This is an anthology episode from OSCON 2017 featuring awesome conversations with Kelsey Hightower (OSCON Co-Chair and Developer Advocate at Google Cloud Platform), Safia Abdalla (Open Source Developer and Creator of Zarf), and Mike McQuaid and Nadia Eghbal (GitHub Open Source Programs).
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Kelsey Hightower is an OSCON Co-Chair and Developer Advocate (Google Cloud Platform) — We talked about being a co-chair, why he does live demos, and his motivations towards open source.
When you say you’re successful, I guarantee when you look around it’s because someone is celebrating your victories.
- Check out DevOps Days Austin 2017 on YouTube
- The tweets mentioned from Kelsey that were seen as “controversial by some in the community” started with this tweet, then this tweet, and finally this tweet.
- “I don’t write code for free. I write code for freedom.”
- “Best birthday gift ever!” thanks to Brian Ketelsen
Safia Abdalla is an open source developer and creator of Zarf — We talked about being a command-line junkie and her talk on the intersection of business and open source.
- Zarf - an online platform that allows writers to sell subscription content to their readers.
- Open Source at Facebook with James Pearce (Facebook)
Mike McQuaid and Nadia Eghbal
Mike McQuaid and Nadia Eghbal work at GitHub in Open Source Programs — We talked about GitHub’s Open Source Alley at OSCON and how they are working to better support open source maintainers and their communities.
Click here to listen along while you enjoy the transcript. 🎧
We’re here with Kelsey Hightower, OSCON Co-Chair. What’s it mean to be a Co-Chair?
The job is to make sure that the program is worth buying a ticket for.
So what do you do to achieve that?
We think about the themes, like you saw the keynotes today - we talk about some of the veterans in open source, people that have worked on projects like Apache all the way to the White House, right? Like, what is our government doing with open source. So our goal is to think about the keynotes, the structure of the keynotes, and then also all the tracks. We know ML is pretty hot, so we have a TensorFlow day; we know containers are hot, so we have a container day. And then we try to make sure the workshops actually deliver the skills people are looking for. You don’t just go to a conference just to hang out. Some people come here to actually learn something, so as a program chair, you’re kind of in charge of the program. And we make sure we also give people a chance to speak.
If you’re a new speaker, we do the research to say “Hey, this person’s contributing to this project and no one knows their name, but it doesn’t mean they don’t get to speak.” So we try to pull people up and make sure that the voices of the community are being heard. That’s the role of the program chair.
So we’re here on – well, for us it’s day one, but day three of the conference, the first day of sessions… Is your job done at this point? Is the pressure off and you’re just enjoying the show, or you’ve still got a lot of balls in the air.
Well, for me it’s like going around and seeing all the sponsors, seeing the people at The Changelog show up and making sure the community is right. I kind of focus on all the parts of the community. There’s the business side of the community, there’s the people that are here for the very first time, there are people here on diversity scholarships, there are people that are thinking about open source and this is like their first introduction to open source.
As a chair, I was also a speaker by giving two workshops on the first two days. That hat’s off, and now it’s all about introducing our keynote speakers, making sure that they feel special - we give them a warm introduction - and then walking around the floor. “How’s the conference going for you?”
Shaking hands… Sometimes people come to see you. Maybe you have an open source project that you released and this is the first time they get to see you in person, and then you can actually make time for them one-on-one to go deeper in that conversation. And then I’m also learning, too. So I go and say “Hey, what are you working on?” and I just listen for a minute.
[00:04:10.24] Give us an example of some feedback you heard from the community, about the conference. What’s something you heard today?
I think a lot of people were interested that our government is now actually embracing and shipping things. People think open source is just a grassroots thing that you do if you’re hardcore, and then everyone else in the world ignores it. The scope of it has grown big time, and for some people having a person in a tailor-made suit on stage, articulating in very great detail about what they’re doing at the White House and being able to give us a URL to go touch the code… Whether you’re a startup or a big company, that’s always been a challenge – do you actually ship? And now here we are, the White House is shipping internal projects; I think a lot of people are like “Oh, if they can do it…” This is the king of bureaucracy, right? The government is actually shipping software.
So there’s some of that, and then you’ve also got some new projects… Like, allow projects that had a lot of hype, this container stuff - now people have had the opportunity to test it out. You hear some horror stories. “Hey, we went that route…”
Is that right? [laughter]
“We watched your video, and it didn’t quite work out that way.” And that’s good feedback. It helps you understand that we’re past the hype stage, and we’ve gotta be responsible. So in my workshops, I was responsible. I gave people a taste, and then made them go hands-on, so they understood the pain… Like, this ain’t for everybody, so what you’re gonna do is you’re gonna go do something from scratch, and you’re gonna struggle; I’m gonna help you a little bit, but you’re gonna struggle first, so that way when you go back to the office you’re not gonna just be drinking the Kool-Aid, you’re gonna understand what you’re talking about–
…regurgitating whatever you heard, basically.
Exactly. People come to learn, you don’t need to just talk to them all the time. These are very smart people in attendance, we’ve just gotta give them an opportunity to understand what they’re getting into.
How long have you been involved in this conference in particular?
My first OSCON was probably 5-6 years ago, when it was in Portland. I remember walking in there like, “Wow, this is a BIG conference.” A lot of big people there… You meet all these interesting people, and it felt different for me than any other conference where it was more about a product or a particular technology. I think of OSCON as like the GitHub of conferences - all the projects are here, not a lot of people trying to sell anything… People are trying to prove their value in their contributions. Here if you wanna show value you’ve gotta have contributions to talk about.
And from there, just doing work in the community, I was invited to be a co-chair, which was an honor of itself. I’ve spoken at OSCON, I’ve given tutorials before, but to get the oppotunity to be a chair to shape it for everyone else, for the same person that will have the same experience that I had six years ago.
So having this history with it – those who were not here today, listening to this show later on, what are they missing out on? What’s a common misconception about this conference that someone’s like “I’m not gonna fork over…” – I don’t know what the ticket is (about $1,000). So it’s harder for individuals to afford it, it’s easier for companies to sponsor it… So what’s that misconception, what’s the hurdle for people that aren’t here? Why aren’t they here and what are they missing out on?
So the first thing, we have like 40% discounts for independent people. If you’re not at a company, you’re getting 40% off that price and you get to show up. A lot of people do take that route. We do stuff for the indie people–
We get to give away a hall pass for free…
We get some hall passes, and we have diversity scholarships… We have different ways for people to get in. If you’re a big enterprise, then you probably have the budget to send ten people at the full price.
But for independent people, consultants where it costs them to be here, there are discounts that are standard on the website, so we always try to communicate those. And then a lot of people are intimidated, like “I haven’t contributed to open source before. Do I deserve to be there?”, or…
“Do I belong?”
“Do I belong?”, and the truth is for most people it’s where they come and do their first contribution. So we kind of have this kind of getting started segment of the show where you come out and you actually get to do your first commit, or you learn how to do Git for the first time. “How do I check out some code? How do I set up my editor?” There are a lot of tutorials that are geared towards that. Some of the things, like the Open Container Day, where people come and contribute… We have a thing called Open Contribute as well - you can get in that with a hall pass.
[00:08:08.03] So you just get the smaller tier thing, the hall pass, you walk around and you get all the events: after parties, you get to go to all the Container Day, TensorFlow Day, and learn from all the people that are core contributors to these projects. I think it’s worth for people to come in and get that experience and then decide if they wanna go a little deeper in the next year.
I’m changing the subject a little bit on you… A recent tweet - I think you even have it pinned at this point - “I don’t write code for free, I write code for freedom.”
So for people that are hip-hop, they know Chance The Rapper has a line in one of his songs that he talks about how he makes music, and he does it for freedom. Chance is known for not ever releasing an album that was for sale. It was streaming only and given away for free on the internet, and he won a Grammy. So he really broke the barrier. A lot of artists have released digital stuff before, digital albums, but that’s really just changing the format. Chance The Rapper has this huge heart where he really cares about people having access to his music, quality music; that album is legendary in the hip-hop community already. So listening to that song, I just tweeted “I don’t write code for free, I write code for freedom.”
Just my personal background - when I decided to write code myself, I turned on GitHub on purpose, because I want other people to get a use for it. So it’s not like I’m trying to build a company out of it; I’m not necessarily having a business model that I choose to go after… It’s really my freedom to express myself; the fact that I learned how to program means that I’m free to build my own tools, and it’s also to inspire other people, like “Look, you actually have the power to do this.” Most programming languages that I know of are free - you download it, you can get them running on the most underpowered machine, even on your mobile device, and you can write any code you want. Honestly, that’s freedom to me. It’s not about people giving you money, or whatever; it’s the freedom to express yourself, and then we have all these outlets: GitHub, Changelog, where you can go and talk about your projects… There’s no other industry where you can actually express yourself at such a low cost.
That’s true. The barrier is very low to get in, but sometimes you need that invitation. Like you were saying for this conference - for those not coming here, they’re either intimidated, they don’t feel welcome, they don’t feel invited or that they belong here.
I think for us that have a little bit of a following, a little bit of a platform, we’ve gotta remind the people watching that we also believe in what they believe in. People are not really sure of what’s going on in certain people’s minds, like “Is Google paying him to do everything he does? Does CoreOS influence everything he thinks about?” and the truth is I’m an independent thinker, just like everyone else, and I try to navigate to organizations that support that. So I think it’s our responsibility to continually remind people “I do this because of XYZ, and no matter where I’m at, it’s gonna be the same output… And when it’s not, you’ve gotta call me on it.”
How do you personally navigate that, besides the communication side?
When people call you out on it? I just listen, to be honest. I have interactions on Twitter where I’ll just listen to people, and really ask them “Hey, thanks for that feedback. Could you elaborate a little bit more so I can make sure that I got it straight?” Maybe they don’t agree with something, and it’s good for me to hear that feedback. It’s like “Hey, Kelsey, maybe you give too many technical talks. Maybe you give talks about what seems like the happy path; show me something a little deeper.” So you look at that and it’s like, first of all, they took the time to watch all the way through. That’s like, dude, they gave me some of their time; I owe them a little bit of mine.”
And time is the most expensive commodity.
Money you can earn more, time - you can’t get more of.
So I try to follow with my actions. Recently I was here in Austin and I gave a keynote about my personal life, and let’s just say there was a lot of people crying, myself included, on stage, because some of those words I’ve never said out loud before… And it wasn’t a sad story, it was just a very real story. To me, that is meeting the expectations of the community, taking all feedback from years and years of doing this stuff, and then one day being able to be on stage and give it right back to people - that’s what happens when you listen.
At DevOps Days, Austin, I gave this keynote. It’s untitled.
Is it on the internet, on YouTube?
It’s on YouTube. Go to YouTube, DevOps Days Austin, and you can probably just search for “Kelsey Hightower keynote”
How long is the talk?
About 20 minutes… And it’s just like this American lifestyle of me navigating from my very first job at McDonald’s, to my introduction to tech, and just my experiences along the way, with the final summarization that regardless of the buzzwords - DevOps, Agile, Golang, Kubernetes… None of that matter. At the end of the day it’s you. And most people are very afraid to just embrace their own power. You have influence over what you do, who you work with, how you work, and that was my first time being able to tell that story. It wasn’t just about technology or tools, it was literally about my personal life and the people that I’m thankful for that helped me get there… And it’s okay to say that out loud. Without any approval, without any data to back it up or that other people should do it too, you just express yourself in the most natural way possible.
I think far too often – let’s see what I’m trying to say here really… You had a couple tweets recently that got a little bit of controversy because of your switch from one talk style to another, so that’s one thing, but I think far too often we’re not human enough in what we do… And it’s not so much just focus on the technical or the culture kind of thing, which is what that scenario was about, and we’ll maybe link those tweets up, just to kind of give people context… But far too often we get stuck in this situation where we’re just trying to be smart, so to speak. “I know Kubernetes” or “I know containers”, or “I know this or that”, instead of just being you, and being human, and showing your flaws even. That’s the impostor syndrome that comes up, it’s the lack of invitation, it’s the lack of belonging… It’s all those things that come up, and it just takes to being a human, I think.
People are always asking why do I do live demos, and it’s only because I wanna show you the realness… [laughter]
Why do you do that?! [laughs]
On the slides, I can make you believe anything with a SlideDeck…
…but with the live demos, I have to do it on-stage, live. I can’t exaggerate it. So if I put it into a live demo, it’s me being human and saying “I may or may not get this right right now.” While building a live demo, you have to have empathy on what’s real. It can’t just be like pie in the sky stuff. What do people actually wanna see?
I think a lot of people don’t understand that part… That’s why I do the live demo - it’s a little bit more challenging, it’s a little bit more risky, but the goal is to really put myself in everyone else’s shoes and go that route.
That live demo route though - I’ve seen a couple of those, and a couple have gone bumpy, you had a couple bumps… That’s good though, because you get to see those bumps and it’s like “Even Kelsey can mess up…”
Have you ever had one that just completely exploded on you?
No, I didn’t, and I think that’s when I started to do them more. I got a little bit more confident. I was at one of the very first Kubernetes ones where we were all getting around the 1.0 launch, and we were all in San Francisco. This when I still at CoreOS and I met the core engineering team, and we were all there for the Kubernetes summit. I was doing this demo - it was smooth… I was actually doing it on my laptop. And then the networking switched, and all the VMs crashed, and I’m like almost out of time… I was like, “Anyone wanna see me finish this?” and they were like “Yeah!!!”, because everyone was on the edge of their seats to see how this thing goes down. So I deleted the whole cluster and I built it back from scratch, walked it back up, and we got the whole thing done, and it was like “mic drop.”
Someone came up to me afterwards and was like “You did that on purpose, you were just trying to show off.” I was like “Man, I’m sweating bricks, dude!” That was so dope, and then that told me that it’s okay to mess up. What people come to see is you make it through it, and that’s what gave me that confidence… “If that’s the worst, then I’m good from here.”
Yeah, man. That’s cool.
I’ve seen live demos explode on people at talks… And of course you have the empathy, you feel bad for them, but then you also enjoy how they deal with it.
Pull through, man!
[00:16:01.28] And then cheering them. No one’s in the audience like “Ha-ha! We knew you were gonna mess up this live demo! We caught you!” Everyone’s there cheering on the person.
You said something really important there, “We caught you!” Like, people are there usually to support the speaker, and when people hit a rough spot or they get emotional or they get scared or nervous, you can look into people’s eyes and you just see they’re like “I’m right here for you. I’m not checking my email right now. You’re good, I’ll be quiet while you get through this.” I think a lot of people forget that that’s the interaction we have.
That’s a good point, because I think far too often when you’re on the stage, you’re in that spotlight, it’s really easy to get totally full of fear. You’re just like “I’m on the spotlight, everybody out there thinks I’m an idiot. I can’t get this right… How did I get myself into this situation? Can I get out fast?” and the only thing I think – maybe what you learned with your live demos was like “Power through!” There’s something you gain once you do power through, because you kind of gain that confidence, like “Okay, it’s not that hard” or “I dealt with that pressure”, so to speak, and you made it out the other end. That’s the hardest part, making it through.
Yeah, and I’m glad. I think the community has been very supportive of me personally. I think a lot of people don’t realize what it takes for someone to be successful - it takes a whole bunch of people pushing you up and celebrating when you win. When I see people - they may ask for a selfie…
Give me a good example of celebrating a win.
Here’s a thing… You go out, and – now my Kubernetes book is almost finished with the help of some co-authors that came in: Joe Beda, Brendan Burns, co-founders of Kubernetes… And them celebrating like “Hey, this dude started a book and we’re gonna help him finish it.” Or when you show up at a conference and people ask you to sign the book for them, or when you release something on GitHub… I have this documentation of “Kubernetes The Hard Way.” I really wanted everyone to be able to experience Kubernetes the hardest way possible so they learn all the moving pieces, so that way they can also walk around with that level of knowledge. And when people hit that star button and then you watch that thing climb, that’s people celebrating with you. Or you tweet an update on Twitter and everyone retweets… Brian Ketelsen, host of GoTime…
I remember when my birthday came out and he was like “I want everyone to retweet if Kelsey taught you something.” And when you wake up to that and you see that number as high as it got, you’re like “Wow, someone went of their way and–”
What’s this story?
This was recently, on my birthday, 27th February. Brian Ketelsen - he’s in a different timezone, he’s three hours ahead of me, so I’m still asleep…
In Florida - I’m in Portland - and he kicks of this thread on Twitter, he’s like “Hey, it’s Kelsey Hightower’s birthday today. I would like you to retweet if Kelsey has taught you something.” You wake up and you see that, your phone’s buzzing, and you’re like “What the hell is going on? I haven’t done anything today.” Then you see that… That’s celebrating your win, when people say nice things about you and you’re not even there. And it’s positive energy. This isn’t like negative energy where you’re attacking or being attacked. This is just straight up positive energy, and to me, I think that’s part of it. And when you’re saying that you’re successful, I guarantee if you look around it’s because someone is celebrating your victories, and that’s why it proliferates the way it does.
I love that story, man. That’s awesome. I would love to have a birthday like that one day.
Now you just set it up… [laughs] Note to self, set that up…
Thanks, Kelsey. It was a pleasure, man.
Awesome, thanks for having me.
Coming up after the break we talk with Safia Abdalla about being a command line junkie, and her talk on the intersection of business and open source, and how open source can operate more like a business. We also talk about the ever-growing number of hats and skills required of open source maintainers. All this and more, after the break.
Safia - like Mafia - Abdalla.
Love it. What did she release recently…? It was in the Nightly, or in the Weekly…? What was it?
She’s been all over everything.
All over everything.
I’ve got a couple of [unintelligible 00:21:27.26] remember off the top of my head. Do you want me to tell you them or do you want me to surprise you guys? She knows that they are!
She knows what they are, of course!
I can’t remember them all, to be honest… I forget some of them, so please… [laughter]
[singing] “Unforgettable… That’s what they are…”
Would you say that “prolific in open source” describes you?
Prolific is such a – I don’t think so. I’m not sure what the metric for prolific is. I’ve only been in open source for about two years, but I have produced a lot of work in that time, technical community documentation and otherwise.
According to Webster, prolific means – it’s got two good versions of this adjective: “Producing much fruit or foliage, or many offspring” or also “Present in large numbers, or quantities. Plentiful.”
I guess recently I’ve been prolific, because I have been producing a lot of work.
Do you consider your open source projects offspring?
Yeah, a little bit.
Then you’re prolific, for sure.
They are babies that I tend to, yeah…
There you go.
…sometimes badly, but they are my children. [laughter]
I like that, “They are my children. I’m not always taking care of them, but they are my children.” [laughter] Safia Abdalla, you’ve been releasing so many things lately… I was just telling you before we started recording that I’m starting to feel inadequate as an open source programmer… It’s like, how is anybody gonna keep up with this lady? A few things that have hit Weekly - Fony, which… Tell us about Fony real quick.
Fony is a command line tool that basically allows you to generate test JSON data from a defined schema. If you wanted to create a list of ten JSON objects that contain the name and an address, you could do that at the command line really quickly.
Exactly. And then Legit…
Yeah, so Legit was one of the first projects I produced. It’s kind of similar to a lot of other projects that exist in the ecosystem, with a fun twist. Legit allows you to add a license to your open source project, but it actually allows you to also add license headers to specific files, which is a requirement by some licenses, that sometimes people don’t necessarily follow. That was Legit.
There was a couple of stuff more recently… I released Giddy, which is a command line wrapper around Git, and it attempts to address some of the user experience hiccups with Git.
[00:24:08.11] Revision history traversal at the command line with Git is not super fun, so Giddy abstracts that logic out and provides you two simple commands to do revision history traversal, and it’s also got a Giddy-oops functionality, which basically allows you to fix common Git issues, like “Oh, I made a commit, but I forgot to add this file”, or “Oh, I wanna undo this commit that I just did.”
A lot of command line tools.
Are you a command line junkie, or what’s the deal?
I am. I think one thing that I get asked a lot about this stuff I make is like “Why are you making this?”
[laughs] …which is a nice question. “Why does this have to exist?”
…and customizations until I know I need them. One thing that kind of happens a lot in tech is we take more than what we need, and the philosophy that I’ve adopted is start with the most basic setup you can and then as you encounter a problem or a pain point, find the resolution, instead of finding a solution for a problem that you might not have or might not exist for you yet.
So a lot of the tools I’ve built have come up because I was working on a project and I was like “I wish there was this thing, but it has to work this very specific way that I want, because I’m a very anal person, and that thing didn’t exist, so I set out and made it, and then I just released it in the open, because I guess that’s what you should do when you make things… Or at least that’s what I do, as someone who works in open source. That’s kind of where they all started.
So you’re also organizer of PyData Chicago?
Tell us about your efforts in organizing and what you’re up to there.
PyData Chicago is a community meetup; we meet once a month, and the idea is to bring people who are doing interesting work around open science and open source, specifically as it relates to data science. In a previous life I was really interested in data science, but then I kind of made the transition into web technologies.
So no more interest… Or very little interest.
Some interest, no active work is the best way to put it.
Some interest, no active work meaning you couldn’t find work, or you don’t have currently work.
Not currently having work… Because the interest in data science is now less than the interest in web technology.
Meaning other people’s interest or your interest?
Other people’s interest.
I’m just interested in observing where the industry is going, what people are doing, keeping track of it, connecting people together.
And moving yourself to be there.
Yeah, just kind of watching the room, but maybe - not necessarily - being a part of the show.
Oh, you’re part of the show.
Always part of the show. [laughter]
Always part of the show…
…so just don’t oversell yourself is my point.
Captain of the show.
Captain of the show.
Good. Adam knows what he’s talking about.
[00:28:10.22] But we caught you off when you were talking about PyData Chicago, so I apologize…
Yeah, so we meet once a month; generally, people talk about work that they’re doing that’s really into machine learning, deep learning, really interesting stuff going on in the field that’s also happening out in open source… Because one of the big things about data science is although it can be used to push a company’s bottom line forward and help them make more money because they understand their customers’ habits better, it’s also something that should be done in a public space. People should know what technology companies are using to process their data and have insights and awareness into how that works. So my effort with PyData Chicago is just kind of bring more transparency into the field of data science.
So you’ve been watching the show, you’re at the show here at OSCON… First I’m curious what you’re up to here at OSCON, what you’re talking about, and then we’ll talk to you about where you see things moving next. What are you seeing here at OSCON today?
Oh, it’s – confession… This might not be super good material for the podcast… I flew in yesterday (or Tuesday evening), I spent most of Wednesday prepping for my talk, which I had to give Wednesday afternoon, and then after I gave my talk I just kind of like shut down.
For good reason… Crunch time, right?
Yeah, oh my goodness… Yeah.
Right, you’ve just gotta decompress.
Do not prep a talk five hours before you’re due to present it. That’s like an intense and stressful experience.
How did it go?
I think it went pretty well. The talk covered kind of the intersection of open source and business and what tech companies can do to be more like open source projects, and what open source projects can do to be more like tech companies. So kind of that relationship between the two.
I did get the chance to talk to a ton of people… This is my first O’Reilly conference actually, so the vibe is different from the local or community conferences that I usually go to.
Yes, for sure.
How do you mean vibe?
There’s a lot going on.
Yeah. And I’m definitely kind of a one-track kind of person.
Be there or be square. [laughter]
Or be around… Circle. Whatever it takes, come there. [laughter]
Please come. JS for the win.
So tell us a bit more about your talk… You said it’s the intersection of business and open source. I liked how you said not just how businesses can be more like open source, because that seems like a lot of people are talking about that, but also how open source can be more like business… It seems like not too many folks are thinking about that.
Yeah, so the premise I started off in my talk was the fact that a lot of open source projects, at least the ones that are really notorious, well known and well utilized in the industry, in production and inside projects and pretty much everywhere, are the ones where the maintainers or contributors have put in a lot of time into developing the technical codebase, the documentation, they’ve put in a lot of work in developer evangelism and the marketing and branding, and they’ve also, to a certain extent, done some work around fundraising and sustainability plans for their open source project.
[00:32:07.00] The premise I laid out was all of these things are things that a tech startup would do. Think of any successful tech startup, and it’s likely that they’re executing all five of those things. But open source maintainers and contributors who own or build large successful projects don’t get the same amount of noise or attention that tech CEOs do, because there just isn’t that allure and that curiosity associated with open source. So the premise I laid out was that every open source project that operates and has a certain scale is actually a mini-business, and maintainers are actually entrepreneurs who have the potential to go off and start tech companies in the usual lens that we think of them.
I talked a little bit about what that means for us to exist in a society that glorifies and values the Mark Zuckerbergs, but doesn’t glorify and value the people who made it possible for Mark Zuckerberg to build Facebook in his dorm room, over the course of a couple of days or weeks.
All free open source software… We’ve had this conversation to some degree with James Pearce, head of open source at Facebook, and he basically said in that show that because of open source, and the roots of Facebook is built on open source, it has even came to be, and it’s even possible.
Yeah, but go into any American household and ask them to explain what open source is or what its role is in the phone that they own, or the TV that they own or the laptop that they use, and they’re not gonna be able to explain it.
Right. Or if you go to the About page of any app you use and they give the disclosure, like “These are the open source projects that we use”, and it’s like – well, Instagram and everything they are is front and center, but sure, they’re okay in the About section or this very low menu that is obscure and is never found - they mention the open source they use. Is that what you mean by that?
Yes, exactly. I think the first reaction that people have is “Well, is it really necessary for the day-to-day consumer of our products to know that we’re using open source or what open source is?”
They’re like, “So what…? Whatever.”
I think it is necessary. I think it’s an important part of having transparency between you and your users, and just – people should know that the software they use is not software that’s entirely produced by a certain company. The risk you take by introducing open source into your organization is you have a codebase that is outside of your control, and your consumers should know that. It’s both a good thing and a bad thing, but your consumers should be aware of where the software that they’re using is coming from. If we all wanna know what’s in our package of chips, or if our steak –
It makes sense, that’s actually a good comparison…
…we should know what’s in our software.
That’s a good comparison, to the nutrition facts… Like, “This is what’s in your food. Eat it, or do not eat it.”
It’s like, “Do you know how many NPM modules are in this stuff? I’m not using that!” [laughter]
That’s a good one, man. That’s a good one.
And I think as technology becomes more pervasive in our society and data becomes more pervasive in our society, people are going to want to know how their software works and who they’re trusting their information with, down to the open source level.
Some people will, for sure.
Yeah. And certainly, not every Joe and Jane in the world is gonna wanna know what open source project is used in my software, but it’s information that should be easily accessible and consumable to the general non-technical public.
So what’s a great way to deploy that kind of mindset? Maybe let’s use one example, since I know for sure Instagram lists in their submenus “This is the open source we use”, how could Instagram change to reflect this world you’re sharing?
I think bringing it in and moving it to the updates text in app updates - that’s the one place that consumers generally are more likely to read information…
So as it versions…
[00:36:05.01] Yeah, scrolling through settings in their app is a bit more hidden. In the install screen, if that’s something where the software would make sense to have that kind of information displayed in the install screen… But I think move it away from like hidden behind settings and various toggles and menus, and just put it front and center where the user can access it if they know that that’s what they wanna read.
Yeah… I was surprised that they did it at all.
Yeah, I was too when I saw that.
They had to disclose it because of licensing, but it doesn’t mean they have to follow it… They can break the law. You know what I’m saying.
Anybody can break the law…
I’m just saying I was surprised they would even surface it at all.
Yeah… But certainly if the licenses did not require it, they probably would not have done it at all.
Even if you enforce it at a license level, you can use a software, but you have to display it – a lot of them are like “You have to include this in the reproduced copy”, or whatever, but if it actually said “And you have to display it prominently during your launch screen”, or something… That would be an actual license that you insist upon…
No one would use it…
…and maybe no one would use it.
Yeah… “Don’t wanna compromise our brand…” [laughter]
That’s interesting though… To glorify the Mark Zuckerbergs but not the open source tools out there that enabled Mark to be Mark. Well, not Mark to be Mark, but Mark to be Mark of Facebook.
And I think in a certain way, when we present the people behind the big tech companies that we see, like the people who are developing the open source software, that’s a much more approachable image to attain for, that being like a tech CEO or like this insane genius in their dorm room. If you told somebody a lot of the software that you use is actually lots of small tools built by lots of different people across the world, that’s a more empowering and relatable message than “Mark Zuckerberg did this thing in his dorm room in two weeks, because he was a genius!”
So there’s also that kind of social and technical education perspective to it, too.
I think your point about – you said open source maintainers are like entrepreneurs… That definitely resonates with me, because a lot of the conversations that we have - and we speak with businesses, we also speak with open source developers… And we are a business, we’re also open source developers, so we bring kind of a product and a business – I feel like I’m asking business questions to open source maintainers all the time.
If you just replace that person with somebody running a startup, I would be asking that person the exact same – I mean, we talk about traction, sustainability…
The currency is different.
Yeah, or the end goals.
A business generates money ($) whereas an open source project is more like users, maintainers, contributors…
The users are your currency?
Well, you know, there’s value is what I’m trying to say. There’s some value being exchanged, and there’s some sort of currency, whether it’s like the old school whuffie, or it’s actual dollars.
What did you say, the old-school whuffie?
Whuffie. Look it up. [laughter]
You lost me at “whuffie.”
Keep going with the conversation, I’ll find it real quick for you. [laughter]
Okay, so another point to that is what we see as a lot of open source projects thriving and dying - we track that, we pay attention and we talk to the people that are thriving, sometimes we talk to the ones that are not doing so well… But we do retrospectives about projects and a lot of the times the things that hinge on success or failure are the same things that would a business. I think that’s an apt comparison.
Just like in business, there’s luck and timing, and there’s things outside of your control, but a lot of the people that we see having success in open source is because they are thinking about it in the same way that an entrepreneur would. They’re very deliberate about their actions, and they’re not just floating some software out there.
[00:40:02.09] Yeah… One thing that I like to say is if you wanna have a successful open source project, you have to have a lot of hustle. It’s that same–
You have to have what?
A lot of hustle. It’s that same attribute that we associate with entrepreneurs in the traditional sense.
Definitely. You definitely do.
Yeah. What I think is maybe the traditional image of an open source developer, which is someone who’s purely technical and very scaled in a small sub-section or stack – to really be successful you have to be the person who can (like I mentioned earlier) go out and do the documentation, go out and do the marketing and branding, be a developer evangelist.
Many hats, lots of skills.
So you’ve had a lot of success lately, at least in terms of like people using your stuff, liking your stuff… What’s next for you in the open source world?
I think I’ll probably keep doing a lot of those small little CLI tools, because really what I’m doing there is scratching my own itch, and I like to share it with the world. Sometimes it picks up, sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve had a few things that weren’t super exciting and didn’t really pick up, but they were useful to me and that’s all that matters.
So I guess in the next six months for me I’ll probably be doing a lot of open source CLI tools… So keep your eyes on the Twitter feed for what I’m gonna drop. [laughter]
I love that.
And to close the loop on whuffie, [laughter] since I can’t leave this… The audience is sitting there saying “Adam’s looking it up, he’s gonna tell us what it is…”
I had already forgotten about it.
I had originally heard of whuffie from Tara Hunt’s book called The Whuffie Factor. As per Wikipedia, “Whuffie is the ephemeral reputation-based currency of Cory Doctorow’s science fiction novel “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.” So whuffie is essentially a reputation currency.
Yeah, it’s clout. That’s why I said, back to the old-school whuffie, because…
Right… Leave it to Cory Doctorow…
…to use it in the book, and Tara Hunt to write a book on it, basically, but it’s – you know, you do good things out there, you get reputation, and that’s a form currency. That’s what I mean by that.
In business and in open source there’s still some sort of currency happening, it’s just described–
It’s in different forms, exactly.
Yeah. Whuffie… We learn something new every day.
Bring it back, whuffie! [laughter]
Safia, final thoughts…? About whuffie, specifically [laughter] – no, but anything else you’d like to close on or talk about?
No, not now.
Okay, keep your eye on the Twitter feed for what she’s about to drop.
What’s your Twitter handle again?
@CaptainSafia. Check it.
Check the show notes, it will be there. Thank you so much.
After the break we close down this show and OSCON by talking to Nadia Eghbal and Mike McQuaid from GitHub about GitHub’s Open Source Alley. This is something they only do at OSCON, and its aim is to feature open source maintainers and their projects. There’s conversation, live demonstration, and GitHub does this completely free of any cost to maintainers. In fact, they help them with branded giveaways like stickers, T-Shirts and more.
We also get a glimpse at a different side of GitHub… The side that Nadia and Mike work on that has a mission of better supporting open source maintainers, their communities, and communicating their road map to open source developers. Stick around.
So we’re here with Mike McQuaid and Nadia Eghbal from GitHub. It’s been a fun conference, open source at OSCON - the Changelog’s here…
GitHub’s here… Open Source Alley - who’s idea was this? First of all, what is it, and then secondly, who’s idea was it?
There’s a guy called Allistair who’s really big into open source, so we generally call him “Open Source Alli” – no, sorry, that’s the watchdog.
That was a great joke.
I wanna say – it definitely wasn’t either of our ideas… [laughs] It might have been Brendan’s…
Brendan’s maybe, yeah…
We’ll just say it was Brendan’s.
It’s been going on longer than I’ve been at GitHub, so it definitely wasn’t my idea.
So what is it?
I’ve got a little back-story on this, I could probably tell you…
Oh, you do?
I asked Brendan the same question, and Brendan said that this is the third year, and they only do it here at OSCON.
Yes, that is true.
So rather than schlep GitHub, basically, long story short, he said let’s promote open source projects, and that’s Open Source Alley. Open Source Alley is like demonstrations of awesome open source, stickers they created, the poster boards are there, and you do a great job of helping those projects share what they’re doing to the people who care, basically.
Yeah, and it’s nice from that perspective, because at a conference like this the projects that tend to have booths are obviously the projects that tend to have some sort of money behind them and corporate backing maybe, or something like that… Whereas so much of GitHub and so much of our projects are –
Some craziness is happening here… The actual air ducts are going – oh, they’re moving things over there…
They’re dragging things… We’ve reached teardowns phase.
We’re in teardown phase here. We are literally–
They are literally tearing it down right next to us. The world is crumbling around us.
Careful, Mike. Continue, continue, Mike.
Talk fast, because we may die. [laughter] Sorry, Mike.
The nice thing is I guess the projects that we have in Open Source Alley tend to be those that wouldn’t pay money to have a booth here… So we can go and have them and have some representation, and post their logo all over the place and have people talk to the people who are running these projects… Giving them a little bit of exposure.
So this is three years running - do either of you know the impact to this and how that’s played out, or is this…? How informed are you?
Not very, apparently… [laughter]
It’s great, we love it!
Well, it’s the first year either of us have been involved with it, so…
[00:48:01.12] Well, they keep inviting you back, or at least letting you pay to come back, so something is working… [laughter]
Well, there is a transaction in there, I’m sure.
Yeah. Moving on…
Let’s talk about the projects a little bit, because we were lucky enough to have a few of them on the show… Hospital Run, Mimic… and that’s it.
We didn’t talk about Open Collective here… But on the show, yeah.
In the past. How are these projects selected and why were they chosen?
So we basically asked some people we knew, and we’ve got a communication channel with some of the more active GitHub maintainers now… We basically asked them to self-select and say if they’re interested, and then we kind of reached out to some of the people we know, and then some of it was just plain nepotism…
Plain nepotism… [laughter]
But who doesn’t use Homebrew and who doesn’t know about Exercism?
Anybody who doesn’t own Macs.
I had a conversation today with a guy from the SFF who had literally never heard of Homebrew before, and was like “Is this like a package manager but like by Apple, or something?” and I was explaining… Yeah, it was fun.
What acronym did you use there?
FSF, Free Software Foundation?
Free Software Foundation, sorry.
You called it SFF… You just shot in a bunch of letters..
I said SFF. [laughter]
We’ll find out later in the recording.
So nepotism works…
Nepotism works, come to GitHub.
So one person doesn’t know about Homebrew… What else have we learned today?
Also there were some people from O’Reilly who also didn’t know about Homebrew… I think they were in their marketing team, and were like “Yeah, it doesn’t say the name on your logo. You should improve that.”
Obviously, open source is important to GitHub. I feel like that’s…
Clear. It’s pretty clear.
Clear, from the founding fathers…
Social coding, sure.
…of GitHub, Chris and PJ and Tom. All the way until now, it does seem like in terms of engagement with open source developers, maybe indie developers, smaller… It seems like there’s been a bit of a renewed effort on GitHub’s behalf to reengage, and not just participate in the conversation, but like help out in certain ways that wasn’t happening for a while. Is that just my sense, or is that real? Is that true?
I would say your sense is very real.
Yeah. I mean, I think Brendan [unintelligible 00:50:28.02] to kind of being the first person on the company who was dedicated to working on open source stuff.
That was about two years ago roughly, right?
Yeah, and he spent a while almost like thinking about – I mean, initially he moved to almost be like “I’m gonna get GitHub’s open source projects in shape”, and then it became more about the community and stuff like that. I think the real thing that probably gave a lot of people a wake-up call at GitHub was GitHub like last year, and just the impact of realizing that “Okay, there’s a lot of people in our community who don’t feel listened to. They don’t feel like we’re listening to their concerns.” And also a realization of us internally, like, we almost don’t have the relationships with these people. We maybe on an individual basis, but we don’t as a company have any sort of formal way of having these communications.
When I speak to people as a GitHubber, if people had complaints with GitHub, I would say “Well, send a email to support, and then that will get turned into a feature request”, and I appreciate from most people’s perspective that’s a black box; they don’t get any feedback from that. Our support team are great and they do email people back when those features get implemented, but people have problems, and those problems aren’t getting solved, and I feel like we now have more of a communication channel and more people who are dedicated to building those relationships as part of our job, so that we can make GitHub better for those people.
It’s also been like some major and minor features that you all have been doing recently, I think of some of the work that Nadia’s done in the team, the open source handbook, or the…
[00:51:56.11] The guides, as well as the – even just recently, which I don’t even know if it had any fanfare, but you’re not adding license metadata in a very explanatory way to everything, as you’re like picking. So just making it easier on us when we’re making those decisions that are outside of our developer wheelhouse smoother… Really helpful.
There are some really good things coming on the pipeline too from the community and safety team, just in terms of helping you manage your communities better and manage those conversations. There are a lot of really good things in the works this year that I’m very excited about, but won’t talk about because…
They’re insider stuff…
But they’re coming, they’re all coming…
Anything on the horizon you can mention that’s like so close…? Considering this is gonna come out in a couple weeks, what can you share?
I don’t wanna f*** up [laughter]
Yeah, nothing is guaranteed.
Nice try, Adam, but… Yeah. I mean, one thing that’s changing too just about the way that we’re unrolling some of these things is – our team has worked harder this year to establish these formal relationships with open source maintainers and some of our biggest fans on GitHub; instead of it being these individual relationships, making it so that they feel like they can talk to GitHub. So as we’re releasing these new product features and stuff, we’re actively talking to those maintainers and getting feedback from them, and involving them in the process.
The feedback moves closer.
Yeah, totally. That’s something I’m really proud of.
Yeah, I think we’ve kind of realized – because we have big enterprise sales customers who in the early days of GitHub they’d ask us what was on our roadmap, and we were like “Well, we don’t talk about that.” And then when a company is looking at spending vast amounts of money with GitHub, obviously that’s not always really good enough anymore, and I think we’re now realizing that that’s an appropriate thing to do with maintainers as well. We have people who are really invested and are really–
Right, because you expect maintainers to continue to invest in open source in general…
…and you’d expect to give them proper tools to do so.
Or even education to do so.
Yeah. I think we are beginning to open up a bit more with that, and opening up with the community and not making everything a public announcement, but reaching out to people who are gonna be affected by these changes and getting their feedback on them before the release.
[00:54:08.24] Gotcha. The open source guides that you did - is that focused towards maintainers, or on-ramping contributors? What is the purpose of the guides?
All of it. Originally, the idea was to have information publicly available for maintainers or aspiring maintainers, so that that kind of knowledge is shared among the whole community, but I think some of the most popular content has actually been some of the stuff that we wrote about how to contribute to open source in the first place and find a project, and that’s also been coming around even internally, having that information out there, and taking the stance of saying “This is the way that open source gets built” has fed into our product itself. That’s been really good.
We should probably let you two go, because they are literally tearing down–
They’re rolling up the carpet around us.
Yeah, and if you heard that loud roar back there, the audience, that was a Corvette driving out of here.
Actually, a bear tried to eat Adam…
It’s my Corvette.
It’s Nadia’s Corvette, she’s gotta go… [laughter]
I fended him off… With my bare hands.
We’re outta here. Mike, Nadia, thank you…
My bare hands, get it?
You had to get a pun in there… [laughter]
We’ve gotta beat Mike in the pun game…
Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚