What we learned growing a community from 500 to 5000

Sep 8, 2022

What we learned growing a community from 500 to 5000

@pawlean's avatar on GitHub Pauline Narvas @axonasif's avatar on GitHub Aminur Rahman

Community is at the heart of everything we do at Gitpod 🧡

Our small community team is made up of me, Pauline and AXON - you may have seen us floating around answering questions and hanging out in our community Discord server.

Our Gitpod community has grown from 500 to 5000 in just under a year! In this blog post, we’ll share some of our behind-the-scenes learnings of scaling the community and how we’re maintaining a positive and collaborative culture that reflects our core values.

Humble beginnings 🤲

Back in July 2021, our community was scattered across different platforms with no central place where Gitpod users and champions could exist. There was no consistent place to not only ask questions about our product but to also connect with other professional developers who also saw the future of remote, developer environments. 💭

Other challenges we faced in the early days was that we just didn’t have a dedicated community team that ensured community queries were answered in a timely manner and that community felt seen, heard and cared for. 🧡 Before this team existed, our engineers jumped in when they could but it was unsustainable and came at the expense of preventing them from getting into flow state.

As the first community hire, it was my goal to address these challenges! In my first six months, I streamlined the community process both externally and internally.

From an external standpoint, we created the first official “home” for community on Discord. Our community could still interact with us in various ways in addition to this new home. However, instead of just opening a tab for every platform, we introduced an internal tool (Front) that improved the visibility of the chatter.

Additionally, we created the internal “Community Captains” process 🧑‍✈️ that gave Gitpod engineers an opportunity to stay connected with our community in rotations. This is important because our community is the beating heart of Gitpod and we want to make sure everyone in the company continues to have a touchpoint with them. 💯

Being trusted with the community from day one was nerve-wracking, especially as this was my first time in this type of community/developer relations role. Previously, I’d built several communities as a side “hobby”, but never saw it as a career path. 💡 I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to grow into this role at Gitpod and make it my own - an opportunity that I find is quite rare psst… we’re hiring!

Furthering my professional growth in parallel to our flourishing community, we hired AXON in January 2022 which was another pivotal moment for us! Expanding the community team upped our game to another level especially as our community also grew in parallel. 🔥

Our top three learnings

Building out and scaling the Gitpod community is an ongoing learning journey, but it’s a challenge that gets me up in the morning! ☕️ These are our top three learnings from the past year of building the community.

1. Building community takes intentionality 💜

Without actively managing your community, it can be easy to let it run wild for better or for worse. 🏃🏻‍♀️ Most of the time though no moderation causes more issues! It is also much more difficult to go back and fix a bad community culture than it is building a positive one.

To join our Gitpod community, users must agree to our Code of Conduct. In addition, we have quite the moderator team that is made up of Gitpodders and Gitpod Heroes alike who are all actively shaping the community culture that reflects our core values.

2. Being part of a community should be an experience ✨

There is a danger of communities being seen as “yet another Discord server or Slack workspace”. If our platform were to disappear one day, I’m confident our community would still be active simply because a community is a group of connected people, not a platform. 💜

With that said, we have been intentional about organising our community platform with our number one goal of being valuable to everyone that takes part in it.

A few months ago, we started our “Community Experience 2.0” project which aimed to completely overhaul our Discord server. The aim was to reduce mental overload, improve overall structure that encouraged organic conversations and help our folks be successful using Gitpod as quickly as possible.

Just to highlight some of these changes:

  • We introduced Optimus, a bot that helps level up this community experience. To help reduce overwhelm, our new onboarding flow allows new users to pick and choose what channels they’d like to have access to. For example, some users are solely in our community to learn from others using the self-hosted version of Gitpod in which they have access only to the relevant channels.

Onboarding experience on Discord

  • In our busiest channel (#questions), we’ve enforced the use of Discord Threads to keep context in those threads and therefore reducing mental overload.
  • Within those threads, we have a suggestion system that fetches related GitHub issues, documentation, and previous Discord thread conversations for whenever someone asks a question in our community.

Discord bot suggestions

  • It’s important to us that the server is safe from any harm caused by bad actors. Optimus protects our community by filtering out bot accounts during the onboarding process! We have WickBot that prevents common bot spam too.

3. Recognise your superfans - they are core to the community 🎯

Even in the early days, Gitpod had a group of core members who loved the product, who wanted us to succeed and recognised the bright future in remote, developer environments.

Last October, we launched the Community Heroes program 🦸 This aimed to recognise the wonderful contributions of our superfans and gave them an opportunity to help us shape Gitpod even more by keeping them closer. Together with our Community Heroes, we want to push our mission of empowering developers to make software engineering collaborative and joyful again.

Julien Lengrand on Twitter

Our Heroes play a huge role in the success of Gitpod by shaping our community culture, supporting our growing user base and being the advocates for the future of ephemeral dev environments worldwide.

Bottom line is I truly believe that we wouldn’t be where we are without their daily Gitpod love! 🧡

You can find a list of our Heroes on Twitter here.

What’s next 🦩

We want to continue to empower our community to lead initiatives. Our plans are ambitious!

Think: events, conferences and local communities that creates a large interconnected network of Gitpod members across the world. 🌎 Additionally, we want to improve our contribution processes across the board allowing our community to continue to build Gitpod with us.

There is no stopping this community rocket ship! 🚀 We’re excited to continue growing and building the community with our community.

Want to join in? Come and hang out with us over on our Discord server.

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