The Go Community

(This is the script for my closing keynote at GolangUK 2015.)


Hello, my name is Damian, I am a developer at I work in our Reliability Engineering Group focusing on Infrastructure Monitoring.

I’d like to thank you all for coming to the conference today, and I’d like to thank the organizers for putting this all together, and for giving me the honour of delivering the closing keynote.

Now, normally I give fairly technical talks. But not today. Instead, I’m going to talk about community, which seems to be a common topic for conference keynotes. I’m much more comfortable giving technical talks. On the other hand. I’m an extrovert so I could probably stand up here and talk about chickens for 30 minutes if I wanted to.

If you’ve ever read the golang subreddit, you’ve probably seen my username. If you’ve tweeted a question with #golang, there’s a good chance you’ve interacted with me. And I suppose that’s why I was asked to stand up here and talk about community. I’m a visible member of the community. It probably helps that I’m an extrovert. I do stuff. I certainly didn’t start out saying “Hey, I’m going to get involved in the Go community”, I just sort of fell into it.

So, what is community? Wikipedia says that Community is an American television sitcom that premiered on NBC in September 2009. But if you read further, you see it’s about a group of people who come together to form a study group and their shared experiences. This sounds like a better definition: a group of people with shared values.

Do Gophers have a community? Back to Wikipedia. “Gophers are solitary outside of breeding season” So, basically not. This, by, the way, is where there’s no collective noun for a group of gophers. Although Michael Jones has suggested the wonderful phrase “a concurrence of gophers”.

Our “concurrence” is growing, because our community is growing. And our community is growing because people are interested in learning more about Go. Lots of different backgrounds: different languages both computer and spoken, different levels of knowledge, different levels of experience; some self taught, other have formal training, different areas of focus, different priorities.

Naturally, this means the make-up of our community is changing. And this is concerning for some.. Something drew us all to Go in the first place. We want to ensure that the things that we enjoy, that brought us here, don’t change.

This isn’t going to be a talk about Codes of Conduct. There have been a number of those already. The code of conduct I personally try to live by “Be Excellent to Each Other”. If the one-sentence version of yours is sufficiently different, it’s probably worth asking “why”.

So, let’s talk about the Go community. Can we even talk about “The” Go Community?

I can certainly talk about the Go communities I’m a part of. The gophers at my work, the Amsterdam Go community, perhaps the Slack, Twitter and Reddit Go communities, maybe IRC and mailing list. But what about “the” Go community?

Jason Buberel, the Product Manager for the Go Team at Google, posted the results of a community survey:

Development Platform:

OS |
-------- | --------
Linux | 46%
OSX | 43%
Windows | 11%

And yet, these results are at odds with the fact that we know the most popular downloads of the Go installer are Windows users from China. So clearly, the Windows-using Chinese developers are not talking loudly on the go-nuts mailing list, Twitter, Reddit, or any of the other places we tried to promote this survey. Google Trends, also, shows the immense popularity of ‘golang’ in China. Before Docker and Kubernetes, the most starred Go repository was Asta Xie’s book “Build Web Applications in Go”, available only in Chinese. There was even a blog post trying to answer the question “Why is Go so popular in China?”

One thing to come out of GopherChina conference in Shanghai was the immense scale some of these Chinese users were running at.

  • Qihoo 360 running 10B messages/day with 200M+ real-time connections.
  • Baidu running 100B requests/day through Go.

The rest of us hadn’t heard anything about this, or even hardly anything about these companies. There was just a feeling Go was taking off in China.

So clearly, there is a Go community a China. A huge one from the looks of it. But one that has little in common with the rest of us.

Which brings up another interesting point: Who are “the rest of us” ?

We could say “all the gophers outside of China”.

We have the communities I mentioned earlier: the mailing list, IRC, Twitter, Reddit

People who attend conferences like this one.

Gophers by the numbers:

Gophers by the numbers:
G+ | 20000
golang-nuts | 17000
/r/golang | 16000
GitHub | 14000

Obviously these are not all independent groups; there’s overlap. But here’s an interesting question: How many people are writing Go code but are not subscribed to the mailing list? How many people are writing Go code, but don’t read the subreddit? Are these people part of our community? Are they Gophers? Well, they’re Go developers. Is there a difference? Our community needs to be accessible to everyone.

We know there are more developers that. There’s a rule of thumb about participation in online communities: 1:9:90. 1% create content, 9% contribute, and 90% lurk. 1% write blog posts. 9% comment on Reddit and Hacker News. 90% lurk. That’s a lot of people we hear nothing from. Are those 10% who are active sampled uniformly at random from the entire population? Unlikely. So we know the Gopher activity we see represented online is not the entire picture.

And this doesn’t even include “dark matter developers”, who aren’t involved in the community at all, not even to lurk.

We need make decisions that don’t just reflect what we see, which is skewed, but that tries to make sense for cases we haven’t considered. This is what Russ Cox meant by “do less, to enable more” in his GopherCon keynote.

It’s obviously hard to quantify the needs of “dark matter gophers”. But they’re still writing code. They still consider themselves part of the Go community. In fact, these people you don’t see or hear from, probably make up the majority of users. They have an impact on adoption. They have an impact on mindshare. We might call them the subconscious mind of the Programmer community.

We don’t know how many of them are out there. We don’t really even know what they’re using Go for. What do you do if most of your community is invisible? We’re not getting bug reports from them. We’re not getting patches from them. How skewed is our view of the world without them?

How skewed is our view of the world without more insight into what’s happening in China?

Why do people get involved in an online community anyway? Luckily, there’s research on this topic. Two common motivators are: “meeting like-minded people” and “finding great content”.

These are pretty generic reasons, but they apply offline too. Why are you here today? Maybe your company sent you here as a perk and you don’t really care. But probably it was one, or perhaps both of these. You want to meet some other gophers, and you want to learn some things.

“We like people who are like us.” A principle from social psychology of influence. When you meet some gophers, you already have something in common, already have a connection. Since they like Go, it’s likely share your beliefs on what being a Gopher entails. They’re part of your tribe.

At the same time, we are a technical community. We want places where you can get help: where we can learn, without being made to feel stupid. Recommendations for packages to use, or the best approach to solve a problem. A place to discuss other Go-related topics. Upcoming changes in the new release. Bugs.

We want our communities to be friendly places.

What do we believe?

- Code
- gofmt
- if err != nil { ... }
- go vet
- go build -race
- golint (CodeReviewComments)
- go get
- limited use of interface{}

- Social
- Simple is better than complex
- Performance matters
- Costs are visible

This is the culture we want to preserve. These are the values that brought many of us to Go in the first place. These are the ideas we want to propagate to newcomers.

This to some extent is the underlying “gopherness” we want to keep in the community. This is what we’re scared of losing. We want the community to respect these beliefs, because that’s what’s important to us.

The Go community is seeing an influx of new people, and many of them are trying to bring their own development habits, informed by their experiences in previous languages and previous communities, to ours. Go’s Eternal September, if you like.

Francesc Campoy-Flores gave a great talk at dotGo last year on accents, both in spoken languages and computer languages. French with a Spanish accent. Go with a Java accent, or Go with a Python accent.

Consider, then, BBC English. Received Pronunciation. The equivalent for Gophers would be the “accent” of Mountain View, or perhaps Murray Hill, NJ. The “proper” way to speak. The “proper” way to code.

There’s an interesting Canadian term that applies here: “Cultural mosaic”. It’s the mix of ethnic groups, languages and cultures that coexist within society. We use it when discussing government policy on multiculturalism. It stands in opposition to the “melting pot” metaphor that’s often used in American discussions on cultural assimilation.

For a while, the Go community ideal was cultural assimilation.

Write code like the standard library. Idiomatic code above all else. We wanted people to conform. You must write code like this. You must drink this kool-aid.

As Russ Cox pointed out in his GopherCon keynote: The Go community needs to exist outside of Google, doing things that Google isn’t doing.

We need diversity. We need different ideas, different backgrounds. This is how we become a technical cultural mosaic, where our differences contribute to the whole, instead of dividing it. We’re all exploring still. We don’t yet know the best way to do everything. Our current ideals are really “This is the best way we’ve found to do it so far”.

Many of these “best ways” reflect the experience of the Go team, but as we’ve seen with vendoring, living inside the Google Bubble doesn’t always produce solutions that satisfy those outside.

It’s always important to understand why we do these things. Otherwise you end up doing things out of habit, even though they don’t make sense any more. For example, buying a roast from the butcher, and cutting off the small end before putting it into the roasting pan to cook. “My mother always did it this way.” One day you call your mom and you find out it’s because her roasting pan was too small.

Different people have different needs.

I have a bigger roasting pan than my mother.

Let’s take Martini. By any measure, it’s a very successful project: 7400 github stars. Active community. Lots of contributors, both to martini itself and the ecosystem. Used in lots of projects. Yet many people look down on it and its users because it’s “not idiomatic”. They point to the blog post Jeremy Saenz wrote disclaiming his own project. But clearly there’s something there. Are we really going to tell people “No true Gopher uses Martini?” These people are trying to get stuff done. They have different priorities. We have to accept that there will not be the One True Way for people. There will be different … I don’t want to say “factions”, but sub-communities. Gopher towns. Some will want to follow the shoe, some will follow the gourd.

People are going to be building packages that are “non-idiomatic”. And the success of Martini led people to build more frameworks that achieved similar things, but with less magic, that spoke with a more Mountain View accent. And our community is stronger for it.

So, we can treat things like gofmt and error checking, as oaths in the citizenship ceremony. Or perhaps less formally the shibboleths. But there’s still a lot of leeway for people to experiment with, and Go’s success depends on them doing so.

So, how do you actually improve Go and turn it from a group of programmers into a community?

I’m going to talk about some of the small things that I’m responsible for, and why I chose to do them. Each time it was “here’s something I can do to make the world a little bit better for other Gophers.”

Reddit. At this point, I’m almost certainly the top submitter to /r/golang. Why did I start? Internet points. Not the most altruistic reason I agree. But why keep going? I always read a lot of news sites, and I wanted /r/golang to be populated with articles too. And since I was seeing them anyway (apparently before lots of other people), it was easy to drop it into the submit form.

An active subreddit is valuable because it makes it clear the community is doing things. If you visit a subreddit that has one post only every few days, the watering hole is dry. People aren’t going to come back if there nothing to read. By filling it with content, people come back. They realize that 1) there’s stuff happening (the content itself) and 2) there’s a community of gophers who are talking about it. A subreddit filled with content satisfies both of the reasons people join communities. This is the clearest example of me going out of my way to do something to improve the community. Except that I didn’t want to do it.

Gophervids is a website (built with bootstrap + angular and well beyond my front-end capabilities) that at the moment has more than 350 Go talks tagged by topic and speaker. I wanted a site like this to exist, and the easiest way to make that happen was to create it myself. I had always hoped that somebody else who actually knew how to build websites would come along and fix it up for me. And some people have contributed some CSS cleanups or javascript tweaks. But mostly it’s me updating a json file by hand once in a while.

However, to some extent, much like my Reddit submissions, this was taking something I was doing anyway: scanning YouTube for Go videos, and helping make that information more widely available in a more useful form.

If you want to watch videos on concurrency, or testing, or optimization, or all of Andrew’s 30+ talks, you can watch them here.

Twitter: I answer questions on the #golang hashtag. I’m a helpful person.

Lots of people tweet questions, problems, whatever, tagged with #golang. Shouting into the wind, basically. Most of the time these are beginners who need help with something, or people looking for packages but they haven’t yet found godoc’s search feature. Whatever.

Surprisingly, I’ve also spent a lot of time suggesting to people that they don’t switch to Go. Or rather, trying to educate them and set expectations about what they’re getting into. Why? I don’t want people coming in unhappy. In some senses, this actually is selfish too. If they’re unhappy, they’ll write angry blog posts that make it to the top of Hacker News and start another 200 comment discussion on why Go is a terrible language. Nobody wins here.

In 2012, Rob Pike wrote what has become one of our founding documents: “Language Design in the Service of Software Engineering.” In it, he delves into the reasons behind some of the design decisions in Go. I’ve probably sent this talk out 100 times to people asking on Twitter if they should learn Go. People have many different use cases for their language, and it’s important that they understand where Go is coming from. It might be trying to solve problems they don’t have — millions of lines of code, thousands of engineers — in which case some of the decisions might not make sense for their kind of work.

People have different beliefs about what a programming language should provide. And then you can find out what languages match your beliefs, ranging from heavily dyanamic “liberal” languages (to use Steve Yegge’s terminology) to extremely “conservative” languages like Haskell. A lot of flame wars on the internet from people who disagree about the Right Way to do things. When somebody coming from node.js or rails says “I want to learn Go”, I send them Rob Pike’s talk. Then they can decide “Is this the language for me”. And that is valuable.

The last section to a good keynote is a call to action. The A/B-tested “buy now” button next to the shopping cart.

And here we are.

Lets define our goals. Go has a large community, and there is no evidence that its growth will slow anytime soon. Lots of benefits here: more packages, more edge cases hit, more resources in general. More user groups. More blog posts. More conferences. However, we want to avoid living in an echo chamber. As environments and priorities change, we want to be able to recognize that and take a critical look at our beliefs.

1) Write Code.

This for me is important for two reasons. The first is kind of selfish. I enjoy writing code. I write a lot of code. But I also enjoy having the code I need already written. Perl is still a very powerful force, based almost entirely on the range of package available on CPAN. Python too, has a huge number of packages. Separate out internal business logic from the useful code. Push your code to GitHub. Write docs and get it listed on so others can find it. Not just interesting algorithms and papers, but parsers for obscure file formats. API clients for web services.

Second, we learn about Go, and how to use it, but writing actual code. Much of what we know about the “best way” to write Go code comes from Google. But that’s only because they already have millions of lines of Go. Millions of lines of Go code that interacts with their systems, their infrastructure, their workflows. They’ve well explored the areas of Go that are important to them. But what about the areas that are important to you? There’s lots of ground to cover before we can say that we really “understand” Go.

We’ve heard a number of times “The language is done.” Now we need to see how it works, to see how people use it, to see what people build.

2) Write Content

As I mentioned, there are two reasons people join online communities. To find like-minded people, and to find great content. Right now, a lot of Go content is “I wrote Hello World in Go and this is how it compares to Haskell”. We need more about Real World Go. Content written by Gophers. Not just for other Gophers, but a wider audience. Share your success stories with the world, not just your neighbours. And share your failures too, because Go is not the right solution for every problem. One way we improve Go is by knowing where it doesn’t work. Maybe it’s just missing documentation or maybe it’s actually missing libraries.

3) Bug reports

As a developer, listen to bug reports. Be patient. Remember that not every bug report you get will be written by a native English speaker, or might not even be in English, or even written by someone who knows how to write a good bug report.

File bugs yourself, even if you don’t have a fix. A known documented bug is better than an undocumented one.

Leave code better than you found it. If you’re going to use a library, and “go vet” or golint flag some issues, fix them and file a PR. Even if it’s just documenting the exported symbols.

4) Run tip, beta, rc

Finally, run the betas and the release candidates. We need more testers with odd use cases. Go 1.5 was released on Wednesday. Thursday somebody found a code generation bug. The way we keep upgrades painless is by having the pre-releases exercised with lots of different code bases, with lots of different server configurations, lots of different production workloads. The more bugs we can find before the final release version is tagged, the more bugs real users don’t have to wait months for a point release fix — real users who might have put their career on the line that Go was the right tool for the job.

Monday while I was busy procrastinating on this talk, I saw a small library I thought would make a great example for how to use Dmitry Vyukov’s go-fuzz tool (which you should all be using, by the way.) I was hoping somebody else would do it, but in the end signed up to Medium and banged it out myself. Sometimes the best way to get something done is to do it yourself. And so far I’ve found that’s the way with building community.

This all really boils down to “Be Involved”. Whenever you think “I need this thing”, somebody else does too. You can make it happen. Even if it’s just starting with markdown on a GitHub gist, you can help build things. Small steps.

And that’s what I want to leave you with. I just “fell into” doing community stuff. Doing small things I thought would be helpful to other people. And you can too. Small steps. Make a difference. Help people grow. Respect our differences. Stay humble.

Thank you.