Reaching the developers other evangelists cannot reach

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Dark Matter Developers

Most of the people working with computers don't interact with the community. How do we reach them anyway?

Physicists are confused about how much stuff there is. Apparently, estimates for the total mass of everything in the universe are way higher than the amount of matter that can actually be seen or deduced. The solution here is "dark matter," – matter that can't be seen or detected by us but still exists and probably makes up about 90 percent of all the stuff that there is. Leaving aside how implausible this sounds, it has an interesting parallel with the world of Ubuntu.

Most of the software developers in the world don't interact with the tech community in any meaningful way. They come to work at 9, write code all day, go home at 5, and don't think about their jobs while they're at home. They don't read Reddit or Hacker News or tech books; they don't have a blog about coding; they don't go to hack days or evening meetups or LUGs or follow news about Ubuntu for phones on Google+. They're the dark matter of the developer world.

Evangelism in the free software world is largely a grass-roots effort, an attempt to create a snowballing increase in user base. You tell three people, they each tell three people, they each tell three people, and soon everyone in the world is an Ubuntu user. Start with hardcore Ubuntu people, then grow that group to the interested and motivated, then grow that group to those who enjoy a more pleasant user experience and are motivated enough technically to step away from the norm. Then, grow that group until it's everyone with a computer. Somewhere mixed in among those groups are developers who have the tech savvy to push a USB stick into the drive and install Ubuntu to try it out. And, as noted, most of the developers most of the time aren't anywhere where they'll hear the message that we set out to spread.

A sort of enforced division exists between "developers" and "users," where "users" don't do anything technical at all and will get Ubuntu by purchasing a machine at Best Buy, and "developers" all read Reddit and are in touch with the latest changes in the field. That's not the case. Most people who work in a car shop don't spend their weekends building a Cobra. Most people who work in a hair salon don't spend their evenings reading Coiffeur Monthly.

"Dark matter developers" are a seriously underused resource. They're tech-savvy enough to be able to get involved in the Ubuntu community, they're a pathway to their friends and families and workplaces, and there are lots of them. We should try to reach them.

"But how?", I hear you cry. Well, the first step in reaching a new demographic is recognizing that they are a new demographic. Reaching dark matter developers is qualitatively different from reaching engaged developers. Writing more on Planet Ubuntu won't help here (although the existing evangelism efforts are great and shouldn't be stopped!). This is an inherently hard problem: How do you get out the message to people who don't read messages?

Local Outreach

The Python user group in Boston, Massachusetts set a goal to bring new people into their community. They were so successful that they now have around 2,000 members, 15 percent of whom are women. Diversity-based outreach helped them hugely grow the group, and that's all about targeting a particular demographic outside their pre-existing community. They recommend explicitly contacting local tech companies, local tech reporters and bloggers, and "playing the social media game" by picking a hashtag and encouraging attendees to tweet and blog about it. They also suggest bringing a friend to events.

This sort of outreach is all locally based and needs to be done by someone in the same area or the same city. It isn't something that the Ubuntu community team or even a country-wide Ubuntu loco team can necessarily do, although both of those organizations would be more than happy to help if they were asked. Running an event, or being part of an existing technical event, is a good way to provide people with something they can focus on being a part of, and that's when your outreach can start. Ask your existing userbase to bring a friend or a colleague from work. Put together a list of local companies and send an invitation to their IT team to attend the event.

The goal here is to get the message out to developers who would otherwise never hear about what you're doing. Even hearing that there is an Ubuntu event going on at all will help, even if the person doesn't attend.

The underlying goal of this specific outreach is to raise the awareness of Ubuntu and the Ubuntu community in the eyes of technical people who have not yet heard of us, and that's the first step to reaching all the dark matter developers and helping them join the Ubuntu community.

The Author

Stuart is a web hacker, author, and speaker living in the UK. He runs Kryogenix Consulting, a custom development and consultancy business. He writes books about JavaScript and talks to people about Ubuntu. His code and writings (and the occasional rant) are to be found at and @sil on Twitter.

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