Don Jones

Tech | Career | Musings

David asks:

How is it you became the “first follower” of PowerShell?

I hope you’ll ask a question, too! And here’s the list of everything asked so far.

OMG. It’s because I think Jeffrey Snover likes to see if he can make me choke up on stage.

At the first Microsoft Ignite, in Chicago in what, 2016? 2015? Jeffrey and I were scheduled to do a “PowerShell Unplugged” talk. Prior to the talk–because it was being recorded and they were uncertain of the copyright implications–Jeffrey put this video up for a few thousand people to watch:

Go ahead. Watch it.

“That’s me,” Jeffrey says, of the crazy shirtless guy who shows up first. Jeffrey and the original PowerShell team were considered slightly oddball in the early days leading up to v1’s release. A major concern of theirs was how long it would take to build a community of users around PowerShell; I specifically remember being frequently quizzed on how long it took Windows admins to adopt VBScript. “About a decade,” I said, which did not ever earn me a lot of friendly looks. They needed PowerShell to catch on a lot quicker, which it did.

But the schtick of the video is that the crazy guy doing stuff isn’t how you create a movement. Most people have to be shown how to participate, how to engage, and how to make their own contributions. In the video, it’s not the crazy shirtless guy, it’s the second guy who starts the movement. He calls to his friends, and shows them how to participate. The leader actually kind of steps back. He doesn’t try to hog the stage, or lawn, or whatever–he lets the movement happen around him.

Without being deliberate about it, that’s kinda what I wound up doing in PowerShell. I certainly wasn’t the first literal follower; I wasn’t even in the first batch of PowerShell MVPs (I was still in a different award category for my VBScript work). But from fairly early on, my “contributions” were largely getting something going and then convincing someone else to take over. Now, I realize that from a certain perspective that sounds kind of terrible – “you start things but don’t finish them?” but it’s not. In my business life, I’ve often been someone who operationalizes something. I get it going, figure out the rough spots, and get everything working smoothly. Then I get others to backfill and run it on a day-to-day, and I go do something else. Loosely speaking, that’s what a First Follower does: they operationalize the movement.

I’ve definitely made money on PowerShell: books, training classes, speaking engagements, and whatnot. But understand that there’s no money in community. Sure, I suppose you could argue that by being a part of a community you’ve got a built-in audience to buy whatever you’re selling, and that’s certainly true, but it’s a crazy amount of labor if that’s your end goal. I wanted PowerShell to be more than just books and classes because I see all the good it’s done for people’s careers. There’s value in community, if not money per se.

So a lot of the community work I’ve done has been about operationalizing things. PowerShellCommunity.org, which I stepped away from too soon; PowerShell.org later. PowerShell Summit. Stuff like that. Things that I, and a handful of others, got off the ground, and then gradually turned over to others. I, and they, created ways for other people to get involved, when those people might not have been able to see for themselves how to get involved. I mean, it’s really not a lot more than just saying, “hey, here’s a thing, people find this valuable, do you want to help?”

But anyway, that’s where the PowerShell First Follower came from. It’s kind of a huge statement that I still get a little choked up about, because quite honestly until I saw the video on stage at Ignite, I’d literally never thought about it that way. I was just kind of doing my thing. Jeffrey has a kind of meta-vision for stuff though, and after he tells you things you’re like, “oooooooooohhhhh” and you get it all of a sudden. That’s why he’s the crazy shirtless guy in the video.

And again in all honesty, a lot of it is just the visibility I’ve got, because a lot of the community stuff I do is visible. Conferences and books and stuff are all in-your-face high-profile things. But I’ve never submitted a pull request to the PowerShell repo on GitHub – plenty of other people are leading the way on that. I’ve never really been deep into the code like some of my fellow MVPs are, and they’ve certainly done plenty to drag other code jockeys into the community. Just as the PowerShell community isn’t one single thing to all people, there really isn’t one “First Follower,” I don’t think. There’ve been a bunch of us helping to “activate” the community, so to speak. I mean, that’s in large part what the whole MVP Award is about, and there’s more than a few PowerShell MVPs.

The Ignite thing was a really good way for Jeffrey to point out to the rest of the world that just getting out there and doing something is one of the best ways to grow a community, to everyone’s mutual benefit. Every blog post can encourage someone else to start their own blog, every new user group encourages someone else to try starting one. Just as movements aren’t built by leaders, they’re also not built by one follower. A movement is everyone, and momentum plays an important part. The First Follower only gets the second and third; they get the next half-dozen, and they get the next hundred. “How do be a part of our community” is something everyone has to teach and share, because otherwise you’ve just got a bunch of weird people on a grassy hillside, waving their arms in the air.

So the next time you’re thinking, “wow, I’m really glad I discovered this group of people” – no matter who that group is or what they do – remember that you have a responsibility to keep it going. We really all have the potential to be a “First Follower” to the folks we bring in after us, so ask what you’re doing to make that happen.

(The next year at Ignite, I dressed up like Jeffrey – Garcia tie, khakis, and no vest – and made everyone sing happy birthday to PowerShell since it turned ten that year, and Missy Januszko brought a cupcake, with a birthday candle in it, up on stage for Jeffrey. Sadly, nothing makes Jeffrey choke up on stage.)

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