Building the Maintainer Community and Your Own Skillset

We are looking for the next Maintainer Community Lead!

Over the past nine months, I have had the pleasure of serving as The Carpentries first Maintainer Community Lead. What started as a way to negotiate a Platinum Membership for my institution quickly became a way to get plugged into a large community of lesson maintainers, support others as they learned to maintain and support our curriculum materials, and multiply my impact in the community by empowering others to take the lead on our curricula.

I would like to share my experiences and responsibilities over the last several months, to document what I have done in the role, and also to encourage someone to take over as Maintainer Community Lead, as I will be stepping back from this role in August 2020!

How did I become the Maintainer Community Lead?

In the fall (Northern Hemisphere), I was struggling to balance the overwhelming amount of workshop organising and instructing I was doing with the local need for more workshops. I had also joined the Data Analysis and Visualization with R for Social Scientists lesson as a Maintainer in June 2019 after teaching the curriculum twice, and had tentatively begun work as a Maintainer. However, I felt unsure of my maintenance responsibilities, and was struggling to fit into the community as a Maintainer. I also was putting a lot of time per week toward The Carpentries, but my institution was not openly benefiting from that work.

After some brainstorming and discussion with Erin Becker, we decided to create a new role for me within The Carpentries called the “Maintainer Community Lead” where I would reboot Maintainer Onboarding as well as support the larger Maintainer community. In exchange, my institution would receive a Platinum Membership (thus enabling more of my peers to become Instructors), and I would become a certified Instructor Trainer as well. I played a large part in designing my new role, which allowed both of our organisations to benefit, and enabled me to take the lead on structuring the work that I would be doing in the next year.

My research director signed off on a Memorandum of Understanding with The Carpentries where I would spend 2-5 hours per week on this work for one year starting 1 October, 2019, and I officially became the Maintainer Community Lead (though the blog post announcing my position only came out in January 2020!). Having this position “written in” to my job made it possible for me to spend time focusing on my Carpentries work without guilt.

What were my main responsibilities?

Though they evolved over time, by June 2020, my key responsibilities as Maintainer Community Lead were as follows:

  • Reboot, recruit for, and revise the Maintainer Onboarding curriculum. This was a lot of work and took up most of my time. I led a cohort of over 30 individuals through multiple weekly onboarding sessions in June and July 2020, then supported them as they onboarded into the community and became contributing members.
  • Prepare and lead monthly Maintainer meetings. I sent email reminders and planned skill ups and programming for our monthly meetings starting in October 2019, as well as following up and recruiting individuals to support these meetings.
  • Respond to Maintainer inquiries and be reachable as needed. I was the de facto community point person for Lesson Maintainers with questions, and did my best to field requests that I could answer.
  • Check in twice a month with Erin Becker about the status of my work, and any issues that came up during Maintainer calls or during Onboarding. This check in allowed me to bring up issues of note as well as suggest changes to workflows that were no longer productive.
  • Document Maintainer processes in The Carpentries Handbook and elsewhere. During the entire process of creating this role, I kept detailed records of what I was doing so that my successor (and others in the larger Maintainer community) could replicate my work.

As you can see, a lot of this work was about communicating (via email, blog posts, Slack), leading, designing, and facilitating meetings, and taking initiative to address things that popped up. The role as I approached it was great for someone who was able to manage a diverse number of backgrounds and put themselves in the shoes of a new Maintainer. For me, I was able to do that since I had just become a lesson Maintainer six months before I started in the role, and I still remembered a lot of the challenges! I also became a certified Trainer as I was serving in the role, and I found that to be extremely helpful in redesigning and teaching the Maintainer Onboarding curriculum.

What do I see for the role going forward?

I have absolutely loved getting to know the Maintainer community in-depth, and have learned so much over the past year. I have completed the key goal I was brought on for - restarting Maintainer Onboarding and welcoming new Maintainers to our lessons. Since I will be transitioning from my current role to a different research institution in the next month, I will therefore be stepping back from the Maintainer Community Lead role in August 2020. I know that passing along this role will open up possibilities for someone else in The Carpentries to grow.

The Maintainer Community Lead role is an ever-evolving role, but I imagine that you will be:

  • Supporting our cohort of new Maintainers, such as designing skill-ups around their needs and being responsive to issues that come up,
  • Attending and supporting Maintainer meetings,
  • Re-running the Maintainer Onboarding curriculum I designed to bring on a new cohort of Maintainers in mid-2021,
  • (Potential projects!) designing new ways to collect metrics on our Maintainer community, building a lesson dashboard, and/or supporting with Maintainer offboarding and sunsetting.

This role would be great for a self-motivated individual who has had some lesson maintenance experience and is good at managing themselves and supporting others. You will likely work closely with Erin Becker, Zhian Kamvar, and other members of The Carpentries Curriculum Development Team.

I have written a lot of documentation and saved many of the communications and processes I put in place, so you will be entering a role with a bit more structure that I had when I started out. However, feel free to change anything that you recognize is not working!

Please reach out to Erin Becker at ebecker@carpentries.org by 30 August, 2020 if becoming the new Maintainer Community Lead is of interest to you! Please also feel free to reach out to myself or Erin via Slack with any questions you have.

Dialogue & Discussion