Last week, eight of us converged on Chicago for a Gnome marketing hackfest. Thanks to Google and Novell for thier generous sponsorship. There are other blogs posts about the event, including posts from Brian Cameron, Paul Cutler, and two posts from Jason “The Chronicler” Clinton.
Unfortunately, I had to leave early on the second day, which seems to be when the dust settled and some real work got done. But we had some great discussions on day one. Others have recapped most of our discussions well, but one thing they haven’t talked about is our discussions about mentoring.
I’ve spent the last eight years trying to build and foster a community of documentation writers, most of whom are not professionals. So I’m particularly interested in how the marketing team can mentor new team members who, like me, don’t really know anything about marketing.
My one contribution was a lesson I’ve learned over the years: Give new contributors achievable and concrete tasks. If you tell them to pick something and do it, they usually won’t.
Stormy, Denise, and I continued this conversation at the bar on Tuesday night. One of my big questions was “What do people need to learn?” If you have no background on something, it might not just be the answers you’re lacking; you might not even know what questions to ask. Not only do I not know things about marketing. I don’t know what I don’t know about marketing.
Stormy and Denise rattled a dozen things off, most of which I’ve already forgotten. (There’s a reason I carry a notebook everywhere. I don’t know why I didn’t take it to the bar.)
So how do we pass knowledge like this along? Sure, we could braindump into a wiki. And somebody who’s skilled at content organization could turn it from a braindump into something useful. But it’s actually really hard to write down everything you know about a subject. The good nuggets of wisdom are things you don’t think to mention until the right situation arises. Real life experience matters.
I’m curious what others have found helpful in bringing new contributors up to speed. This isn’t marketing-specific. It happens in any community where many members aren’t professionally trained in what they’re doing. (And I realize I’m asking about those very good nuggets of wisdom about community mentoring that you don’t think to mention.)