JS Party – Episode #252

Gremlins in the water

with Paloma Oliveira

All Episodes

KBall and Boneskull dive deep with Paloma Oliveira on the cultural and social consequences of open source software, explore her background in arts and government-supported open source, and discuss practical approaches to change the culture of open source towards more sustainability.



SentryWorking code means happy customers. That’s exactly why teams choose Sentry. From error tracking to performance monitoring, Sentry helps teams see what actually matters, resolve problems quicker, and learn continuously about their applications - from the frontend to the backend. Use the code CHANGELOG and get the team plan free for three months.

Vercel – Vercel combines the best developer experience with an obsessive focus on end-user performance. Our platform enables frontend teams to do their best work. Unlock a better frontend workflow today.

SourcegraphTransform your code into a queryable database to create customizable visual dashboards in seconds. Sourcegraph recently launched Code Insights — now you can track what really matters to you and your team in your codebase. See how other teams are using this awesome feature at about.sourcegraph.com/code-insights


1 00:00 Opener
2 00:43 Sponsor: Sentry
3 01:23 It's party time, y'all!
4 02:13 Welcoming Paloma
5 03:46 Paloma's in-progress book
6 05:38 Paloma's open source background
7 09:43 Chris' open source background
8 12:13 Hostility in OSS culture
9 13:57 Sponsor: Vercel
10 15:40 Overview of OSS cultural problems
11 18:42 Individual boundaries & volunteer labor
12 21:18 Imbalance is a key word here
13 27:13 Diversity problems & decision makers
14 35:03 Throwing gremlins in the water
15 36:52 Okay, back to saving open source
16 38:56 Sponsor: Sourcegraph
17 41:31 YOU can make open source more inclusive!
18 46:29 Incentivicing managers to fund OSS
19 47:59 Talent retention via open source
20 49:24 Investing in open source
21 53:18 The beauty of collaboration
22 54:50 Final thoughts! KBall
23 55:55 Final thoughts! Chris
24 56:47 Final thoughts! Paloma
25 58:32 Wrapping up!
26 58:52 Outro (review us on Apple!)


📝 Edit Transcript


Play the audio to listen along while you enjoy the transcript. 🎧

Hello, and welcome to JS Party. I’m Kball, I am your MC today. I am joined by a couple friends here today… So first off, the one, the only, b0neskull. Chris, how are you doing?

How do you do?

Welcome! We are also joined today by a special guest, Paloma Oliveira. Did I pronounce that right? Paloma Oliveira?

Yeah, you can say so.

That’s a no. [laughs]

Close enough… Close enough? Nah… Fail…! Well, Paloma, welcome! We’re so excited to have you on the show.

Thank you. I’m very happy. I’m quite happy to be here… I will jump a little, yup.

That’s really happy…

Why don’t you introduce yourself to the show?

So with my pronunciation, my name is Paloma Oliveira, I am currently working as a developer advocate for Sauce Labs. I’m also a PyLadies Berlin organizer, I also work to contribute for Other Side of the Web, which is promoting net art, and archiving and researching that art here in Berlin, for the Zentrum für Netzkunst… I am a cat mother, George may meow during the show… I apologize in advance. He likes to comment a lot. I am currently living in Berlin, but I’m being all around. I was born in Brazil, so if you will hear an interesting accent over there, that’s it.

Well, if we get some meows, that will be good soundbites for future shows, so… I can even encourage it. And I hear that you’re working on a book. Do you wanna tell us a little about that?

I do. It’s a very, very dear project. I am doing it with the very support of Apress, and James, my editor. He’s lovely, I just met him at ATO, at All Things Open, and it is a book… Well, the whole idea behind this to think about how can we make open source a more diverse and bring more equality to this space… And the whole behind, and the importance of that, is like “Yo, this thing is the base of the technology industry”, which is actually tangible for people’s lives… But it is a very homogeneous space. How can a homogeneous idea or perception of the world be driving the way we are perceiving and driving our lives? And I mean it, like how tangible that is; how many apps everyone uses, to (I don’t know) sleeping tracking, and making decisions about their own body… And the way they move, like “How do I move through disease?” or for places, or “How do I choose the places I eat?”, for example… I mean, it’s very tangible, right? And those decisions should not be made a homogeneous mind, or body, and therefore the idea of this book is trying to address then how to give a practical – but first of all, understanding what’s going on in this space, understanding why it is important to talk about that, and then proposing actual replicable models forward to improve that. Does it make sense? [laughs]

We’re gonna pause a really long time, because if it 100% makes sense, you give such great reactions to that long pause… So this is an area that I know Chris has thought about a lot, that I’ve thought about a lot, of like what are the consequences of open source, what are the different sustainable models for open source… Maybe tell us a little bit about how you came to having this topic area be such a focus for you?

[05:53] I think it’s from my own experience. So open source to me is how I kind of shape my adulthood… So I’ve been doing art my whole life, and I learned to do art in hacker spaces in Brazil, where I was very lucky to be in a point of time and of a socio-economic time where Brazil had the left party in government, and they decided to hire a bunch of FOS, so Free and Open Source people, the very ideological ones, in power, working for the government to make transparent data, to bring that idea of collaboration and working with open and free software inside of cultural places… So I was one of those fortunate people to leave that area where we have a lot of financial support from the government to lead that, and replicate that, and understand that idea so deeply that that becomes like a way of existence.

So I started to do art in hacker spaces, reproducing it and teaching people how to do it… And that is life-transforming. I think as soon as you experience it, that kind of shapes everything. But I know how much I was rooting for people thinking exactly the same, or sort of very male-dominant attitudes, and having a hard time, having (I don’t know) experiences other types of people inside. And I applied that idea into several spaces - inside of the medicine school in Brazil, where we decided there was this med hacker group, which I’m still part of it, where we think how to open the medicine, how do we do that in politics, and medicine, and biology… I was fortunate - in my master degree I was in a university where I could get together with people from biology, that was thinking about bio-hacking, and how do we open pharmaceuticals and biological systems…

So that idea was applied for all the parts of my life, and I was wondering that “Whoa, so this is not just about software, but it is really how we are perceiving the world, and how we are changing, and all the possibility of changing the way we react and we live in the world, we live together, the power of collaboration.”

And when I moved to Germany and I decided that I needed a more stable job instead of just being an artist, and I got my first job in an open source program office, then I was like “Oh gosh, that can be applied to business… What does it mean?” And then I started to be very bothered and confronted by my ideas that come out from the FOS space, and asking myself “Okay, but it’s true, I changed my job because I needed more sustainability for my life…” And people were doing that for free, having burnout, to sustaining a billion-money industry, and destroying their own bodies being overwhelmed… What’s going on?!” And then I started to ask myself, “What’s going on?” and talked to people, and tried to ask this question, “Okay, there’s something that is bothering people, there’s something very unbalanced here. What can we do? Is there a way to push it forward? How is it?” So this is where this idea came from.

That’s a really interesting background, from two angles that I see. One is coming from the arts side; and honestly, some of the most fascinating talks and projects that I have seen in technology are those that are trying to apply technology to art and use it there, and it just feels like there’s so much open space there, in a really interesting way.

And the second was that it sounded like you actually had government backing. Funding open source as a public square, in some ways, which is something I haven’t seen much of before.

Chris, I know you have also made a very large amount of your career working in open source. Do you wanna share some of your story and how it might be similar or different that Paloma’s?

[09:53] Well, I came from the traditional “Do what you’re supposed to do to become a programmer” type of thing. So I went to school for it. At some point in high school I decided that “Well, I have to make money, and I have computers, so I’m gonna go do that in college”, and I was not one of the people that was unsure what they wanted to do with themselves… So I went to school, it sucked, but I got the piece of paper, and I started working for companies and learning the trade. But back then, I wasn’t really exposed to much open source or anything. That only happened later in my career.

But I do agree with your insight that there’s a lot of interesting stuff that’s coming, that has come out of the art space in open source… Especially stuff like processing, and Arduino. Processing has its roots in, I think, visual art, or installations, or something like that.

And the whole Arduino culture, the maker thing - I mean, that’s kind of revolutionary in its own way, too. And that culture is also about sharing, right? So it’s not just software… But I guess we are JS Party, and so that’s kind of our focus, right? [laughter] So I definitely agree with a lot of the observations that Paloma has, and she’s coming at it from a very different place than I am… And it is really important to just get those different perspectives. And it’s like, case in point, this is why we need more diversity in this space, because I wouldn’t have those ideas, and it’s just like - I think we can grow so much more as a community, or society, if we do.

But I don’t wanna oversell how much I feel like open source is important in the relative scheme of things, but for someone maybe…

I think one of the interesting things about open source, and one sort of loaded thing for it is that in some dimensions the barrier to entry is very low. There are lots of people who got into the tech industry, and sort of access to that life-changing tech salary by starting in open source, and learning and hacking there. However, both the overwhelming white and Asian male demographics and related cultural pieces and the very large time investment involved, and making that much more accessible to a subset of people and then to others, right? It’s much easier to get in that way if you are someone who has a lot of spare time, is comfortable in a relatively - should we say relatively hostile often culture, or at least one that is very brusk and unlikely to… I mean, it depends on the project. Linux… I won’t shy away from – Linux was a hostile culture for a very long time. If you got in there, you had to be ready to be sworn at, and told your stuff was s**t, and be able to go with that… And a lot of people - that turned them off.

I do think there are a lot of projects today - and I’m thinking of the Vue community, the Rust community, that are much more welcoming; that’s a big step forward. But it still takes a lot of time, and you still have to have a lot of freedom and access to get into the industry that way.

Alright, well let’s jump back into a little bit of kind of thinking about those impacts of open source. I saw in the notes we had a question of “What are the social consequences of producing open source?” and I feel we can attack that from multiple angles… But Paloma, what’s your reaction? Where do you wanna go with it?

We’ve gotta break that down, because I have so many questions out there. Maybe I would point out my mind map of the view… And Chris is very good in breaking that down and understanding what I actually mean… [laughs] So let’s understand maybe history. We have this idea that we understand [unintelligible 00:16:17.28] software is where all the thought starts. Software is something that is a benefit for humanity, therefore is supposed to be free. We’ve gotta make it free. And then we go from that into an inevitable capitalism/consumerism/consumption of it, and say “Ooh, look at that! Free labor! We can take advantage of that.” And then you have billionaire industries taking actually advantage of that. It’s not a straightforward line, and I think there are several small lines in between… But there’s definitely, to me, one to break down is… Maybe I’m being too punk here, but there is definitely a very worry labor issue there. So by one hand we know that the industry is based on that, and we need – if we want that to be bright, if you want to really use the power of it for the benefit of the commons, not everyone can have the money benefit out of it, but someone is having a gigantic money benefit out of it. And we do live in a capitalist society, where that’s needed for everyone. How do we create equality around that? I mean, how do we have some ethical standards for that? That to me is the most front-face social consequences of it. It’s actually us being acceptable, and needed, and people with that understanding that “Oh, I have to contribute with open source” without even understanding what it is, and the consequences, personal or for the projects of it.

[18:08] And I mean that; I’ve been doing this exercise of offering one-on-one video calls with people. People come in like “I wanna contribute, I have to contribute”, and the first question is like “What do you think it is? What is the cost for you?” And this is the first question that everyone steps back and says “I don’t know, I’ve never thought about that.”

So when you think about the consequences of producing, I think it became so big that we start to understanding what it means. I’m not sure if you see that way, or if that’s just a very punk understanding of it.

I think there’s a really interesting thing to dig into here around people’s individual boundaries and how they think about it… Because volunteer labor, generally, is a part of all sorts of different things in our society. I have two kids, and I have learned since having kids in elementary school that how much elementary schools assume that there are parents who are not working dayjobs, and are able to volunteer huge amounts of their time to keep the school running… And it blows my mind how deeply baked in that assumption is. Now, there, one, the set of people who benefits is more bounded. You don’t end up with “This isn’t going to multi-million-dollar corporations, this is supporting your local school.” And two, I think it’s in some ways easier to bound your scope of involvement, and there’s sort of enough community around it; not everybody’s doing these things. You can get in and volunteer for a couple of hours here and a couple of hours there.

Open source is an interesting example because 1) it is being used by multi-billion-dollar corporations as well, and we can talk about the ways in which open source gets monetized in different ways, either directly, or much more often indirectly, as being a foundational piece that lets them move faster. But two, I think that some of the models for engagement are much less healthy for individuals. You as a maintainer, if you’re a maintainer of a popular project, the scope of your commitment is much less in your control than if you’re a volunteer at your local school, or some other type of organization.

What do you mean by that?

Yeah, so if I’m volunteering at my school to help lead a bunch of kids in an after-tune exercise, I can say “Alright, I’m gonna do this – maybe I’ll do this for this year, or this semester, and I know it’s a couple hours a week.” And there’s not gonna be a massive change in the number of kids involved, because the number of kids is about the same. It’s not gonna likely change where there’s unexpected requirements coming in… Whereas if I’m a maintainer of an open source project, I may be fine volunteering to support 500 people in a community, and make changes every now and then… And if my project blows up and suddenly it’s being used by a million people and they’re all filing tickets and there’s securities things coming in - it’s much easier for my sense of obligation to rapidly scale up beyond my personal ability to fulfill it.

When you talk about the ethics of this, are you talking about – do you wanna talk about the ethics of consumers, the businesses leveraging the open source, or do you wanna talk about the ethics of the producer, and what the “Move fast and break things” and “I wanna just make this thing, and it just looks like tech to me, and so I’m gonna put it out there, and not really thinking about who can use it, and what they could use it for. Because I feel like that’s kind of come to a popular attention around AI. People are well aware that AI can be used for evil, so that community is at least trying to make some safeguards around it… But there’s no such thing for just kind of the general FOS. That hasn’t been traditionally a concern. It’s just a tool…

[22:21] So do you wanna talk about the ethics of the people building, or do you wanna talk about – like, everybody knows that businesses that are demanding all this time out of maintainers, that sucks, right? And I think that’s kind of been beaten to death, and I don’t know if there’s been any great solutions to this… But it might be cool to discuss what those could be. So… Up to you

I do think it’s a very complex subject. I think this talk is not enough for us to find solutions, because this discussion has been going on for decades. But one thing that is pretty clear is the unbalance of it. So I think it’s in our holistic perspective, where we can understand “I will use the intersectionality from my [unintelligible 00:23:10.18] because I think that it fits quite in… When you see things not by its parts, but as a whole, I think it’s more proper to investigate a subject such as… And I think most of the maintainers, even though they do it, it’s free, and someone is taking advantage because the license allows that, they would be okay if the things are balanced. And that goes from the consumer, from the producer… From all parts.

I think now it’s like we have two measurements. You have someone giving the best, because it believes in the power this can bring for a collective, and you have others that will by one hand say “Oh, thank you! Bye!” and the others that will say “Awesome! I will do my best. Thank you.” You know, sometimes I think it was enough, because we’re humans, and we’re most of the times motivated by understanding the importance of what we do.

I mean, if we take a lot of time to produce something that no one sees or uses, it’s super-sad. And sometimes appreciation is enough, but now there’s a gigantic unbalance. Now you have someone putting their hearts and effort, and all the effort. You have a bunch of people using it, and just asking and asking for more, because they do not get what it is. Most of the people do not understand how it is being made. And a lot of people trying to take the most out of it without giving nothing back. And that’s mostly industry, more than consumers. So I think the problem about ethics - it’s because we’re using different weights to measure the production, the consumption, and the possibilities to use mainly the effort of some, or the work of some. This is why I think the ethics - by one hand, it’s not just that, but it’s mostly a work issue, because it does open up a possibility for exploitation that wouldn’t in any law, like not even in Brazil, that just shut off many working laws… You wouldn’t be able to do that if it was not for open source. So you do open a gigantic feature for working rights breach, if I can say that… In this kind of, I think the ethic is not there. And this is why coming from arts, I understand that deeply. It’s very like arts issue. You have zero working rights, people say you have to do that because it’s a labor of love, and you still have to pay your rent. It’s much alike. So I understand that deeply.

[25:58] The word you said there “balance” is really an important one. I think there’s a dream of open source, of being – we’re all sharing and helping each other. You’re working on this, and I can use it, and I’m working on this other thing and you can use it… This kind of beautiful web of – what is the thing, “In front of many eyes, all bugs are simple”, or whatever it is… And all these people helping out… But the reality today is you have a small number of people doing a tremendous amount of work, and a very large number of people benefitting, and often being quite abusive about “Why doesn’t it work on this? Why doesn’t it work on this? What’s going on?” It’s really not a balanced environment between maintainers - or producers, as you call them - and the various consumers of this software.

Not just that, but the who’s extracting value, right? If I go and contribute to Node, I might get a salary, but businesses build huge businesses on Node, and make a lot of money. So that’s also another imbalance, right?

But the sum, when we talk about the sum to so much of the work… Another facet, of course - and this was alluded to earlier - was that the sum is mostly like white dudes, or Asian dudes… Not a whole lot of women… And I think that has tremendous impact on a) the culture itself of open source, but b) the software that is getting built. I’m wondering, Paloma, if you’d like to speak to that side.

I would love to, indeed. That’s the other gigantic consequence, that is very unseen. So we have painted again the situation nowadays, right? We have this gigantic thing that has been used, there’s people all around the globe that it’s crazy, that they wanna do it… So if we ignore the working rights part, we still have this thing that is driving the industry forward. It is not possible to have technology industry nowadays without open source.

And because the thought went way beyond software, many things that’s going on in the world that it’s not possible to do without this collective presence. But who is shaping it? I mean, from the governance point of view, who are taking the decisions? So it’s not just the contributors, it’s from the bottom up, down up… Who is actually involved in making the decision of creating it? So what does it get, right? It’s not just putting more women to code and contribute, because that would have changed a lot, but also how do you make the decisions? Would so much code be actually created if we have a collective thought and decisions around it?

If you have a - and I would use feminist approach, understanding feminism as a theory, that we will defend a support network that you understand the value of community-based thought. I’m not just talking about women here, I’m talking about a whole field of understanding of the world that is not just based in competition, nor a leader as like a pyramid of hierarchy, right? I’d wanna just make it clear, because it can be much broader than that.

So if you insert this point of view inside of this industry, how would it be shaped? Because sometimes I also – and I heard that from my friend Cece who was one of the first PyLadies meeting I’ve been… There was this table of women discussing how can they could be more present in the industry, and be there, and she’s like “Yo, why can people not look like me, instead of me trying to adapt and be like the other?”

[30:01] So I think it’s fundamentally and ontological perceiving. Like, it needs to be reshaped, and for that to be reshaped, it is of course having boots on the ground, to use a very used expression. People contributing, people understanding it, but mostly being able to make the decisions that I believe deeply affect the sustainability of it. And sustainability is also a broad term; understanding how we are taking care of each other, how is the community being perceived, how much code we are producing, and what’s the sustainability of this amount of energy, from the green energy being produced, but also how it is affecting people’s life, and how we’re taking care of it.

So I truly believe if we put together many people that it’s not just technical, not just white men, not just Asian, but people that come – just one example, right? Coming from Brazil, and having that instituting public policies, I’m pretty sure my understanding is so much different than people that come from Germany nowadays, that I can compare… It’s just different. And when you put them together, there’s no way you cannot benefit everyone. I don’t see a way that it’s not beneficial to everyone.

And I think that’s a key thing, right? So I am a white man, I am that demographic; I’m working right now at a company where half of the engineering leadership, and a fair amount of the engineering team is women. And it’s the most diverse engineering team I’ve ever been on. And I will say that even for me as that sort of majority demographic, it is the most pleasant work environment that I’ve ever worked in as an engineer.

So even the people who are in that majority group who, I think, may feel well-served by the current environment - like, things can be a lot better, and more pleasant when you get more perspectives in the room. It’s much easier to avoid groupthink… A lot of times, the things that you need to do to make a place more pleasant for folks who have been traditionally excluded also make it more pleasant for everyone. Especially – like, I’m a parent now; the types of things that I was able to do when I was just out of school, and had all the time in the world, and no obligations, I cannot do anymore. And having a workplace that understands that and respects that is huge. And that’s something that I think - coming back to open source… If our model of an open source maintainer is someone who is spending 18 hours a day coding in their room - that doesn’t work for most people, and it’s pretty unpleasant for that person, too. So we need to be thinking about a model that is sustainable, that works across a wide range of life experience and life circumstance.

When you talk about decision-makers - I mean, there’s kind of two ways an open source project happens. One is somebody or somebodies come together and say “Okay, hey, let’s build this thing.” Usually, it’s one somebody at the start, and they build a thing, and then if they’re lucky, somebody will help them with it.

And the other way is some company decides they want to build something, and they pay people to build it, and it’s driven by the company, it’s open source for now, and maybe it won’t be later… But there you go, feel free to contribute, community of open source contributors.

So there’s the former, and the latter… If we look at the latter, we can see that, alright, decision-makers on those projects are essentially project managers from companies, and if women aren’t in those roles, those roles don’t have diversity. Again, it’s gonna be very monotonous.

[34:06] And it’s also coming from industry, too. It’s like “Well, open source is not a diverse place”, but neither is software in general. Open source is worse… So why is that? Well, there’s a lot of reasons; but some portion of this is it’s like a greater societal thing where the women have been fighting for equal pay forever… And even if they do get close to that, maybe they’re not those decision-makers. And maybe they’re not in the exact suite that drives the KPIs, or what have you, and that makes the product managers make the decisions to do the thing to improve those KPIs, instead of literally anything else that could be more beneficial to anything other than the company’s bottom line.

So when you are thinking about “Okay, how do we do this boots on the ground thing?” are you thinking about “Alright, let’s do it the other way, and start from scratch, and not approach open source like a business would”? Or are you thinking about, “Well, yes, we need to do that, but we also need to be in these positions of power in industry to be able to create those open source projects and drive them forward?”

Chris, to be honest, I think we believe we have to be Gremlins in the water. We have to reproduce it all around, and just do like Gremlins… [laughs] I think strategies needs to go to a diverse of strategies as well. You cannot change anything - and I learned that in arts - if you’re talking to… You don’t know the Gremlins in the water? If they get this water, they proliferate.

No, no, no… Wait, what?

Okay, yeah, wait…

Is that a Brazilian thing?

We need to diverge on Gremlins in the water. We can come back to actually trying to make the world better soon. Like, what is that?

You’ve never seen Gremlins? The movie? Spielberg?

Oh, okay, okay… So you actually – you mean you get the Gremlin wet.

Or you get the Mogwai wet and it becomes the Gremlin… And so you’re saying, by saying that - what, exactly? [laughter] Now we can go back to the line of thinking…

Yeah, wait… What are the Mogwais? What are the Gremlins?

Too much free association in my head, but the idea is it needs to proliferate, right? That was the idea behind. I should just use the world “proliferate” and Gremlins in the water.

Are you saying like we need to blow it up, but – what you started to say before I got distracted was we have to come at this on all angles, right?

Exactly. You cannot just do that and be like a super-activist, having written all the right books, published papers, and doing great exhibitions, and having one small project for five people. You cannot. You have to be in the table, you have to have place in the table where decisions are being made, but you also have to be the one actually writing the tests. I’m doing some metaphors here… But you have to have your code inside of the line of code that will fix the bug, but you also have to be in the table of the ones making decisions, otherwise this won’t happen. You cannot have any change without that, and without the support of everyone around, and creating conscience about why is this important, and without people feeling fear of this change.

And to be honest, change is something that goes very slow in society. Even – I heard the other day, people are still afraid of open source; why would you be afraid of something that’s not dangerous? So the changes can be very slow, but for us to make real change, we need to first understand why is this important… So this work of talking about it, understanding why is this important for everyone, why does that bring benefits, and mostly, why we’re doing that. It’s tremendous. Can I – no, forget it. [laughs] I wanted to say something, but…

You can say whatever you want. But you know what - at this point it might actually be a good chance to take a quick break, and then we can come back and figure out what are all the Gremlins we want to throw in the water. What are the different tactics that we as individuals, the people listening can try to help move this in the right direction.

So let’s jump back in and talk about tactical, concrete things that people can do. And maybe we can hit it at a couple levels. One, if you’re just an individual, what are the types of things you can do. Two, if you’re someone who’s in maybe a little bit more of a position or authority or power - maybe you’re a manager, a director in a software company, something like that… And three - because I love your background in like the public, what sorts of governmental or other public support might we do?

This is one thing that has always stuck out to me about open source, which is - it’s creating a public good, but we don’t fund it like we fund public goods. There’s all sorts of different things that we fund as a society, through various governmental mechanisms, or non-profits, or things like that, and saying “This is something that is good for everyone, and we’re gonna fund it.” And open source has very limited amounts of that. There’s a couple of foundations, but they’re not putting much money. And a lot of times when there is substantial money, it’s because this foundation is actually a conglomerate of a set of corporations backing some of their agenda.

So anyway, there’s a lot of different angles we can tackle it… Paloma, why don’t you lead us off? Where have you been thinking about it in terms of practical things people can do to create some change here?

So if you’re a single person, lost in the world, and you think you’re powerless, you’re wrong. First thing. Understand that you have so much more power on your hands than you think… And that’s the classic “Understand your own privileges”, and put the voice of the ones who do not have voice on the table that you have access. Remember that change comes when you have everyone at the table.

So invite the ones who are not in the seat to be in the seat. And that comes in many forms. We mean speaking up for people who are not there, for mentoring people - that’s so much important, and it’s so much sad… Shout-out to Chris here for being the loveliest person to work with, and for helping me a lot. So I don’t know what it means for people, but sometimes just answering a question is enough for people to feel they belong, and they know something they didn’t know before.

[43:48] I mean, I’m a fairly junior developer, and I’m a mentor. I know the difference I make to people’s life. So you don’t need much to make the difference. If you have some sort of power, or if you’re part of a project, an open source project, for example, for Christ’s sake, follow best practices. [laughs] You can literally, literally just download models that you just follow. And what does this best practice do is that it improves the communication on your project and makes it welcoming for people. It’s not much. You just write the readme. Put the license! [laughs] These are three documents that change everything, but that will help so much people to onboard your project. It’s not much, right? So just make the decision and just make one contribution to adding those best practices there.

If you have some sort of – if you’re a manager, or if you’re a company and you have some sort of mechanisms… At Sauce Labs we have now an experimental program, a fellowship program to help people onboard and become contributors and leaders in the open source space; that’s supposed to be a replicable program. Very low-cost. Definitely very powerful for changing people’s life.

So I hope that we’ll become a practical model to push forward; I can tell you in six months how it went. We will start on December 1st. We’re currently interviewing the fellows… But that’s low-cost, it doesn’t interfere anything on backlogs, nor nothing, but you automatically make people under you hierarchically speaking become mentors, sharing their knowledge, and pushing more contributors and presence in open source.

If you’re a manager in companies, support your engineers to be part of open source. Support your designers to help with open source design. We need a lot. Help people to promote events where you help them to contribute, and ask them why they’re contributing. And for that, just easily look to the stack of tools you’re using. They’ve gotta be open source. So just contribute back to the ones you’re using. And that’s a lot.

If you’re a government - well, you’re so behind if you’re not doing it, but remember that you, the government, work for the public; therefore, that should be easily accessible for the public. So if you’re not using open source and your data is not transparent, shame on you. [laughs]

That’s a list of things that crossed my mind, but – I don’t know, that’s my head. I would love to hear your thoughts about it.

So the managers… And I think the conversations we’ve had in the past, you kind of know how I approach this… In order for a manager to want to do this, and in order for somebody who can allocate resources and yadda-yadda, there needs to be some benefit for the business, right? Because it’s all the profit motive. So what are those things? Like, you can tell them “Alright, look, morally and ethically this would be the right thing to do”, but I’m jaded, and nobody cares about that. They care about how that’s gonna benefit the business if they go ahead and encourage people to spend X amount of hours a week on some open source, or start contributing to this project we’re using. So what are those things?

I mean, I’ll say, as someone who’s worked as a manager quite a bit, the two things that stand out to me are skill development and retention. I mean, I already do this a lot - when people ask about how to learn more, I say “Read more code, and in particular, don’t stop at the boundaries of our codebase. Read the packages that you’re referencing. While you’re debugging, be willing to dive down into there.” And one step further is like you run into a problem, you figure out how to fix it.

[47:57] The other big thing is that right now we’re heading into a more recessionary climate, there’s a lot of layoffs, and maybe retention won’t be as top-of-mind… But 3-6 months ago everybody was like “How do I keep my engineers? They’re hopping all over the place.” And one way you can keep engineers happy is you give them opportunities to do things they think are cool. And if there aren’t things that are cool inside your codebase, maybe there are in the open source packages that you’re using.

You can even as a manager talk up the opportunity, “Hey, you can become a contributor here. It raises your profile, you can maybe go to some conferences”, things like that. At least in boom times, that retention argument can be strong. And also, to some extent, the recruitment aspect of it. “We let our engineers contribute to open source. You can see their names out there.” That can be big.

I will say that as a manager also, often the most effective thing you can do is reduce barriers to contribution… Because a lot of engineers - they’re already interested. They wanna contribute. So you say “Okay, it’s fine if you carve off four hours a week for this”, or something like this. And depending on the size of company - like, if you’re a large company, you may need to work with legal, and figure out what’s allowed, and how do you make sure it’s okay, and this, that, and the other. With small companies it usually doesn’t matter. Or at least if it matters, nobody cares. But reducing the barriers… Because from what I’ve seen, for a lot of folks there is a lot of intrinsic motivation. I think it’s cool.

To be honest, I think it’s very narrow-minded, the people who give this answer, like “What is the business ideal?” It’s a super – it’s just that idea of… It’s very narrow-minded, is the best definition for it. You will have so much benefits if you just contribute back for the own tools that you use. And as you said, Kball, it’s refreshing. It’s too hard to be – and we’re just talking about engineers here. Coding all the time, for the same project - you need some free space to feel like you’re growing. I know a total of zero engineers that are fully happy just taking care of the backlog of the amount of thing to do… Because your brain needs some time.

So if you’re an engineer, go talk with a designer, do some trans-disciplinary work… Because most of the people do wanna learn other things; and use this time to contribute to open source back for usually the tools that you use, so it will benefit everyone, and all that’s needed.

So if you still think this is not contributing for the better of the company, I do think you should open up a space to understand how much that is beneficial for your business because you’re doing that. That’s my take.

It takes a bit of a more long-term view, right? So when a company is in survival mode, it’s hard to make that argument. When you’re more in a space of “We’re investing for the future, we’re interesting in building a brand that’s a good place for engineers to work, we’re interested in making sure that we retain and grow the folks that we have…” Which, once again, economics go in and out, companies go in and out depending on things, but when your company is in that mode, this is like a very effective way to invest in your engineering team. So if you’re in investment mode, you should be investing in open source.

I ask you because that also comes from my experience. I swear to you, I work five times more when I’m happy and when I trust the people I met… Like, oh, managers or projects I’d work for free, that I’d spend – I do not even need to sleep, because I’m so happy, and I feel nurtured because I believe in it.

If you put yourself into stress mode, like “Oh, we’re in a recession, we’re growing”, that stress just consumes you in a way that is so deeply that you cannot think. You just start to shrink. And that shrink is on your body; you see people are curving out… If you go from the perspective of the body, you see literally people shrinking out. You see people literally so stressed that they’re like in circles, in the same problem. An issue, and an issue, and an issue. You cannot see a light forward.

[52:06] Even in recession, even some economic theories will tell you “Open up. Do not close down, because it’s not beneficial.” So that’s not actually an argument.

I won’t disagree with you about the actual benefits there. I will say it’s going to be much harder to convince people when they’re in that mode. Because those managers are themselves in that reactive, shrinking, “Oh, my gosh” mode, many of them. And so as much as I think you’re right that our opportunities for growth are often in staying open during our hard times, and the more that you are able to stay open to possibility and invest in the future, even when the current times look bleak, the better, it’s really hard to make that argument to people who are stressed out of their minds.

Honestly, from what I have seen, the line managers in engineering right now are as stressed or more stressed as the engineers, in a lot of these companies. Certainly, that matches my own experience.

I know. Much love for people out there stuck in distress. This is the beauty of collaboration, right? This is what being fairly raised in this environment taught me; it’s like, we’re so fixated in scaling up, and growing… And then you just like share this moment with people… Like, I don’t need too much to share, right? And if I share, everyone has the best of it. If we deeply take this collaboration culture forward, this recession mode, and if we go towards a more fair place… I know this is very utopic and activist from me, but I truly believe that. And if someone has ever lived that experience, we can make a better place for everyone, especially with those brilliant minds that we have around open source; it’s a privilege when you can share with people that truly believe in what they’re doing. It is so special. You potentialize this culture of sharing. It’s beautiful. It’s very powerful.

Even from a slightly more pragmatic place - I’ve been in the industry almost 20 years now, and a very large number of the people that I know who’ve been around as long as I have are burned out and completely jaded. And the only way I’ve seen for me and for many folks to escape that is to focus down on individual people, and how you help the individual people around you. And that connection, if you’re not getting it at work, maybe you can find an open source community where you can get that individual connection with people who care and that you can connect with.

Well said, Kball.

Alright… Well, we’re coming up on time. Any last thoughts – let’s actually go in reverse order. So I will go, then Chris, and then Paloma. So I’ve seen many models of open source… I’ve worked inside a company that had their owned open source model, where it was like “This is the company’s open source, which -” pros and cons; we’ve gone through those before. We’ve seen very open community projects, and then there’s all these various gradations. But I definitely can say that for me, open source has been a huge positive in my life. And I think as we look at this, the real question is “How do we take that and make it a positive for everyone?”

We’ve talked about a few different possibilities, but I know – it sounds like Chris has been extremely helpful in the community, Paloma is open, I’m open… If people want to get involved and don’t know how, reach out. People who are already in the open source community, many of them are very welcoming, and we’d love to help you get in. So that’s my thought, closing this out. Chris, what’s your take on this conversation?

[55:57] Well, I owe a great deal to open source, but it has to change. In many ways, it is kind of rotted. I feel like a lot of the early idealism has been lost, and I feel like – however it is to change in the future, I think it needs to be something significant. I don’t know what that is, but we’re here for it when that happens… Because I think that it can help individuals, and it can help businesses, obviously… But it also can hurt people, and it can be used in a way that is not really helpful for society. So something needs to change there, and… Yeah, bring it on.

Brutal. Yeah, I agree, Chris. This idealism that I do have still lives inside of me, and I truly, truly believe that for a better world we need to share more with each other, and believe that. But there’s something really bad there going on, and we need to speak more about it, and to find a better solution, that is more fair. That starts with diversity, but that has become a buzzword, just like open source. It gets so much popularity that you do not think about the meaning anymore… And I think it is important to invite people for the dance. I forget – I have to quote the one who said that, but… Many people in diversity fields say it’s not just inviting to the party, it means inviting people to dance… So bringing – part of the job or part of the change is bringing more perspective to the place, to the table, and to decisions, the place where we’re making decisions… But part of it is actually questioning and understanding what it means, and the consequences of each line of code we write, any type of project we produce, and why we are creating all of these things.

But definitely, it is very powerful. I truly believe in the ethos of it, and if someone wants to get started, I will highly – I offer free office hours in my regular dayjob time to do that, to help people think critically about it, and actually get started… And I’m here to help.

Alright. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Paloma. Thank you, Chris, as always… And that has been another episode of JS Party, so join us again, same place, same channel next week. Thank you. This is Kball, signing out.

Is that a very weird show for JS Party, this theme?

Oh, we go all over. [laughter]

Not especially…

So basically, I was thinking – Gremlins, when I heard that, I was like “Is that some old aphorism from some European country where there’s old… Like, “Peasants, don’t go near the water. There’s Gremlins in there.”

“There’s Gremlins there…!”


You know, “The Gremlins will steal your pitchfork, and…” I don’t know. But that’s what I was thinking. I didn’t tie the Gremlin back to the Spielberg Gremlin… [Because you never can tell… There just might be a Gremlin in your house.]


Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚

Player art
  0:00 / 0:00