, we’ll help you out with that if…”).
So, what I want to hear from all of you – where do you think companies fit in our corner of the world in the PHP community? There’s several large ones out there that can and do contribute and others that don’t…which is the right blend and, more importantly, what can we do to help the situation?
I think user groups should focus in a similar vein to the PHP project itself: as a meritocracy. The group’s direction should be driven by those that attend. There’s really no one right or wrong answer: it depends on the group and how little or how much they’d like companies to be involved. I think companies can contribute a great deal if they choose to and if given the opportunity, so making them aware of a group’s existence and by proxy the value of contribution is important.
@matthew agreed, it’s just hard sometimes when there’s companies that could give the others a bad rap with the “you scratch my back…” kind of thing and shoehorn their way in. Most of the user groups that I’ve talked with are happy to have support from companies, but don’t want them to get involved in the group too much, like there’s this line in the sand that shouldn’t be crossed.
I feel companies should never have a say in how a User Group is run or managed. I believe if they assist in costs or venue they should be represented properly. On the flip side, If the User Group allows them to come peddle their product, the company should offer free software or benefits in the form of a raffle. In regard to the community, I feel, just like in politics, you need a fine balance. We need the companies, and they definitely need us.
Of course there is always excessive Company plugs and pitches, but that needs to be controlled by a community/event leader.
We sponsor many community groups and events. We like to support user groups as much as we can, but we don’t have (and don’t want to have) a say on how the user group operates. We choose the groups and projects that we support. If we don’t like how a group/project works, we just skip it, we would never try to change it. I think that is how it should work. We also understand that some groups don’t want to be associated with companies and it is fine.
Support from companies is certainly welcome, but I think the strength of the PHP community is that we’ve had to build the community ourselves. I’ve written a blog post with some related thoughts on the topic:
Companies have different goals in this relationship: some want potential employees, some want developers as customers, some want commissions from providing a service to customers or other companies. Members usually just don’t want to be bothered, but can still benefit from the relationship, if it’s handled well.
The main thing for Groups is to be consistent. Keep the rules simple to understand: Contact is always the Member’s choice. The group can relay messages and info, but if a user wants to be unreachable, that should be law.
Second, keep the companies informed. That doesn’t mean always asking for money: it means keeping an open door if they want to attend (but not interfere), let them give announcements if they need to, and help them locate assistance if they need help.
Also, don’t accept donations (especially money) without all sides knowing what it will be used for. Transparent rules, transparent processes: that’s how you stay on good terms with both sponsors and members.
Don’t forget about establishing relationships with local charities and non-profits. Keep in mind that the user group is not the community. It’s part of the community.
I run my own PHP user group in Montreal. I do not think that we should demand that companies help us. It is not their job.
However, if they are willing to contribute speakers, provide venues or sponsor events, they are most welcome. Nobody tells me how to run my UG, but companies can certainly help out and perhaps get some visibility as well as employees that way. We have had some support from many companies in the past and certainly appreciated it.
Let us ask them, but let us not demand anything.
I’m not in charge of much in the DCPHP group but I promote it to companies whenever and wherever I can. I work hard to encourage companies to get involved in different non-controlling ways. Things like letting us use their space, buying pizza for meetings, or buying a round of drinks at our Beverage Subgroups. In exchange, they get a chance to tell a little about themselves. And as a result, we publicly thank and identify the companies that help us. One of the ZendCon exhibitors – Black Mesh – has been helpful, so we make a point of mentioning them to people.
Posting jobs to the list is a little different… the only requirement is that the job is mostly PHP-based. We don’t care whether the company has been involved or not, it helps the group.