For PGSQL Phriday #003 (the last one of 2022), Pat Wright asked us to consider the PostgreSQL community, what it means to us, and how we would get started as a new user. I love this topic for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that my interest in, and enjoyment of, databases has been impacted most by the willingness of others in various data communities to contribute their time and energy.
Community is Eclectic
Let me start with a disclaimer.
I understand that there are no one-size fits-all definition for community. Especially in a global community like PostgreSQL, we’ll each have aspects of conversation, sharing, and helping that look different. Some folks appreciate plain, direct conversation. Others prefer more context and story. Many users like in-person events with social gatherings and packed rooms. Yet other folks want the knowledge without expectations of joining the conversation directly.
While those details are important to consider, I think the real definition of a thriving community is deeper than that.
I believe that the heart of a thriving PostgreSQL community, regardless of the nuanced cultural details, consists of people that are knowledgeable and passionate about the technology, who thoughtfully help others grow in their knowledge and passion, too. When that’s the primary focus, the community grows in a way that builds investment and shared ownership. Together, everyone gets to share in the thrill of the project and the people being successful.
Or, more succinctly: Community is strongest when thoughtful people are using their knowledge and passion to encourage others.
Unfortunately, when these qualities don’t exist in a community something suffers… often the people that want to help it grow. I was reminded of what this can look like this week, and I thought it would be helpful to illustrate how similar, but unbalanced, community is when each of these qualities aren’t in place.
Signs of a Languishing Community
Earlier this week I had a brief checkup at the doctor’s office. This medical group has recently transitioned to a large, complex, albeit all encompassing patient software platform. While my check-in and check-out process wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t smooth either. It was plain to see that most of the people I interacted with had to strain through (what seemed like) hundreds of clicks to enter my name, phone, and insurance information.
I headed to the check-out receptionist when my appointment concluded. For the next 3-4 minutes she proceeded to get stuck in the process because of an error message requesting that she verify my birthdate and she couldn’t figure out how to do it. As she grew increasingly frustrated at the situation, she asked, “Would you mind going to the check-in desk and seeing if they can fix this and finish your check-out?”
“No worries,” I said, “I’m happy to do that.”
When I approached the counter and asked if they could finish things up, this more experienced employee was done in all of 15 seconds. It was the next statement that made me think about a healthy technical community, or an unhealthy one.
Turning to the other receptionist beside her (and forgetting I was standing right there), “I don’t know what her problem was. It was so simple. All I had to do verify the birthdate on the second screen. I don’t know how she’ll ever learn if she doesn’t ask for help”.
Maybe you had to be there, but I could see immediately why nobody was asking this team for help. The first user wanted to know how to do the job, but the ones with the knowledge didn’t appear to have much passion for the subject or to thoughtful consideration for how others could benefit from their skill.
I realized in that moment that I’ve been around technical communities with a similar imbalance, but I’ve rarely stuck around long enough to see how the community fared long-term.
The PostgreSQL Community Is Different
Thankfully, that’s not been my experience with the PostgreSQL community. 🙌
I’ve detailed in other blog posts and talks about my journey back to PostgreSQL and my quest to find community. When I started asking for help, folks like Andreas Scherbaum, Alicja Kucharczyk, Pat Wright, and Dave Cramer quickly reached out to see how they could help. When I offered to volunteer with setup and room hosting duties at a few conferences this year, the organizers were very welcoming. In fact, the idea for PGSQL Phriday came out of my previous SQL Server community.
What I’ve come to realize and deeply appreciate over the last 4+ years is that PostgreSQL has a very diverse and global community, and as it grows and matures even further, it is bursting with opportunities to build upon a solid foundation.
It also feels like there was a sizeable shift during the pandemic. Although the popularity of PostgreSQL has been growing for years, the hypergrowth of so many technology companies over the last couple of years has brought a significant amount of attention and focus to Postgres as a platform.
Remember – thoughtful, knowledgeable, passionate.
Resources, conferences, Slack apps, and even helpful Wiki pages need to be referenced more often than we realize. Users need to be reminded frequently that questions from new users and veterans alike are welcome. It’s easy to forget once you’ve been using a technology for 5+ years how difficult it can be to get started. And sometimes, it feels embarrassing to ask a fundamental question if you’re considered an “experienced user”.
Where will the PostgreSQL Community be in 2023?
So what does that mean for the PostgreSQL community in 2023? Personally, I think between events, the exciting pace of feature development, numerous community initiatives for education and learning (and the sheer popularity of the platform), we’ll see significant growth in developers, DBAs, and “second career” folks looking to see how we function as a community. I’m excited for what they’ll find. 😉 (To be honest, I’m 4+ years into this and I still feel like I’ve just started to scratch the surface!)
With that in mind, here’s a list of some of the ways I hope to connect with thoughtful, knowledgeable, and passionate PostgreSQL users in the PostgreSQL community this coming year. I’d love to hear your ideas and feedback, too.
There are certainly far more events than what I’ve listed. These are just the mostly “don’t miss” events from my perspective given what I know about who runs them and the quality of PostgreSQL content. (Disclaimer: I’m woefully disconnected with groups and events outside of the US and EU, although I’m hopeful that will change in the coming years)
Blogs, Podcast, and Other Resources
Chat, Social, and Mailing lists
- PostgreSQL Community Slack
- PostgreSQL Discord server
- Mailing lists (there’s so much history and great technical discussion 365 days a year here!)
- Twitter (yep, still here)
It’s Always About the People
Let me finish by repeating once again that the community exists only because of the people. Postgres, the database technology, would have died on the vine 26+ years ago if members of the community didn’t commit significant time and energy to make it what it is today. But the project couldn’t keep growing if they didn’t continually pass on their knowledge and passion to the growing community.
If you use PostgreSQL, you can get involved, learn from these fine folks, and start giving back to others around you. Write a blog post, come to a conference volunteer to do one thing, check out Slack and answer a question, or simply provide encouragement to the community that’s shepherding PostgreSQL forward.
If you use PostgreSQL, you’re already a part of the community and I can’t wait to get to know you better!