What is a death star user group?

One of the challenges that those of us face in open source is that some companies don't have a focus on good. They have a focus on being there for the benefit of their shareholders, and the harm of their competitors.

I've worked with IBM and Sun, and have been able to be one of the "good guys" able to reach out and help people be a part of the community. Other times, I was speaking on behalf of that compaany.

So one of the challenges we all face is that there's a point where someone will believe that you are evil. ;)

Folks from Apache are not used to being found as evil. They can usually have a good defense for not being evil.

On the other hand, when you're dealing with a large company found of patents/copyright control, lots of people will think you are evil.

Focus of session

How do we reconcile this on a personal level, and how do we act on a community level?

On a personal level, one of two things could happen:

  • A dawning comes upon you at some point that you are part of the problem: remember the power of quitting in order to keep your soul.
  • Or, you might be able to put the evil of your employer into context. All employers are evil, or you as an anarchist are able to use that power to achieve some of the goals.

So let's explore the moments that you've realized you're a tool, and how you've helped to explain these to the community.


(add your name here!)

- Angela Byron (Drupal)


Apache/Microsoft - I'm both cynical and ____. From the cynical side, I'd say you're right on about the death star. It's naive to believe that those businesses are going to do something that hampers their business one way or another. However, years at Apache have told me there are many ways to skin a cat. Openness / transparency can be achieved even in corporate environments. My approach is talking about practical things of what we're doing: code, etc. This isn't good enough for some, but instead of engaging with them I focus on making sure we keep doing better work, be honest about it being good for business, point out where benefits align.

First thing I say is "I'm the open source community manager for SuSe for this company." And I'll do as much good in the community as I can, as long as it's good for my company. Be up front about it. If you get to the point where people understand this, they won't complain much.

Dawn (Intel) - Talk about the good things you're doing within your company in the community to show them "I go to bat for you guys..."

Ryan - Danese Cooper very good at separating individual vs. company hat. And making it clear which is which.

Simon - This actually something that's challenging. If you're running a user group on the death star, if you need to tell Darth Vader not to kill someone, that's a problem. One of the things I did at Sun was an "ombudsman" role. Poeple believed Sun was a lot more evil than it actualy was: misunderstanding, blown out of proportoin. What's needed there is a sympathetic ear, not press. I would tell people who were frustrated to send an email to and a small team would investigate the claims. Actively state that you will be the advocate inside the company. Examples: people complaining about code not being open sourced properly, talk to the people in charge of that code, make it happen. Encourage people to have an ombudsman role.

Community manager at Sun now Oracle. I became evil the second my email became My feeling has been that if I'm hired by Oracle, my job is to educate Oracle how to work with the community. Also telling the story of what happened at Sun, how I ended up where I've been. Humanize it.

Used to be java user group coordinator. Was kind of the ombudsman for user group community. Governance, licensing, etc. When you're a community manager, you only have your name, and your trust. Need to decide if you can live in that environment.

- Simon: Not very happy about excusing behaviour because you have to make money. As a community manager, if I ever say "Ok, we've screwed you, but we have to make money," that's the point at which you and your employer aren't necessarily in the right place. Quitting at that point makes you a more valuable community member.

- Question the philosophical premise that working for a large corporation means working on the "Death Star".

Simon: The big problem is a company not being transparent about their intentions. You may decide you are in conflict with yourself. Don't focus on technology: it's not about code being donated, architecture. Need to look at the man behind the code. Reptiles do not have ethics or morals: they respond to fear or hunger. Corporations also do not have morals or ethics. *People* have morals and ethics. Left without guidance, corporations will act in a reptilian way. If you are the only non-reptile there, that's a red flag.

Sheeri: Whole point of corporation is it's a separate entity from the owners. A large/proprietary company doesn't have to be a death star, but they're perceived that way. Open vs. Closed, Dogs vs. Cats. How do you change that perception that they're evil? Sponsorship, code, etc. doesn't help. Regardless of what they do, MSFT, Oracle, Facebook, etc. are going to be evil. It's not fair to assume this, but peope do. So what do we do about it?

- Large corporation, separate moving parts, not talking to each other == people connecting dots that aren't there. Be more transparent, wear a smile on your face in front of the community, then confront people behind the scenes. Not everyone at Oracle is evil. They're open minded, and trying to learn.

Allan: We don't actually assume companies are bad, it's based on reputation. Microsoft is evil because over and over again they've treated people this way, and others corroborate the stories, etc. It's a reputation.

Ryan: There's a culture, and there's a brand. ONe of the major reasons Sun vs. Oracle was a culture shock is because they're intentionally very different brands. Sun was about "the network is the computer" / open networks. Oracle was never that. Oracle was "your databse will run no matter what."

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.