Tuesday 11 September 2018

Podcast Interview with Karin Wolok, Neo4j

Next week is GraphConnect New York City 2018, and that's of course a big highlight for all of us at Neo4j. You should really be there if you can :) ...

One of the reasons why GraphConnect is such a great event, is because it allows us to connect all the nodes in the graph and have a great couple of days of real-world conversations about this fascinating topic called graphs. Again, we are going to have a great line-up, not in the least because of all the great community content that we will be presenting and working on during the event.

On top of that, we have had a LOT going on in the Neo4j Community recently - with the launch of a new community site and more. That's a good enough reason for me to invite Karin Wolok, our Community Manager at Neo4j for a good chat. Here it is:

Here's the transcript of our conversation:
RVB: 00:00:00.819 Hello, everyone. My name is Rik, Rik Van Bruggen from Neo4j. And here I am again recording another episode of our Graphistania Neo4j podcast. And today's a little bit of a special episode I think because it relates to something very dear to my heart and many people at Neo4j's heart, which is our Neo4j community. And for that, I've invited Karin Wolok on the podcast. Karin is our community manager. Actually, you have a very different and more expensive-sounding title, right, Karin? But maybe you can introduce yourself to our listeners.
KW: 00:00:38.554 Hello, everyone. Thank you, Rik, for saying that I'm a special episode. That makes me feel extra special. I'm Karin Wolok, and I am the program manager of Community Development and Enablement at Neo4j. So that is my title. 
RVB: 00:00:54.469 Fantastic title. I like it already. 
KW: 00:00:55.754 Thank you [laughter]. 
RVB: 00:00:57.669 So what do you do, Karin? What do you do at Neo4j? 
KW: 00:01:00.574 So my job, I'm with the developer relations team, which is basically responsible for everything where community meets engineering. So from integrations, and APOC procedures, and all the open-source projects, and working with our developer community, and training materials, and intro videos, and meet-ups, and hackathons. So the developer relations team kind of oversees all of that, and my job is to help manage the community and make it into a community. So literally, enabling them to have that sense of belonging and helping each other, and make-- 
RVB: 00:01:42.603 Do you have any sense of size or any importance of the community for Neo4j? I mean, I know I've lived how important it is myself, but how do you look at that? 
KW: 00:01:55.792 Well, we do have a very, very large community, and I think that it's kind of hard to gauge exactly how big it is, aside from the obvious numbers, having 9,000 Slack users and things like that. It's a little bit challenging because people participate in different ways. So not every person in the community is going to contribute and be involved the same way as everyone else, so I think it's kind of scattered. We do have a community graph though, which is pretty cool. 
RVB: 00:02:28.011 Yeah. I've seen that. Mark Needham developed that, I think, a while ago, didn't he? 
KW: 00:02:32.914 Yes. He did. And it's pretty awesome. It pulls information from a GitHub activity, and Twitter, and Meetup. And now that we launched the new community site, which I'm going to do a shameless plug of community.neo4j.com, if users plug in their other links, like their GitHub-- I mean, there is social login. You can log in through Auth0, but if you plug in your other stuff like your GitHub or your Meetup pages, or LinkedIn, things like that, then that makes it easier to be able to track a specific user's activity. 
RVB: 00:03:05.849 But the community site is something new, right? You just launched that, didn't you? 
KW: 00:03:09.223 Yes. It's brand new this week, and I'm so excited about it. 
RVB: 00:03:14.524 Yeah. Absolutely. I've seen some of it, and I really like it. It brings a lot of stuff together, doesn't it? 
KW: 00:03:20.691 It's definitely a little different than I think what the community had before. Most of the community conversation was living on Slack. And one of the reasons why we kind of looked to shift it is because the nature of Slack is just very conversational, and the platform that we're building the community site on-- which we're still planning on adding a lot more features and building on this platform. But we built it on top of Discourse, which allows you to have permanent forums, and categories, and topics, and tags. So it's very specific, which makes it a little bit easier to browse and search for things, versus endless amount of conversation, ping-pong messages on Slack. So we're not going to be completely doing away with Slack, but a lot of the technical conversations will go there. I mean, we'll go on Discourse, and a little bit more of the light-hearted day-to-day conversations will go on Slack. 
RVB: 00:04:18.597 Excellent. Excellent. So I mean, I've been asking this same question to lots of people here on this podcast, but why did you get into this, and what's attracting you to this Neo4j community? Can you share a little bit of a light on that? 
KW: 00:04:33.279 Like how I ended up at Neo? 
RVB: 00:04:35.700 That's one questions. Absolutely. Yeah. 
KW: 00:04:38.105 So it's actually interesting. I got connected to the Neo community from a Neo4j ambassador. I was one of the organizers of DataPhilly, which is the data science meetup in the city that I live in, Philadelphia. And I was working on this hackathon with a-- there's a guy named Daniel Himmelstein, who's a postdoc at University of Pennsylvania. He does cancer research and genetics. 
RVB: 00:05:07.002 I've actually interviewed Daniel. Yep. 
KW: 00:05:08.686 Yeah. He's fantastic. Isn't he great? 
RVB: 00:05:10.139 He's great. Yeah. Fantastic. Yeah. 
KW: 00:05:11.680 So him and I-- I kind of helped facilitate the idea of this hackathon. I was like, "Oh, let's work on something that's beneficial." And it ended up being almost a two-year long project where volunteers met every other week. But they were able to build a-- now, it wasn't used-- Neo4j wasn't needed for this specific project. Daniel happens to use Neo for his research. But it's a web application, basically, putting machine learning in the hands of cancer biologists. So you can just pop in different types of genetic mutations and it gives you charts on what types of treatments have been most effective for people based on their cancers and different types of diseases and stuff like that. So it's pretty amazing. But Neo4j sponsored our open house, our first event that we did, to kind of launch this project, and Daniel led it. And that's how I connected with Ryan, who is now my director. I had reached out to him about a year later, and I was like, "Tell me about these developer relations things," because I was already doing all this community stuff, but it wasn't officially my title. And then I convinced him to hire me. 
RVB: 00:06:22.102 That's an excellent story. Yeah. Really good. And then, what's buzzing, and what do you think what's interesting that's happening right now in the community for you personally, but also, for the community at large? 
KW: 00:06:41.045 There's a lot of exciting things. I think that Neo itself as a product is constantly developing, and changing, and coming out with all these new products and features, and that alone is really exciting. I feel like the enthusiasm that our community has, how much they actually love graphs, and really, really talking about it, learning about what other people are doing, how they're doing it, improving themselves professionally, and helping other people, there's so much passion there. And for me, that is the most exciting part, is I love the passion that our community has. 
RVB: 00:07:22.170 Really cool. Very much so. And what are the big initiatives for you? What are you working on, and what does the future have in store for us in terms of community development? 
KW: 00:07:34.612 So the way I kind of look at a community is-- there's a few aspects to it. So one is that people in the community have to be able to have a voice and be able to share things with each other, which is one of the reasons why we created the Discourse page, the site, because we wanted people to be able to talk about their projects, and share it with other people, and have people discover it. And if they're speaking at something, we wanted our community to have a voice, and it's something that's a little more permanent, like I said, versus the Slack thing. So that was something that I wanted us to be able to give our community a voice. I also wanted to create a sense of belonging so people can really find each other and discover other people that are similar to them, or maybe just working on interesting projects that they find interesting. It might not be similar to them. They might be very different kinds of people. And I think that that's helpful. The Discourse page is helpful for that because of the introductions channel. So people can really elaborate on who they are, versus when you go into Slack, it's a lot of usernames and they don't really have elaborate profiles. You don't know who there are. The discourse page, you can hover over someone's name and it literally gives you their bio, which is pretty cool. So for anybody listening that's joining the community page, introduce yourself. It's worth it. That's one of the big perks of the Discourse site. And so I'm looking to kind of create a sense of belonging so people can really connect, and help each other, and collaborate on things. And then also, different opportunities for people to be able to get involved with the community. I think that in general-- and this is actually from my personal experience. Every time I've been involved with a different type of community, if I don't know how I can be involved, I might not do it. But if I learn about an opportunity, like, "Oh, I can speak at this conference, or I can write a blog post and get it published on the Neo4j medium blog, or I can submit myself to speak on Rik's podcast." So if I don't know that I can do that, I might not do it. So it's kind of professional development opportunities for people to get involved in the community, and learn more, and help each other, and things like that. So it's creating opportunities, creating a sense of belonging, and connecting people to each other, so. 
RVB: 00:09:54.429 That's a lot of cool stuff. Is there a way that I can easily find people in my region, in my territory, how I can connect to those people on the community side? 
KW: 00:10:07.281 So what we did on Discourse is we actually created local regions groups. I didn't start off with creating 1,000 different regions because we want to make sure that there's people in each of those regions. So if people are interested in having a local region that's not already listed, they can just request one, and we create it for them, and then they can start conversations with people. They can introduce themselves in the channel, talk about something local that's happening, but it's supposed to be for local discussions. And you could also add watching or tracking to that channel on Discourse. So if people are posting locally, you'll get updates about it in your email or notifications on your Discourse page. And then there's also meetups and things like that, but we're going to be working on a lot more. Where I kind of want to be able to take this is eventually, building out a little bit more of elaborate user profiles so people can browse through people based on industries, the type of projects that they're working on, the technologies that they're using, where they're located, how they contribute to the community. There might be people who are bloggers, or speakers, or ambassadors. So I'm planning on building a lot of that stuff out. And most of the ideas that I kind of curate is generated by what I see the community is asking for. So if anybody is listening that has some interesting ideas or something that they would like to see more of, even if it's just a feeling, like, "If feel like I want to find more people in my area or I want to find projects to work on," or whatever it is, they can share that with me. That would be helpful, because I want to be able to build the community programming that's actually good for the community, and the only way I can know that is by them telling me. 
RVB: 00:11:52.127 Absolutely. Well, maybe one more question. I've seen this thing called The Community Mavens on the community site. Can you tell me a little bit more about that? That sounded really interesting. 
KW: 00:12:02.543 Yeah. So The Community Maven program. So the word maven comes from Malcolm Gladwell's book, The Tipping Point. That's where it kind of got its initial fame. And a maven can kind of be looked at as somebody who is an industry or a specific topic expert. But it's also somebody who gathers a lot of knowledge and then spreads the knowledge, so kind of like a teacher. And what we're doing with the maven program is we're basically pinpointing what I guess, if you're talking about graph algorithms, like our pivotal nodes in our community graphs. So the people who are interested in being our go-to node person in their local region. So they can host local events. If we're doing something that's a global outreach, they can kind of lead it in their area. They can keep us updated on what's going on in their local communities, and then vice versa. So we'll keep them updated on what's going on in Turley, at Neo, and it's kind of their job to facilitate their local community growth, and then, we would obviously help them by resources and support. So it's not a paid thing. I want to make sure that that's clear, that it's not paid. There is a lot of advantages to it like professional development and being looked at as a fault leader, and also, just being able to connect with people and kind of working on something that you love. But we do help by covering the cost of meetup fees, or if they're hosting events, we cover the cost of food. We provide them with swag, things like that, and then also, a lot of resources. So anybody that I'm connected to that they should know, whether it's people in their region that are potential speakers, or partners, or people who are who are working with Neo4j, or somebody's traveling there, things like that, we would make those introductions too. 
RVB: 00:13:58.012 What I would suggest is we would put some links on the transcription of the podcast to these pages on the community site, and then people can take a look at it, and hopefully, find a good spot there. So let's do that. Cool, Karin. Thank you so much for joining me today. 
KW: 00:14:17.452 Yeah. Thanks for hosting me, Rik. 
RVB: 00:14:19.266 Yeah. Absolutely. Well, it's been great talking to you, and I look forward to seeing you at one of the community events very soon. 
KW: 00:14:26.252 Yeah. Yeah. We'll have to connect. 
RVB: 00:14:28.768 Exactly. We'll have to connect, for sure. Thank you, Karin. 
KW: 00:14:30.962 All right. Thanks, Rik. Have a good day. 
RVB: 00:14:33.452 You too. Bye. 
KW: 00:14:34.177 Bye.
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