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CIO/CTO Update: Article

Symbian's Lars Kurth Seeks Open-Source Rock Stars

Contributing Community Manager Tackles Multiple Roles at New Symbian

Lars Kurth is Contributing Community Manager at the Symbian Foundation, based in London. A recent interview with him at OSCON in San Jose revealed a witty, experienced architect who is serious about community development.

Lars has somehow retained very youthful looks during his years in the industry; but don't be fooled, he has a solid 15 years' experience in this business and is very serious about his role at the "New Symbian." (The Symbian Foundation was created by Nokia's recent buyout of Symbian Ltd.)

NOW Magazine met with him at the recent OSCON in San Jose. We got to know him a bit. A follow-up interview with him elicited the following thoughts:

NOW Magazine: You are a self-described "tools guy." So what sort of conversations do you have with developers on a day-to-day basis?

Lars Kurth: I am looking more for developers that are leading “packages,” the Symbian equivalent of open source project leaders--we call them package owners. So, in many ways the conversations I have been leading are more political and also people-centric than technical.

NOW: How so?

Lars: Much goes into convincing package owners and committers to spend more effort to evangelize their technologies, to go to developer events, write blogs, to organize small events, etc.

In a nutshell, I need to first convince them of a number of things. First, that individuals and companies don't give away time and IP without a motive.

Another key is to lead them to the realization that you need to put effort in getting to know customers, connecting before you see a return in terms of open source contributions. And often we talk about how to go about this: my role there is really about helping them, not about being getting the glory myself!

NOW: How open are you to criticism from developers? What are their major concerns, by the way?

Lars: As a former tools guy, I had to learn to get a thick skin. Every single time a tool is upgraded, a large number of developers are impacted and not all of them can be pleased.

So I’ve had to learn to listen during my career, and work with the engineering team to address issues. That is the only way how one can be successful.

This is even more important for me now, because with the Symbian Foundation we are trying to do something new, building on top of the existing heritage. We can only be successful if we listen and learn.

NOW: How do you balance the one-on-one meetings you have at events such as OSCON with the need to reach developers more broadly? I mean, how do you reach 14 million people all at once?!!

Lars: This is a really hard one. Essentially this can only be done through networks of people, who build their own networks of people, etc.  (Symbian) is creating a volunteer program for application developers which uses this priniciple. So are my other peers who look after other communities, such as members and consumers.

So it's all about seeding the community and enabling a process that allows to building momentum. We need to seed this until we have enough momentum to build a self-sustainable community.

This goes hand-in-hand with building alliances and relationships with the membership all over the globe. Witness the recent news on the partnership with China Mobile and Symbian as an example.

I have also seen more activity at a much smaller level: for example we are organizing two workshops in Bangalore--one for members, one for our open source leaders. We asked for member companies who could volunteer hosting and paying for such an event and within a day 15% of the membership came back, willing to host the event. Very encouraging.

NOW: Everyone wants to be a "rock star," right? How do you help key developers achieve this, or at least achieve a higher level of recognition within the community?

Lars: In my view becoming a "rock star" in our community is about what individuals do for the community and whether they build their own communities around them. So we’ve started to reward companies and individuals by giving them visibility and talking slots at our conference, the Symbian Exchange and Exposition (www.see2009.org/), by using them as role models when talking to others, etc.

I also focus mentoring activities on those people who are most active, with the aim for them to mentor others later on. That means that they will start by being the rock stars of the communities they build around themselves.

When there is enough momentum, the game may change and the question becomes who will be the superstars amongst the rock stars, right? But I am pretty much focused on learning to walk before learning to run!

Follow Lars Kurth at www.twitter.com/lars_kurth
Follow Roger Strukhoff at www.twitter.com/strukhoff

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.