A Tale of Two Groups

HS Hackers & TeenDev


Over the past 24 hours, there have been posts, polls, discussions, and general brouhaha about a merger. No, Verizon and T-Mobile are not merging — this is about two Facebook groups: HS Hackers and TeenDev.

I wanted to stay out of it because (frankly) I hoped it would blow over, but as the creator of one of the two groups, HS Hackers, I feel something of an obligation to throw my $0.02 into my ring and hopefully clarify some things.


The HS Hackers Facebook group has a complicated history. For those of you who don’t know (and I’m writing this assuming that you, dear reader, are a member of either TeenDev or HS Hackers), I created HS Hackers group back in September, shortly before PennApps 2013f. My intention (which was largely realized) was to create a place for the dozen or so high schoolers who were hacking at PennApps 2013f to hang out virtually, and meet up at the event. That happened, and for the next few months, the group was basically abandoned, as it had run its original course.

On November 19th, a week or so after the PilotPhilly hackathon at UPenn, I decided to add my partner, Victor Lourng, to the group. He was new to the hackathon community and I wanted to introduce him to the people I met at PennApps. Hours later, Jared Zoneraich, who I had promoted to admin of the group on October 1st, posted to the group:

For what it’s worth, this was my response:

Over the next few hours and days the group’s original dozen or so members began adding our friends who we felt ought to be in the group — fellow high schoolers who frequented hackathons or who we knew to be “good hackers” (whatever that meant — the criteria for membership was never formally agreed upon). Dave Fontenot and Geoffrey Yefim Vedernikoff, organizers for MHacks and PennApps respectively, also joined. The group was then renamed from “PennApps HS Hackers” to “HS Hackers”, and the description was changed to reflect the pivot.

Over the next days and weeks, the group swelled to around 50 people, partially by existing members adding their friends, and partially because MHacks and PennApps began casually pointing prospective high school attendees to this group. All was quiet for a little while, as this new expanded group began introducing themselves to each other and generally geeking out.
At some point, the group reached a critical mass where, as it does now, it was able to grow continuously — no more sporadic growth spurts. This was the start of the extended cross-pollination between this group and TeenDev. I joined TeenDev, and what I saw was an open group for current and aspiring high school programmers to talk about their projects, seek technical advice, and generally hang out. I thought, “Wow, that’s cool! What a great resource.” I didn’t really see the groups as being “in competition”, because those sorts of posts were (back then) generally not posted here.

TeenDev

As it happens, over the summer I learned about something called Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development. If it sounds like BS to you (it did to me at first), I promise you it’s not. I’ve seen it happen in basically every group I’ve been part of — physical and virtual. It’s basically the theory that groups have four phases:

Guess where we are?

Every time even a single member is added to a group, the group ticks slightly backwards to the “forming” stage. People get less comfortable in the group, and there’s some natural uncertainty. To outsiders, elitism might be perceptible.

We’re in the throes of storming.

People are annoyed because the familiar dynamics and composition of their groups have changed (even if it is for the better), and conflicts are arising.

“Content X *does* belong in this group, content Y doesn’t.”
“Who let that guy in here?”
“What is this group even about any more?”

THIS IS NATURAL.

But that said, I don’t know what the solution is. Personally, (although I am neccessarily one of the most biased participants in this) I tend to think that we shouldn’t “force” a merger between the two groups. First of all, Facebook doesn’t even have a facility for doing so. Secondly, I think that if the two groups are in fact destined to unite, then people will over time select one group or the other to join. I don’t know which one it will be, but I do think that if any “merger” is to happen, it should happen naturally.

TeenDev and HS Hackers, at least to me, still feel like different groups. HS Hackers seems more focused on physical collegiate hackathons, while TeenDev seems more foused on community help and discussion about programming in general. Maybe I’m wrong about the specifics, but I can’t shake the feeling that the groups have distinct and equally valuable roles.


A few weeks ago, Dave Fontenot, posted something to the HS Hackers group:

I agree with what he wrote, but I think the same is true of TeenDev. You guys are a community too, and when I joined your group I felt a unique and special vibe I didn’t feel in HS Hackers. Keep it up guys, and if the great commit log of destiny has a “merge” coming down the line for us, so be it. But for now, I just hope we can keep finding those features and feelings that make us unique. Branches exist for a reason ☺

UPDATE 1/9/13: The creator of TeenDev, Fisher Adelakin has published a great response/followup to this post, which I highly reccomend reading.