Distributing culture is hard.

Last week I met with some PMs that work on the east coast. They fly over to the west coast to visit the Microsoft mothership every couple months. Our meeting was one of many face to face meetings they try to squish into a single week before flying home.

At the end of the meeting, one of the PMs mentioned that a couple developers on his team were interested in contributing to the WiX toolset. In fact, one had contacted me previously about participating but he never got involved. Rumor has it he went off and got married. <smile/>

I told the PM that one of the biggest challenges I face leading the WiX toolset is finding and developing contributors outside of the Redmond, WA area. Actually, my track record in maintaining remote contributors is down right dismal. Even now one of the contributors that recently moved back to the east coast is slowly drifting off.

I believe there are several facets to this issue. One of the biggest challenges is distributing the culture that keeps volunteers coming back to WiX toolset. And when I say “culture” here I do not mean “locale”. I am talking about the organizational norms and collective history of the participants.

The WiX culture today revolves around the WiX Working Group meetings that happen every Thursday night (weather and holidays allowing). In those meetings status is shared, questions are answered and code gets written. But it goes beyond just making progress on the code that forms the WiX toolset.

For example, at Microsoft setup work is often pushed off to a junior developer or contractor from outside the company. I don’t agree with that tendency but it is a reality. Thus there are regularly people using the WiX toolset that are new to Microsoft and often new to “professional” software development.

The result is that the more experienced developers end up sharing a lot of their stories about how to succeed inside Microsoft. Everyone shares stories about which groups are doing well and opportunities across the company. Around review time much advice is sought and offered about the way things work and how to help your manager help you.

To those of you “outside of the firewall” all of that Microsoft career advice might seem like a pointless piece of WiX culture. However, remember that development of the WiX toolset began in 1999 and wasn’t released externally until 2004. That means the first 5 years of the WiX culture developed completely within the Microsoft culture.

Anyway, back to my point. There are a great many pieces of the WiX culture that I’ve done a poor job sharing with those people that don’t show up for the WiX Working Group on Thursday night. So, I’m adding a new blog category culture. Under that category I will start sharing the things that I believe make up the WiX culture. Now the funny thing about “culture” is that when you are part of one, it is usually difficult to recognize the pieces that are unique or relevant or even interesting to others. Thus the posting to this category are likely to be very random and many be very uninteresting and other posts may just reflect my personal viewpoint.

To close, I’m also thinking about reshaping what I consider a very difficult problem of distributing culture into a new challenge. How to create a culture that can be distributed. I’ve seen ideas about that topic so I might dig into those later.

Did I ever mention that I have a minor in Communications? No? Well, keep coding… you know I am.