I had to opportunity to chat with Gina Poole, VP Rational marketing at IBM on the communities play in supporting developers, partners, customers and children in need.

Communities Support Software Development

Software developers, architects and administrators are typically a fairly close knit group because they have their love of technology in common, and they tend to work together constantly on projects and supporting production applications. So you might wonder if creating a community is really necessary. It is.

IBM is a great example of a software company providing support to its legions of techies through the use of communities. In particular, IBM offers the following:

  • Jazz.net: This community supports the commercial development of Jazz-based products in a team-based collaborative environment. It includes access to Jazz products and sandbox trials, as well as the JazzHub, which is free public hosting for educational institutions.
  • Knowledge PathsIBM developerWorks hosts a new community called Knowledge Paths, which offers  technical roadmaps to develop/enhance technical skills. The first two paths in place now are for IBM Rational Jazz and Agile.
  • Eclipse Foundation's OSLC: IBM participates in Open Services for Lifecycle Collaboration (OSLC), which provides open, public specifications that allow teams to share data throughout the different steps of a project.

Gina Poole has spent the last twenty five years at IBM in a variety of roles that have provided her the skills necessary to bring together the goals of the business with the complete product development lifecycle. It's rare that you see people who have lived on both sides of the spectrum, but it is people like this that have the vision and the ability to pull it altogether and make a company successful.

Which is why she's the perfect person to lead marketing at Rational and support the development of communities that help bridge the gap between business objectives and software development. Poole knows that communities are a key element to bridging that gap, especially in organizations that have widely distributed teams, like IBM.

Poole told me that it's important to support communities like those above because IBM wants its clients and future clients to have the skills needed to be successful. That means helping professional developers be successful as well.

Software for a Cause

One example Poole provided on benefits of community is Target First Grade, a project led by Dr. Christelle Scharff, Associate Professor of Computer Science, Pace University. The project brought together a development team across several geographically dispersed universities to develop a mobile application for 5-6 years olds in Senegal to practice their reading, writing and math skills (the student to teacher ratio is too high for students to get adequate attention).

The team used an agile development methodology and communicated via Rational Team Concert on the Jazz.net  site. They collaborated in real time and delivered the project on schedule.

Challenges in Driving Community Adoption

Just because you offer all these great communities doesn't mean developers will flock to them, as Poole well understands. She cites driving awareness and getting people engaged as top challenges. IBM sees the need to make its communities more and more interactive and to open IBM more to the ecosystem. Of course that's a long range journey, but should be well worth the ride.

IBM also encourages participation in social media and communities internally, including having social media committees within each IBM group who are dedicated to being active and driving adoption and awareness.

In addition, the first IBM Rational Champions have been named (this is like the MVPs for SharePoint). These are non-IBMers active in the external community who are considered leaders.

Success With Communities

I think the big takeaway is that communities, when implemented properly and not left to their own devices, can make an organization truly successful. Not because they simply offer a place for like minded people to come together, but because they offer tools, advice and support to make people successful. IBM clearly does this, as does Microsoft (with both formal and grassroots communities, and a number of open source communities.

If these aren't great examples of how to implement successful communities, then you need to let me why not.