OSCON 2009: One of the greatest weeks in my Microsoft Career

Yep, it’s a bold statement to make, but I like to live life in capital letters. Last week at the O’Reilly Open Source Convention was truly epic. The Community Leadership Summit + OSCON 2009 epitomized everything I’ve ever wanted to do in community as a Microsoft employee.

I didn’t realize how special last week was until we Microsofties went out to dinner on the last night. As we discussed how much interest there was in the guitar hero competition, someone commented how we (Microsoft) were invited to participate to play. It was Ubuntu’s idea to put together the competition. We provided the guitars and the venue. When I first heard my coworker’s comment, I nearly rolled my eyes thinking I was listening to classic PR/marketing talk (yes, I’m obviously a proud female developer), but then the significance of the statement hit me.

Community is about focusing on what we have in common, while putting aside what makes us different. The Community Leadership Summit and the Guitar Hero competition gave everyone common ground to come together and talk. I’ve done community for Visual Studio and for CodePlex my entire 8 years at Microsoft, but I’ve always wanted to engage with the open source community to say “Hey ya’ll. This is what I do at Microsoft. Come teach me your expertise, and I’ll share what life is like promoting OSS within Microsoft.”  For a total of 7 days, I was given this opportunity, which was truly one of the greatest weeks of my career at Microsoft.


  • When I grow up, I want to be like Jono Bacon, the Community manager for Ubuntu. I want to be cool enough to organize an event like the Community Leadership Summit. I cannot wait for his Art of Community book to come out. @JonoBacon I know you hate me for beating you in the guitar hero finale =) but please sign my copy of your book when it comes out.
  • "Don’t cut people off before they have a chance to grow.”  This comment from the CLS had the biggest impact to me personally.
  • Empower people by asking them “what do you like doing? what do you do best?” This comment from the CLS had the biggest impact to me as a program manager / community manager.
  • Larry Rosen remembered me! I attended a talk by Larry Rosen a few years ago on the Microsoft campus. I was surprised that he had remembered me from such a brief introduction years ago. But then again, there are not many 5’1 women on crutches hobbling around declaring how they are going to tame the Microsoft Legal department. (don’t ask me how that’s going.)
  • I learned a lot outside the Microsoft platform bubble. Working in Redmond day in and day out, I’m not really exposed to much going on in the outside world. I had a great time visiting the various booths to learn what’s out there. Oh yeah, and there really is an OSS version of Guitar Hero called Frets of Fire. Who’d a known?
  • The guitar hero competition. I will *never* forget when, right as Jono and I were about to play in the finale, someone screams “JONO! THE FUTURE OF OPEN SOURCE DEPENDS ON YOU” OMG, that was a top 5 moment of my career right there.

Best Opposing t-shirt photo op

"I am the empire" and GPLv2 t-shirt guy

New friends from CLS

folks from Community Leadership Summit

Little Kid rockers

little kids rocking guitar hero

Putting together guitar hero bracket

ubuntu folks putting together the bracket

First comes denial in who won the guitar hero competition

the look of shock

Then acceptance =)

the look of acceptance

See ya’ll at OSCON 2010!

Community Leadership Summit Trip Report

Community Leadership Summit banner

Jono Bacon, the community manager for the global Ubuntu community, organized the first Community Leadership Summit for community managers to come together and share ideas. I loved the fact it was run as an unconference or open space. I get so much more high quality information from open spaces than I do from traditional style conferences. The saying that the room knows more than the speaker is very true. Just attended an unconference for proof.

It’s been a long time since I’ve attended a conference where all we talked about was community. It was a totally re-energizing experience (as if i needed more energy). Pictures at bottom of blog post.

I hope folks from #cls will swing by the Microsoft booth at OSCON on Weds and Thurs to say hi as i wear my CodePlex banner as a cape. I’m jealous of the Brazilian flag guy. (you had to be there for it.)


  • “Understanding community is about understanding the human condition.”
  • "Everybody deserves to have a great community."
  • "Don’t cut people off before they have a chance to grow.” 
  • "It takes a village to build a program."
  • "It’s amazing what people will do to get a badge on a forum site. If it worked in kindergarten, it will work forever."
  • "Marketing should not be allowed to use the word ‘community.’ They should especially be banned from using the phrase ‘join our community."
  • "In today’s online world we speak glob-ish as our default language"
  • "People like people who help them."

Other Takeaways

  • We need to design a reputation system that goes beyond just what the person does online. We need a way to track offline events, like running user groups, public speaking events, etc.
  • Similar to design personas, we need personas for members who participates in our online communities so we know how best to engage and empower them.
  • You have to assign tasks to community members to make them feel inclusive. Otherwise saying "look at the list" will cause them to leave.
  • People don’t want to take surveys when they are upset with your product. It’s like pouting. You got to make the feedback channel personal.
  • Empower people by asking them “what do you like doing? what do you do best?” The example used here was in a user group meeting, an attendee who wasn’t technical turned out to be a professional meeting organizer. They were significantly more productive in that meeting because of her help.



The Microsoft (Microspotting.com) “I am the empire” t-shirt and the Free Software Foundation’s GPLv2 t-shirt.

I am the empire t-shirt with the Free Software Foundation GPLv2 t-shirt

Picture of the CodePlex agile talk suggestion


Thanks again Jono and everyone who helped put together this summit. It was awesome!

Speaking at the O’Reilly Open Source Convention this Friday

If there ever were a “Sara needs a hug” moment… I’m doing a talk on Friday called Towards a Stronger Open Source Ecosystem.  It’s a story about what I’ve seen and ideas I have for the future.  I actually put together this abstract 2 years ago, so it isn’t necessarily a talk about the future of CodePlex, as my day job would led you to believe.

Here’s the abstract.  Wish me luck!

“Code speaks louder than words” is a fundamental philosophy of the open source community, because developers use code to discuss code, not words. Imagine a code review over email that did not contain a single line of code. The conversation would be lost in translation. Code is the universal language in the developer ecosystem, allowing us developers to communicate with one another.

But yet, we don’t communicate universally today. We define ourselves by our business models, our developer tools, our technologies, hence defining who we converse with. But imagine if there were no definitions or boundaries, where all developers could effectively engage together. Imagine an open source ecosystem that included all developers, regardless of platform, language, or development environment.

This talk will cover go over a roadmap for striving towards this stronger open source ecosystem through current infrastructure enhancements, fostering community growth through discoverability, project incubations and sponsorships, and paving the ways for proprietary products to evaluate various methods of going open source.

My adventures riding a scooter at OSCON

Since almost everyone has asked me to share this story on my blog…

On Friday, after the conference was over, I drove my little scooter to the Subway near the convention center, about 2 blocks away.  On my return, a guy sitting at a Starbucks asks me what happened to my leg, pointing to my leg.  I said, "oh, possible stress fracture, torn shin, and tendonitis in my knee.  At least the MRI showed everything was in good shape with my knee.  9 weeks on crutches, so I need to take it easy."

He says, "you’re not injured.  it’s all in your head."  I’m stunned, trying not to laugh out loud. 

He continues, "I’m a psychologist.  The doctors just want you to believe you are injured.  You need to stop seeing them."  Now i’m laughing hard.  This is just so out there it is hysterical.

"Do you know how degrading you look, to have a good looking woman like you driving around in a scooter?  Do you want to ride a scooter for the rest of your life?"  Ouch.  that one hurt, but at the same time, i’m thinking "who insults an injured person in a scooter?"  So, I said, "okay, i’m leaving now…" still in disbelief and scooter’ed back to OSCON.

Annoyed by the last remark, i couldn’t focus on the trip report, so i decided to go to the Lloyd Center (a mall) 4 blocks away.  Hey, i haven’t been able to go a mall since i got injured (April 30), so I thought it would be the perfect way to unwind from the conference.  And I had a great time (seriously, i bought CDs, a few books, etc, it was fun!) scootering around the mall, degrading or not!    =)

Going to OSCON, even if I’m in a wheelchair

This would be a good time to recap how i am 3 for 3 getting injured whenever I leave Redmond to do something Microsoft-related

  • Go to Miss State as a returning-alumni visiting speaker:  torn shoulder blade from running through SeaTac airport trying to catch my flight.  Out of training for 3 months
  • Go to the Online Community Business Forum in Sonoma:  Shin splints and a (possible) stress fracture from hiking Mt Si 2x in a row the week before.  Being the 9 weeks on crutches
  • Go to TechEd:  Walking boot too big for me.  Knee goes out. Tendonitis (and something else I can’t pronounce) Back on crutches (week #5 of 9 weeks now)
  • Go to OSCON:  ????

I’m tempted to make a t-shirt for OSCON that says, "Going to figure out OSS@MSFT, whatever it takes," as a walk around on crutches  =)

If you read Raymond Chen’s blog, you’ll find out that he traded cars with me, since i blew out my left knee on my return from TechEd.  As I drove Raymond’s car, he got to drive my ’97 Geo Prizm w/o hubcaps that has nothing automatic (nothing).  To give you a better idea, when i sold it, the trade-in offer was 250 dollars.  (Thank you Raymond!!  I owe you!!). 

Driving Raymond's Car

Anyways, wish me luck at OSCON!  Stay tuned for the trip report.

Technorati tags: OSCON07

OSCON 07 Here I come… I hope!

This is the story how I might have the opportunity to speak at OSCON 07… 

If you’re familiar with Thinkweek at Microsoft, then you know that Bill Gates takes a week off every 6 months to read papers submitted by his employees.  The best papers are selected for Bill to read and leave comments.  I participated this December for the first time by writing a Thinkweek paper on winning the hearts and minds of developers (one of my division’s primary goals) based on the lessons my team and I have learned from the open source community. The idea behind the paper was to study how open source software projects work from the social interactions to the OSS software development lifecycle, and then apply the best practices (the lessons learned by my team) for all types of projects (from open to closed) on the Windows platform to see what the ultimate developer community could look like.

The driving motivation of this ultimate community comes from what one of my friends in college (hi Torey!) had once told me after I had installed RedHat for the first time.  He said, “Always go to freshmeat.net. -  never dot com, never dot org, always freshmeat.net.”  So, I spent most of December ’06 thinking “what would the ultimate freshmeat.net site look like for all levels of collaborative development for all types of development models…”

As I’ve stated time and time again on my blog, I’ve been working relentlessly to understand how the OSS community works, especially within the context of Microsoft – something I never imagined beyond my wildest dreams I would be doing, much less loving every second of it.  Thus, in preparation to writing this paper, I offered to buy members of the Port 25 and the Open Source Lab teams coffee in exchange for letting me pick their brains on how OSS works and letting them drill me on my ideas.  I refused to make any more OSS n00b mistakes in this paper, as I felt schooled enough at OSCON ’06.   So, about 5 of them sat around me at a cafeteria table asking me the hard questions about my motivations, definitions of success, and so forth, although I think they ended up buying me the coffee instead.  At one point, I said, “What?  You mean there are written rules to OSS?” to which everyone responded in unison, “Yes!  Release Early, Release Often.  All code is considered equal…”  I felt that I had been missing out on something very fundamental, like the morning pledge of allegiance in our elementary schools.  I had this image pop into my head of having our power toy team recite these rules every morning before our 10am scrum (don’t worry guys, our scrums are safe and recital free =)

Finally, after 4 hours with the OSS guys  on a Friday afternoon, I felt I had drank enough of the Microsoft kool-aid and the OSS sparkling fruit punch (that’s just my made-up term to illustrate the mixing of the two schools of thought) to write a decent Thinkweek paper on what that ultimate freshmeat.net site (always dot net, not dot com or dot org) could look like.  I joked about raising our starbucks coffees towards the space needle at 7:45am every Tuesday morning (thanks Rob for letting me steal your space needle idea!)  Oh, the look on people’s faces as I perfected my deadpan expression.  A little humor goes a long way in influencing change at Microsoft.

Although BillG didn’t submit feedback on my paper, the next best thing happened.  I got a phone call from one of the Port 25 guys suggesting that I submit a talk at OSCON.  After receiving some really good, constructive feedback from Sam Ramji, who runs the Open Source Software Lab, I worked from Tuesday at 9am until 2am Wednesday morning (only breaking to come up for air) to incorporate Sam and others’ feedback into the original paper and to write the submission proposal.  I actually used Sam’s OSCON submission as a template – not the least bit intimidating, let me tell you.  =)  I love my job.   Anyways, I was headed back home for my 10 year high school reunion and Mardi Gras in a couple of days, so I had to get it done immediately in order to give people adequate time to review it.  Someone (thanks Brian!) once told me that passionate people will do whatever it takes, no matter how difficult, to get the right job done right.  Without a doubt I fall into this category, but if I didn’t love what I do, I wouldn’t choose to be up to 2am 3 days in a row prior to my mardi gras holidays.  Work always seems to find you just prior to your vacation.

Alias, we (thanks Jamie!) sent in the submission “Towards a Stronger Open Source Ecosystem” and now the waiting game begins.  How cool would it be if my paper gets selected?!  I can only imagine what I’ll do to prepare for a rock-solid presentation, like sing karaoke (I can’t sing, btw) in front of my coworkers to practice being completely nervous in front of a mixed crowd of friends and strangers.

Wish me luck!  I’ll keep you posted.  =)

My Interview with James Howison, speaker from OSCON

MichaelF from the Port 25 team had a great idea to have me do a follow-up podcast with James Howison, the speaker from OSCON 06 that i learned a tremendous amount from about OSS Communities, and apparently, how to build cathedrals, since that’s what my mom thinks i do now.   ::winks::

Link to: Sara Interviews James Howison

Direct link to podcast

I should mention that I really hope I can return the favor and help out James in some way.  It’s just in my nature to give back.   Of course, as of right now, i have no idea what i’ll be able to do, but i usually think of something.  I’m pretty good at that. ::grins::

Lessons Learned from OSCON 06 – Port 25 Presentation

The Port 25 team filmed me giving my Developer Solutions (power toys) team a presentation on all that i learned from OSCON.  Check out the video (yeah, it is a little long, but it is also available as a podcast / mp3 format.  it’s mostly audio anyways).   And also check out the thread at the bottom with James Howison and I discussing my takeaways from his oscon tutorial session.  (my reply is a link directly under his – little hard to find the first time).

Link to video

Bye Bye OSCON 2006 – Wish i could have stayed longer

Wow, talk about a week of "everything you wanted to know about Open Source, but didn’t know where to start or where to go from there." The tutorials were absolutely fantastic. The depth of knowledge the instructors had and their teachings styles were exactly in sync with what i wanted to learn and how I’ve been going about learing open source.

I attended the following tutorials and highly recommend these instructions…
Businesses Partnering with OSS Communities by James Howison
Just enough IP law to manage an OSS project by Cliff Schmidt

I also attended Doc Searls’ talk on "how to market to people who hate marketing" I’ve never seen a presentation given in that style before, so i’m eager to try it out back on redmond campus

One of my biggest takeaways, as least as i write this in the portland airport, is how receptive everyone was to me, a Microsoft employee learning how to do OSS. I think there were a lot more companies doing traditional closed software development in the same boat, taking the same classes, asking the same questions. Some of us had more knowledge and experience, and some of us had less, but we were all there to learn, which gave all of us something in common.

It’s going to take me a few days to write and post my trip report. So much good information. I feel like i’m back in college the week before finals, and i’m trying to cram in as much as possible. I’d love to do another Port25 video on how i’m going to apply my new knowledge of the FLOSS Development Cycle (note there are multiple approaches to this, and not just one school of thought) to the Power Toys.

Now i get to switch gears completely and attend BlogHer. Thankfully, i’m speaking on Saturday, so i have a few days to adjust and begin thinking about Katrina and Blogs (and poor Lewis Black who i made depressed)…

SaraF’s OSCON 2006 Schedule

I’m attending OSCON 2006 in Portland on Monday July 24 – Thursday July 27.  I’m heading out Thursday afternoon to speak at BlogHer.

Feel free to contact me if you want to meet, do lunch, or something.  I will also hang out with the Port25 guys at some point while i’m down there.

I’m attending OSCON to learn more about the ins and outs of Open Source Software.  So, i’ve signed up to take the Tutorials on Monday and Tuesday.  I tried to take more of a OSS Management track with my choices.

Wednesday and Thursday are all tentative, but these are the session I would like to attend.


Businesses Partnering with Open Source Communities: Opportunities, Perils, and Pitfalls

Face 2 Face: Processes for OS Communities


Just Enough Intellectual Property Law to Manage an Open Source Project

Open Source Clue Training: How to Market to People Who Hate Marketing


Open Source, APIs, and the Summer of Code at Google

A Closed Source Project Becomes Open Source: How We Survived It

Business Models for Open Source Software Compaines

The Best and Worst of Open Source Business Tactics


The Surprising History of Copyright, and What It Means for Open Source