Carina C. Zona bio photo

Carina C. Zona

Email Twitter LinkedIn

“Shirts! We’ve got your t-shirts right here!” Except we don’t.

No one is entitled to freebies. But let’s talk about why we’re fond of giving free shirts to (presumably) well-paid people anyway.

I’m a developer evangelist & community builder. When it comes to software, “community” can feel like an abstraction. What does “community” even mean, right?

A community is comprised of people who share an attribute that’s important to them, that feels distinct from those who don’t have it in common, and which is tied to a sense of personal identity.

“I live in San Francisco” is a statement of geographical fact; whereas “I am a San Franciscan” reflects an aspect of my identity. My sense of belonging to something that will outlast me. My passion & loyalties. San Francisco is my community. I feel this way about other things, too. Ruby community has its flaws, but it’s a community I am invested in long-term regardless of what else I’m doing.

“What does this have to do with t-shirts?” you might be wondering. Let’s circle back to the question of why the heck we give away swag shirts. Some reasons:

  • We need people’s passive help in getting the project or brand known better.

  • We want people to associate the project or brand with being cool, whether anyone knows anything else about it whatsoever.

  • We want people to feel appreciated, and feel that others are being treated well too.

  • We hope people feel proud to wear our logo; proud to be associated with it.

  • We intend that when someone sees a crowd full of people wearing the shirt, that they’ll feel they’re missing out and be excited to go do something about it.

  • We intend that it’ll ultimately lead to questions, usage, contributions, and personal identification.

Every time someone walks away with a shirt that doesn’t fit them right, or there’s no shirt to fit them at all, that’s a lose-lose situation for us all.

  • A failure to elicit help bolstering the image of the project or brand.

  • A thoughtless decision that looks decidedly uncool.

  • Showing due appreciation to some, while disregarding others who equally deserve appreciation.

  • Implicitly communicating that some people needn’t take interest in what we’re building.

  • Making people feel they’re missing out, then reinforcing the accuracy of that conclusion.

It is possible to build software community without caring about swag shirt inclusivity; but it makes that mission unnecessarily harder.

Here’s a nice writeup about gender-inclusive shirts. It details what swag shirt inclusivity entails. Swag shirt inclusivity goes beyond gender considerations, but it’s a solid start.

Yep, this stuff takes effort to do well. But it serves a community builder’s mission.