Generals, Colonels & Community

WOW! That’s about all I can say about the experience I just went through at the DISA Partner Conference last week in Anaheim, CA. The Orange County city is known primarily for its local attractions (e.g. – Disneyland), but the biggest excitement I saw last week was the official unveiling of the Forge.mil system. Last week’s conference was the culmination of a LOT of work by a geographically dispersed ‘community’ (more on that a little later), and it really did come off without a hitch.

I’d like to start off with my personal highlight of the conference – briefing Lt. General Pollett (DISA Director) in our booth at the show. As you can see from the picture below, he was extremely engaged while receiving this briefing, and he asked some great follow-up questions to cement his understanding of our mission and vision for the site:

In addition to General Pollett, we briefed several other senior leaders, including Colonel Bethea (DISA Chief of Staff), as well as many others who came by the Forge.mil booth to hear what all of the buzz was about. A lot of that was generated by mention of the system in keynote addresses, and the very focused and targeted public relations and outreach that the CollabNet and DISA teams did prior to the show – of course, the commemorative Forge.mil lanyard giveaway probably didn’t hurt either. 🙂 Suffice it to say, the booth was steadily busy during the whole show – so busy at times that we had to have people come back later, as all of the team personnel were often times completely tied up with walking folks through a demo of the site, or talking about key strategic points of the system (and even getting people to sign up!). The best part of booth duty (aside from briefing the seniors) was to hear other booth personnel from around DoD comment that we seemed to have not only the biggest buzz, but also the most effectively targeted message for the show. I know that I speak for the team when I say that was extremely gratifying to hear.

I did attend a couple of the excellent keynotes (including General Pollett and Lt. General Allen from the USMC), but a large portion of my time outside of the booth was spent in preparing for, and speaking at, the Forge.mil track sessions. Those sessions happened on Wednesday, and included Rob Vietmeyer (Forge.mil Project Director) with a recap/introduction of the platform, a panel discussion with Rob, myself, Aaron Lippold (internal DISA Forge.mil Community Manager), and Gary Welch from the OPTICKS open source project. There was also an excellent session covering a demo of a USAF test harness initiative that has integrated their system within SoftwareForge.mil. It was a great example to showcase how the CollabNet TeamForge platform enables Round-Trip Engineering.

The panel session had some pre-planned questions which gave the panel members a chance to expound on information from Rob’s session, as well as cover topics such as Open Source development methodology, community building, and cultural hurdles that are present when trying to move any organization (especially a military one) into a more collaborative development effort. After the pre-planned questions were over, we opened it up to the audience, and answered several good questions on how to get started with the system, what the future holds, and how we plan to fight some of the ‘antibodies’ that tend to come up in large organizations. However, my favorite comment from the audience was a user who proclaimed ‘First off, on behalf of the US taxpayers, you guys ROCK!‘ As a community manager, there is really no higher praise you can hope for – being able to provide a system and community that engenders such enthusiasm is pretty much why you do this job.

Personally, the other reason I do this job is because every once in a while, you get to work with a really outstanding group of people. I know I’ve made this point in previous blog posts, but I was really struck this past week with what a great example/parallel the Forge.mil team is to what we are trying to enable in the DoD community. This is a group of geographically-dispersed individuals (California, DC, Charleston) with varying specialities and backgrounds, that came together to form not only a team, but a true community, where input is accepted and expected, and project direction is driven from consensus. This occurred to me while we were all sitting at an Anaheim Angels game after the last day of booth duty, taking a much needed rest from the excitement and work of the show. Sitting with my colleagues, whom I’ve only known about 4 months, seemed as natural as if I’d known them all my life. The bonds that have been formed among the team are strong, and the personal relationships represented in that community are a key ingredient in the current and future success of Forge.mil. Experiencing this reminded me again why building a community around software development efforts is very powerful – this stuff is complex and challenging, and if you can harness the talent and energy of the right cross-section of people, you can do some pretty amazing things.

Finally, I’ll leave you with some of the great press coverage that came out of last week’s event – needless to say, there was awesome work done by both the CollabNet and DISA marketing/PR teams to enable this. Here is a sampling of the articles/blog posts/Twitter streams:

All in all, this was an extremely successful show and launch, and I’m happy to have been a part of it – more updates to come as we continue launching new capabilities within Forge.mil this year. Stay tuned….

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