IBM and the Irony of Community Engagement

At the JAX London conference yesterday Steve Poole of IBM gave an inspiring speech, discussing the value of the right mix of business and open source participation in the development of Java. The same day, IBM decides to no longer support the yearly London Java Community conference. This does beg the question, does IBM understand the message they are communicating?

If you give a rallying call to the developers out there to help Oracle and IBM shape Java, then you also need to support that call and not just rely on the resource of that community.

Having asked IBM if the London Java Community could again use their great venue for their yearly conference, it seems the initial reply was yes, yes, yes, followed by a final response that they didn’t have the budget for us to us there venue. Maybe some one at IBM misunderstood the request.

I am sure that IBM contribute to the developer community in many ways, although as an organisation I have the perception it still struggles to understand the value of community, as Oracle once used to do. To me it seems to let down the amazing individuals at IBM who have contributed greatly to the community as well as a huge opportunity to get developers involved in IBM technology and products. It seems IBM are not helping themselves be the drivers of community engagement, which is a missed opportunity by them.

Over the last 5 years, the London Java Community have been driving Java developer engagement with activities such as Adopt a JSR, a yearly community conference and regular community events. We have been very grateful to IBM for providing us use of their space for our yearly conference in the past, but it seems IBM dont have the budget this year for one Saturday. This is a bit disappointing as after a long process we only find out now, about 5 weeks before the conference. Whilst there is no expectation for IBM to provide a venue, it is a great way that they can easily support the Java community in the UK. It seems doubly disappointing considering the great sessions by Steve Poole and Holly Cummins at JAX London that inspired over 500 developers across a dozen countries to get involved with Java’s future and some cool IBM technology.

This situation does highlight how difficult it is for large companies to engage with the community. If all you do is ask people to help, you probably wont get much reply without the perception of reciprocity!

With the support of IBM, Oracle, Atlassian, O’Reilly and others the London Java Community has been able to get so many more developers engaged with the development of the Java language. As we have grown to ~3000 members, we can do event more when working with partners that understand the value of community engagement, to help us help developers get involved in the future shape of Java.

Sponsors have real value to gain by investing in community activity and developer groups like the Java, Scala, Craftmanship and Clojure communities allow a means to invest in communities in a way that is valued by the developers in those community.

If you want the community to engage with you, you have to stay relevant and give developers inspiration, motivation and the means to get involved. IBM have given the community a perception of a really big push and fail in the same day. That is itself is quite a trick.

The London Java Community conference is going ahead as planned and registration will open as soon as we confirm a new venue, so please save the date of Saturday 24th November.

Thank you

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