Bart Farrell

Head of Community at Data on Kubernetes Community
January 26, 2022
AMA sticker

Naya - Hi Bart! How do you balance building community with building your personal brand?

Thanks! I would say you start by looking at your community- what’s the vibe? What makes it thrive? What have been its biggest successes and what made them happen? What are its shortcomings and how can they be improved? From there, you keep your personal brand on hand- your skills, your experiences, your passions, your interests. How can you tailor them? Where can you add unique value? Where can you not add value and how can you delegate that? That’s how I’d explain it.

In the case of the Data on Kubernetes Community and my personal brand, I felt initially crushed due to my lack of technical expertise. I’d never written a line of code in my life (and still haven’t!), but I take inspiration from the James Brown line “I don’t know karate, but I know ca-razy!” I knew that I needed to delegate the technical aspects and get support. I used my experience as a talent manager which gave me tons of experience interacting with engineers, understanding their problems, and helping them find solutions. I used my experience with music and love for other cultures to create raps tailored for each talk and each speaker that then serve as unique forms of promoting our content in social media. I used my language skills by creating content in other languages.

Through this process, both sides help to build each other. Of course there is plenty of trial and error here, but what I can’t recommend enough is the importance of brainstorming to figure out what you can provide.

I often equate this kind of creativity to the scene in Apollo 13 when the ground crew has to figure out how to make an air filter only using the supplies that the astronauts in space. Look at your resources, stick to your guns, trust yourself. Will you have to iterate on the go? Absolutely. But you should never rule out the value of the life experiences that make you unique.

Naya - I do have a follow-up question as well! Personally, I think when you have a wide variety of applicable life experiences (which is likely the case for many community managers), it can also be hard to prioritize where you're needed/what you'e needed for because you either can or want to do so many different things. How do you/what tools and resources do you use to evaluate and prioritize your community's needs and thus, prioritize and delegate your responsibilities?

Very very good question Naya! There’s a George Orwell quote I love “’To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” This is where a both quantitative and qualitative data-driven approach come in handy. Check your metrics, but also talk to people! Make feedback an integral part of your strategy so you can see the impact you are making and where you can devote more time/resources. In terms of prioritizing needs we make a plan in January as well as in June to establish goals based on needs. Like all plans, some things will change along the way and that’s totally fine, but it is important to have one as a guide and a roadmap.

In terms of getting both qualitative and quantitative feedback, the number one tool you need is a non technical one TRUST. If people trust you, they will talk to you. Ask yourself “How can I gain more trust? What do people need to see me doing in order to gain it?”

In the case of our community, software developers loathe being bombarded with sales and marketing, so we make sure that our content sticks to our primary mission. We build trust with them by consistently finding the best speakers in our technological niche. It takes time, and it’s essential for anyone who wants a community but hasn’t done it before, that they should have a plan specifically focused on building trust.

Pam - Hi Bart! I would love to know what the biggest Community related highlight of your career has been so far?

Wow! To only choose is suuuuuper tough. I will choose one (and probably write three or four later hahaha). This is the most recent one….

Like many things in life, the little moments are the biggest. While in some ways the vanity metrics, the big events, convincing companies to become sponsors are the ones that might come to mind, in my case it’s a human story about someone I care about that stands out the most.

Our community is focused on a very advanced technology and the use of data in it. It’s complex and it’s still early days, so we are becoming the one stop shop for anyone who’s in this niche.

We have a top down and bottom up approach by getting a mixture of senior practitioners who do our livestreams, and then we also have total beginners as young as 13 years old who ask questions and interact with folks who have more experience.

One of our community sponsors is an open source database company that uses very cutting edge technologies. They recently reached out to me to ask me if they could hire one of my interns because they saw the potential in them and felt that they would be a good match. They felt bad because they said they would be taking one of my best teammates, but for me this is the perfect problem to have.

Being part of a process where a 19 year old university student from India was able to get the attention and interest of a high powered Silicon Valley firm was something I had hoped would happen, but seeing it happen was something I’m very grateful to have been a part of and makes me optimistic about being able to do it again.

Cole - Hey Bart, thanks for doing this AMA! I'd love to know what you believe are the first few steps someone should take to start building a personal brand. Is there a particular strategy one could start executing on today?

Love this! I’ve done workshops about this but I usually invite folks to do this.

Think about some well known brands you know (Nike, Harley Davidson, Netflix)- they sell products, but what do they really sell? What words would you use to describe them? For Nike- competitive, athletic, champion. For Harley Davidson- rebellious, freedom, daring. Netflix- comfort, convenient, entertaining. If you were to apply the same logic/process to yourself, how would you describe yourself? If someone works with you, what are those qualities that they receive?

From there, I get people to think about values- choose 10, then reduce that to 5, then 3, then 1. What values are you willing to negotiate? Where do they come from? What experiences do you have that show them in action?

Then you can do a strengths/weaknesses analysis- what things you do well and what are things that you could improve/delegate? I always try to be as transparent as possible with my weaker points- I’m not terrible organized, I’m impulsive, I am good at starting things and not as great at finishing them. What does that mean? I anticipate the appearance of those factors and I communicate them to others so we can plan accordingly.

And what about experiences? Super important! what have been your biggest experiences (both good and difficult)? I’ve learned much more from hardships such as having a sibling with a chronic illness and having to adjust to seeing my family infrequently than I’ve learned from what would typically be deemed “big successes.” What do those experiences say about you as a person and how have they helped you grow?

Last but not least, talents, hobbies, interests, passions- what do they say about you? How can you incorporate them more in what you do in your job?

The most important part about this is taking the time to sit down and do it. It’s something that can evolve over time, so don’t feel like you’re stuck to it if you want to make some adjustments over the years. If anyone would ever like to jump on a call and talk about it, I’d be happy to do so.

Izzy - Hi Bart! Excited to have you with us today! I wanted to know what is radical differentiation? How does it apply to personal branding? to community management?

Love this! Radical differentiation is essential as people have limited time and you want to make their decision making process as easy as possible. Why one product/service/community and not another? The answer should be simple, and you can make it simpler by doubling down on what makes you unique. Who are your competitors? Benchmark them by figuring what you do differently, better, and worse. You do not need to conquer the entire market, but how are you going to get the segment that you really want to have?

I try to think about it this way- when people talk about my community, what are they going to say? And what do I want them to say/how can I be sure they’ll say it? There are lots of technological communities, podcasts, etc. I knew from the beginning that we would need to have our own unique branding. I started by doing spoken word pieces about each of our speakers that I’d put on YouTube. These then turned into raps. I’d been making hip hop beats since 2016 so I didn’t have to worry about copyright/YouTube taking down the videos. And in a short period of time we started calling them “rap-ups.”

By doing so, we made it easy for people to tell others “yeah, they talk about data on kubernetes, and there is a guy who raps.” We make it easy for people to inform others about us because we have the videos for them to share in social media, and show that our community has its own unique identity.

We’ve also done it with art. The concepts we talk about are very technical, very difficult to understand. Art makes them more tangible, and gives us the chance to see the concepts come to life.

This is what has worked for us, but it doesn’t mean in any way that it’s what works for everyone. We all have to find that signature touch that makes our communities different and makes our members feel that they are a part of something truly special.

If you want to know more about radical differentiation, check this out

Jamie - Hi Bart, as a fellow student of people systems (Political Science), how have you helped people (hiring managers, executives, etc.) make the connection between your knowledge and background and the work you do? This was an early stage problem for me to overcome and I wonder if you could expound a bit for folks who are early in their careers or making career changes and might need guidance on the "transferrable skills" element of that change. Thanks!!

SUCH a good question! I literally saw this post today (from someone I respect a lot who does personal branding consulting and is a wonderful human)-

“Your portfolio+content is the new resumé.” I think it’s brilliant. It goes along with “actions speak louder than words” and “speak softly and carry a big stick.” I must say that living in Spain made it particularly challenging at first because it’s a pretty closed off job market where people generally work in something related to what they studied (although it is changing slowly). It was absolutely crushing for 4 years to think that the only thing I could do was teach English.It was because of starting a YouTube channel that I was able to pivot and differentiate myself as someone who could communicate with a wider audience. When I applied to be a Talent Manager in a startup, the fact that I clearly stood out from other, more traditionally qualified, candidates because of being a risk-taker is what made the difference.

What are the skills associated with political science? Off the top of my head I’d say analytical skills, research, empathy (understanding different countries/parties’ opinions/actions), project management, the list goes on and on, but the bottom line is that those skills are applicable for tons of different things.

What I would say is this: based on the kind of job you want, find a way to build credibility through any kind of project that shows your interest. Posts on LinkedIn, sharing content that shows you are taking this seriously, asking experts questions, starting a blog or a podcast- don’t obsess over those things being smashing successes. They show that you take something seriously and that you take the initiative to take it to the next level.

Naya - Oh, I have another question! For those who may be a bit social media shy (personally, I know I prefer managing community socials over my own haha), do you recommend a particular platform as a good starting place for building your personal brand?

Great question- as with all things community, you should be thinking about where your audience is. Are they on Twitter? Linkedin? TikTok? JSTOR? Make it convenient for them to find you. It’s totally normal to want to limit your social media presence and I respect that.

I upload videos of myself rapping every week, but I don’t upload pictures of the food I eat or where I go on vacation, because it’s something I prefer not to share.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your brand won’t be either. What’s the baby step you could take towards putting yourself out there and getting feedback to make the next step more accurate? I would tell people to NEVER be harsh on themselves in this process, enjoy the process! Children fall thousands of times while learning how to walk, don’t think that you’re going to get it 100% right on your first blog post or podcast. Be kind to yourself and build that time for trial and error into the process so that you really give it a chance.