Notes from our drop-in meeting about the Product and Community Lead role

Yesterday we had a quick “drop-in” session to take questions about 2i2c’s job posting for a Product and Community Lead. We spent the hour discussing a number of questions that others had about the position. Below is a short overview of the questions and some responses, for those who were not able to attend. These responses are a bit rough, since they are mostly off-the-cuff based on the questions asked.

Update 2022-03-24: We’ve added extra questions and answers below from our latest drop-in meeting.

What does success look like in the short and long term?

This is an important question, with a few different kinds of answers.

As noted, this is the first hire of its kind inside of 2i2c, and it should bring a strategic and organization-building eye to the work that it does. To some extent, this role will be tasked with coming up with their own answers to these questions. This person should build a near- and long-term strategy for how Product and Community Engagement should evolve to be most-effective in accomplishing our mission. This will also mean defining goals and a strategy to meet these goals over time.

With that in mind, here are a few ideas we have in mind for goals that will drive this role:

6 month goals for this role might be:

  1. Become familiar with 2i2c’s organization, culture, mission, and team.
  2. Define an early strategy for how you’d like to incorporate Product and Community engagement into 2i2c’s operations, and set some Objectives or Key Results that we should use to measure success. This should include a plan for the two major objectives of this role: guiding and connecting with the communities we serve, and building design and planning processes that bring this perspective into our engineering and services.
  3. A few iterations on the execution of this strategy, with some demonstration of impact as well as some documented lessons learned.

2 year goals for this role might be:

  1. An organizational strategy and structure has been created, defining the various roles that make up this division of 2i2c and their functions.
  2. Clearly defined team processes for major programs efforts that this role oversees, as well as interconnections with other major divisions of 2i2c (e.g. engineering or sales). For example, a framework for training community leaders and mechanisms or platforms for communication and engagement with our communities.
  3. A team exists that carries out these efforts, led by the Product and Community Lead.
  4. Clear demonstrated impact in the communities we serve, according to the OKRs and goals that have been set in this division.

How does 2i2c provide mentorship/onboarding?

You can find our onboarding process in our Team Compass. This roughly comes down to choosing an “Onboarding Champion” for the new team member, to help walk them through our team processes and get them access to the right information and accounts. However, 2i2c is quite young, so has only had a few iterations in onboarding new team members. We look forward to improving this process further via this new hire.

What are the largest challenges that someone might face in their first year in this position?

The largest challenge is largely related to ambiguity and fluidity of this role, due to the fact that 2i2c is small and relatively young. As noted above, this position will have a great deal of autonomy, and will be expected to show leadership in defining the nature of this work within 2i2c. This can either be exciting or scary depending on your comfort level with ambiguity! We recognize that it is an anti-pattern to have roles without clearly-defined measures of success, so we’re committed to defining this quickly in partnership with the new hire. However, we don’t want to be overly-prescriptive in this role, because we want it to have space to lead these efforts within 2i2c.

How do you hope to protect the “business” aspects of 2i2c, if all the tech is open source?

2i2c is to some extent committing to a limiting business model: by respecting the Right to Replicate, we encourage other organizations to perform the exact same kinds of services that 2i2c offers. However, we believe this is in-line with 2i2c’s mission, and would consider this to be a measure of impact rather than a sustainability problem. In short: our goal is not to become a tech giant or start-up unicorn, we want to sustain a team with competitive pay, and we want to scale as there is more opportunity to serve new communities. We believe that the complexity of integrating tools and managing cloud services means that there will always be enough of an opportunity to bring in ample funding for this model. We also hope that our mission-driven nature and focus on research and education will bring in new kinds of funding opportunities that can sustain 2i2c and its mission.

How would applying the “1000 true fans” approach work in terms of advocacy?

The 1000 true fans approach suggests that it is enough to leverage the support of “1000 true fans” to sustain a product or service. We hadn’t considered 2i2c in this light before, but believe it aligns well with our strategy. A common pattern 2i2c follows is to build connections with “champions” in the communities that we wish to serve. These individuals are passionate about open science, open source, and community-led workflows. They advocate for 2i2c’s services, and also serve as leaders for the kinds of workflows that 2i2c wishes to enable. We believe that our mission-alignment with research and education, and our focus on empowering community leaders, will position us to build support and dedicated collaborators across these sectors. We also hope that by centering Jupyter infrastructure in the services we offer, we can benefit from the recognition and demand for this ecosystem via our services.

What challenges have you run into thus far?

There are many things we could respond with here! In this meeting, we discussed two major challenges we continue to iterate on:

  1. Walking the line between “software as a service” and “custom infrastructure”. 2i2c seeks to run infrastructure on behalf of other communities, but in a scalable and sustainable way. This means that we must centralize configuration and deployment, but use a standardized stack that benefits from economies of scale. This is a complex problem, especially at the interface points with university bureacracies. For example, many universities require a university email in order to manage cloud infrastructure in their organization - doing this for each of 2i2c’s engineers is not a sustainable practice, and we must define creative ways to balance the security concerns of universities with our desire to run their infrastructure.
  2. Building a distributed organization from scratch. The other major challenge we’ve faced is simply the act of creating an organization from the ground up. We have worked together for many years in open source communities, but there’s a new degree of complexity when you’re all working on the same service and development efforts. Throw in a largely asynchronous team split across many time zones, and there are a lot of coordination and planning challenges to overcome. We have tried many things over the past year (see our latest team practices in the team compass, but there is still a lot of improvement to make.

How crucial is a deep-seated knowledge of Jupyter for this role?

While it’s not strictly required for somebody to have a knowledge of Jupyter, we think it will be an important part of this role (at least from a user’s perspective). This position is not an engineer, and won’t be expected to understand the inner-workings of Jupyter’s infrastructure. However, it will be crucial that this role understand what is possible with JupyterHub, Notebooks, Jupyter Book, etc, and develop and teach best-practices in applying these tools for research and education. They’ll need to have a deep intuition for how to use Jupyter tools, how they should be improved, and how they can be integrated together for new services (along with other tools in the open source community). More important than anything is a deep interest in this ecosystem, and a desire to learn, but having prior experience with the Jupyter stack and similar workflows will be a big benefit.

What level of technical expertise is needed for this position?

Ideally, they should have the expertise of a “power user” of the infrastructure and usecases that we work with. We don’t expect this role to have software development or cloud infrastructure engineering expertise, but they should understand what it is like to use these tools from a user’s perspective, and have an intuition about how to improve the workflows. They should be able to communicate with and collaborate with engineers effectively, so understanding development workflows will be helpful, but they do not need core expertise in software development.

Is it kind of like a scientific / technical writer?

The skills of a scientific or technical writer would certainly be relevant for this position. For example, somebody that enjoyed technical documentation or scientific communication likely has one relevant skillset for this role. However, the role will do much more than just technical writing - they will also create and execute on organizational strategy, collaborate with our team around designing and planning our work, etc.

Is scientific knowledge in a specific domain important?

We don’t expect this person to have deep knowledge in any particular scientific field, though experience with scientific and educational workflows in general will be very beneficial. 2i2c’s goal is to build expertise in the aspects of interactive computing workflows that overlap between many research / educational communities. We hope to work with leaders from these communities to leverage their domain expertise, and to empower them to lead others. Similar to having technical expertise, the important thing is having an intuition for what it’s like to use the infrastructure, what kinds of problems our target communities are trying to solve, and how to learn more about their perspectives.

Does the role involve writing grants for the sustainability of the project?

This role isn’t tasked specifically with identifying and writing grants, though it is likely that they will collaborate with others at 2i2c in crafting grant language or pursuing similar opportunities. 2i2c is a small organization and so we all tend to wear many hats, though we try to keep each person’s efforts focused on their core responsibilities. In this case, those responsibilities are community guidance and engagement, as well as service / product design in collaboration with our team.

What kinds of communications would this role oversee?

This is hard to know right now and may evolve over time, but we expect this role will primarily communicate with pre-existing communities that we serve. They will also foster communication between leaders within these communities. They may interface with communities that 2i2c seeks to serve in the future (for example, in collaboration with sales and partnerships), but their focus will be on cultivating and guiding the communities we already work with.

Term for this position

We hire all team members on one-year contracts with an annual review and the expectation to renew the contract for another year (unless we explicitly say otherwise).

Where are the communities you work with?

Here are a few characteristics of the communities we currently work with, though we aspire to broaden this group significantly (for example, we wish to expand our focus outside of North American and Europe):

  • They tend to be focused in North America and in Europe (this is likely due to our pre-existing connections)
  • They cover a broad range of use-cases, from small- and large-scale education in single institutions, to small- and large-scale research communities that are distributed across the globe.
  • A common pattern is to work with “community champions” that are interested in our technology and serve as leaders to bring these workflows to their respective communities. We seek to build more connections with people like this, and cultivate our relationship with them.

Aspirationally, we hope to grow our reach to more communities outside of these countries, in order to achieve our mission of reaching a global audience. Doing so will require more sophistication in our coordination and pricing, in order to match our services and support model with communities outside of North America and Europe.

2i2c is young and without much structure. How do you plan to add more structure over time? What support will this role have?

This is the first role of its kind, and so you’ll need to be comfortable with a relatively fluid environment. We all believe strongly in building good organizational support structures, but we are a young organization that is still developing this capacity internally. Your immediate primary support system will be the other strategic leadership of 2i2c - the Executive Director, Steering Council members (on an ad-hoc basis), and other team members. Over time, we look forward to building more formal support networks between divisions of 2i2c and our team members.

Does this person need to be on an America/Europe time zone?

The team is currently distributed between US/Pacific and Eastern European time zones, and this also matches the majority of communities we currently work with, so it will be important for this person to have several hours overlap with at least one of those two (the more the better). In the short run, it is likely that a person within these time zones will have the least barriers to team and community collaboration. However, we do not have any strict rules about this.

In the longer term, we are committed to building distributed team practices that do not cause team members to pay large penalties for being in a particular time zone, and we look forward to finding creative solutions to this challenge.

How are you going to proceed now with the applications you’ve received?

We will soon begin reviewing applications on a rolling basis, and will aim for a multi-step interview process that is respectful of the time of each applicant. More details to come about this, and we’ll start sending out communications about applications soon.

Chris Holdgraf
Chris Holdgraf
Executive Director of 2i2c