Starting a local Coffeeops

A few years ago I met Marius Ducea at Chromatic Coffee. Afterwards reflecting on the time that I spent, I felt more enthusiastic about my work in the industry due to Marius being awesome and the mental engagement outside of the everyday.

Marius has been a key DevOpsDays Silicon Valley organizer for years and community builder within the Chef and DevOps community. His insight into a variety of current and future technology was interesting and educational.

The conversation allowed me to see beyond the perceived value of my role based on the the technology and cultural mores of my company, that “ladder of prestige” present in some organizations that ranks Operations staff lower than Engineering (and “non-technical” roles lowest of all). Being in the middle of my company’s “ladder of prestige” led to a lot of pressure with little reward. I had been having problems seeing the value of the work I was doing or what impact it made.

Talking to Marius gave me insight about what I was working on. It helped me recognize that I needed a change and that it was critical for my mental health to connect with a larger community of practitioners on a more regular basis. I envisioned creating a “hallway track” space with intra-company cooperation; affording individuals a place to meet together with no agenda, to connect and share in an undirected manner.

Conferences have this informal hallway track; the conversations in conference corridors in between sessions and after hours. There are barriers to quality hallway track time: inclusiveness of the conference, costs of attendance and job flexibility.

If a conference does not have a lot of diversity, and the attendees are very cliquish, this can lead to people feeling very isolated who aren’t already established in the community. Conferences that have a code of conduct and make other efforts to be inclusive can help facilitate individuals participating in the hallway track. Additionally costs of attendance and job flexibility, may make the hallway track unavailable to a majority of people in the industry. Any specific conference may only last for a few days, why wait a whole year to get the benefits of the “hallway track”?

I sent out a tweet with a location, time and #coffeeops and showed up. The first few times, only one or two folks would show up. As time passed more people joined and interesting discussions like leveling up your skills were had. Years later, other folks have started up local coffeeops from Seattle, Washington to Sydney, Australia. I’ve changed jobs, and as a remote employee at Chef, it has become even more valuable to me as water cooler time; that time to take a break and remember to breathe.

It’s also a place to share ideas in their nascent form allowing room for the ideas to grow to greatness through the contributions and challenges of the group. All of the folks attending CoffeeOps Santa Clara were critical in helping me shape my thoughts in the well-received “Hero to Zero” talk on burnout and ‘heroic’ behaviors in the workplace.

Coffeeops is a way to generate your own hallway track, cross company cooperation and individual improvement.

How do you start up a CoffeeOps?

  • Should you start a CoffeeOps? How much community do you already have? Are there people looking for the same kind of outlet? Is there already something filling the gap? What is the density of people in your area? Do you have the time and energy to expend if this is completely new in your area?
  • Be patient, it takes time to catch hold.
  • It’s important to be welcoming, encouraging inclusivity as new people join.
  • Talk about it. Ask for help. Use twitter and mailing lists.
  • Pick a good environment for talking.
  • Have coffee and show up. More people will show up over time. (You can also drink tea or cocoa or have brunch!)
  • When starting out don’t get too bogged down by formalities of rules and procedures. Code of Conduct is important. Any other aspect is open for discussion based on the group of people that come together. Some folks will make the decision to come based on an agenda. Others will be more likely to come if it’s more freeform as they deal with other obligations before heading over.

Shout out to all the Slack CoffeeOps folks who helped me polish my thoughts here, and for the introduction to Ink Drop to help me in my quest for awesome ink.