Changelog Interviews – Episode #392

Indeed's FOSS Contributor Fund

with Duane O'Brien


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Duane O’Brien (head of open source at Indeed) joined the show to talk about their FOSS Contributor Fund and FOSS Responders. He’s super passionate about open source, and through his role at Indeed Duane was able to implement this fund and open source it as a framework for other companies to use. We talk through all the details of the program, its impact and influence, as well as ways companies can use the framework in their organization. We also talk about FOSS Responders an initiative to support open source that has been negatively impacted by COVID-19.



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I actually found about this initiative you’ve done, originally called the FOSS Sustainability Fund that you’re doing at Indeed, Duane, with this talk you gave at FOSDEM, which was awesome. We actually logged the video to our newsfeed and newsletter, which was awesome. People loved that. But it’s since matured into a much bigger deal. It’s actually called FOSS Contributor Fund now, and it’s a little bit more mature. You’re six months into this. I think you’re about a year into this, right? Or more than a year into doing this.

Yeah, this is our second year running the FOSS Contributor Fund.

Second year. I have my notes off then. So two years in… I mean, what’s it about? What are you doing?

The FOSS Contributor Fund is a way for us to reach out to anyone at Indeed who uses open source and involve them in the process for deciding which open source projects we support with financial donations. So anybody at Indeed has the capability to nominate an open source project that we use to receive a $10,000 donation. And then all those nominations are voted on in a given month, by anyone who makes an open source contribution.

It’s April right now. Everyone who makes some kind of open source contribution during the month of April gets to vote on the nominees for April, and whichever one wins the voting process will get a $10,000 donation.

So it’s a once a year thing that happens then. There’s a lot of a process involved in terms of nominating and voting, and then obviously issuing the funds.

We run this once a month. Every month we give away $10,000. We gave away $120,000 last year to the open source projects that we use. We’re slated to give away $160,000 the same way this year. We added a quarterly event. So we’ll do a $10,000 once a month, and then an additional $10,000 once a quarter.

[04:11] Gotcha. So each month there’s one project that gets supported.

Right. That’s correct.

So theoretically 12, and then plus the bonus 10k/quarter, so that’s 14?

Yeah, so there’d be 16 this year, and there were 12 last year. We constrain it to once a year. So within a 12-month period a project can only win the nomination once.

And there’s other criteria as well. It has to be an open source project that we use, they have to have an OSI-approved license, they have to have some way for us to actually give them money, and it can’t be a project that’s owned by an employee; that creates all kinds of problems for everybody.

Oh, I bet. Yeah. The first one on the list there is that Indeed, or one of its subsidiaries uses it as well.

Right. So if it’s a company that we acquired and they use it, that’s also eligible.

Which makes sense, because when you think about the motivation for a for-profit business to donate to open source, in some cases the value is blurred. Obviously, it’s a good thing to support open source, because hey, most businesses use tons of open source and it’s just a good thing to do. But whenever you think about the balance sheet and giving money, it’s like “Well, what do we get in return?” So the exchange of value is difficult. And in this case, the framework seems to point back to “Well, the value exchange here is we’re letting our employees nominate projects they care about, that are in line with our company’s goals”, and you’re kind of giving the power back. So that’s the value switch there. Rather than just simply money out the door, hard to track back value.

Yeah, it’s definitely a big part of it. When I think about supporting the projects that we use - it’s a little sloppy to think about it this way, but I think about making sure that the supply chain for open source software is stable. If you rely heavily on an open source project and you wanna make sure that it has what it needs to survive and to be sustainably developed and to be well-maintained, the only way to know for sure is to be involved in that process and to put some skin in the game, whether that’s money or code contributions, or just taking part in the project itself.

So we do get a lot of value out of pushing out to the engineers this decision-making process, involving them in a decision-making process. They engage with the program, they tell us about the projects that are important to them, and we get broader visibility into what’s important to everyone… But we also just see the benefit in making sure that these projects that we use have the funds they need to do their maintenance work, get their developers together… We try to stay out of the business of “What are you gonna do with the money?” Because we don’t have any idea what’s best for the project or what’s best for them. Once we give them the money, we want them to use it the way they see fit.

In some larger projects they’ve put it into a scholarship fund, other projects had been talking about getting their developers together for a meetup… This was obviously prior to travel being restricted. They were talking about getting all their developers together for another developer sprint, and were musing about how to get the funds together for that… And we made a large donation to the project in a timely fashion.

Yeah. Well, it’s good, you’re keeping your marking hands out of it; you’re letting the project determine the value of the funds being used; however is of value to the direction of the project. And that would make sense; maintainers know what they’re doing…

Theoretically… Right? For the most part…

[08:01] Yeah, maintainers know what they’re doing. They know what the project needs, and in a lot of cases they’ve offered to engage with us in other ways as a result. We’ve had some Zoom calls, we’ve talked about ways to do mini-hackathons with some of those projects… And it just opens up a conversation with them in a way that wasn’t open before.

Yeah. That’s interesting to think about, too. Initially, this began as a contribution of dollars; you’ve been doing this for two years now… I mean, has there been any other side benefits to it? Like you mentioned, hackathons, other tangential ways, once you’ve identified who to fund? Let’s say they win that month; now that you’re part of this – I don’t wanna say club, but once you’re part of the pool of projects in this fund, that you have some benefits… Like, “Okay, you’ve got a small network to tap into. You can initiate some sort of hackathon, we’ll cover some of the costs”, or whatever… Have you considered those things too, where once you’re past that funding point, to do other tangential things to support?

One of the things that’s come out of this is that – it’s a little different from what you’re talking about, but it’s one of the more interesting aspects of running the fund, from my perspective. It’s identified for us folks inside the company who were passionate about open source, who weren’t necessarily on my specific radar.

There’s a group that’s really involved in geolocation and geodata in general, and that group has put forward several nominations for projects that in some cases I didn’t even know existed, but were important enough to this team for them to rally around and come together to support, and to get involved in those projects in a way that they weren’t before, to help ensure that they would be eligible for receiving the funds, and that they would stand a good chance of winning the nomination.

I believe it’s driven engagement from folks like that, but it’s also helped us uncover these footholds in other parts of the company for people who are passionate about open source, and finding people for us to engage with from that perspective.

And it’s been really interesting to watch as it unfolds. We’ve also had some conversations with the receiving projects who want to engage with us in other ways, and talk about creating issues that would be well-suited for engineers to pick up, that hadn’t been involved in the project before; just other ways to deepen that relationship. And definitely, when you look at the way the FOSS Contributor Fund was structured, the intention is very much that you give engineers some ability to influence where these dollars are going, but you also give them some incentive to get involved in those projects in other ways…

Money tends to be an easy lever for companies to flip. It’s easier for most companies to write a check than it is to give developer time… But by setting up the structure for the FOSS Fund the way we did, there’s some encouragement to make your open source contributions and to be involved in a way that wasn’t there before… And we’ve seen some change in behavior as a result of that.

Yeah. I wanna get into the mechanics of building this fund, which you’ve played a perfect hand into, but I kind of wanna rewind a little bit to sort of paint, to some degree, your history with Indeed… Because you haven’t been there forever. I think it’s been around the two(ish) year mark; I could be wrong, you can help me out on the timeline, but… You came in as - I’m just gonna make up a term - an open source czar… I don’t know, advocate, huge – you came in to run open source for Indeed, and in many ways what you’re trying to do is advocate for open source… And this contributor fund is one part of your work. So I’m curious of like the change, if you can speak to that, at Indeed around open source, if there was a change, and then how that led to defining this blueprint for other companies to potentially follow to support open source.

[12:03] Sure. Yeah, I joined Indeed just after Thanksgiving in 2017, to build out their open source program. I didn’t pitch the title “open source czar” when I came in; that might have been an easy sell. I just went with “head of open source” and moved on.

It’s got a good ring to it though.

It does. And part of getting the job involved putting together a presentation for my boss and some other stakeholders for my vision for what the open source program would look like. Like, what kind of program is it that I want to build. So it opened with an explanation of why you always see me in a jumpsuit, and went on to talk about the many different ways that you can give back to the open source community.

As part of that, and as part of the process for putting it all together, I was asked to do sort of a 30, 60, 90-day – like, “Here’s what you’re gonna do in the first 30, here’s what you’re gonna do in the first 60, first 90 days of the program.” Somewhere – I think it was on the 90-day slide, I said “I’ll do these things”, and “One idea you’re probably going to hate” is what it said on the slide.

That’s all it said.

That’s all it said. One idea you’re probably going to hate.

And my boss at the time said “Can you give me an example of that?” and I said “Not really. I’ll get in and I’ll figure something out when I’m there.” And like most of the things in my 30, 60, 90 prediction, I missed most of them, but I landed on this idea for what I was calling at the time a FOSS Sustainability Fund, about six months after I came in.

I wrote a one-page treatment that was a summary of what I wanted to do, and sent it off to my boss. This was around April of 2018. We were well past the budgeting conversations and everything else for 2018 by the time I’d joined. And I put right at the top “Here’s the TL;DR. I want $120,000 for a sustainability fund, and here’s about how it would work.”

And I went back and forth on that number a lot. I didn’t know if I was asking for too much, I didn’t know if I was asking for not enough, but I wanted to break it into $10,000 chunks, because I wanted it to be a big enough to be meaningful donation for most projects. If we showed up to Babel and we gave them $100, that’s not gonna do a lot for Henry. It just isn’t.

But $10,000 is a big enough chunk of money that you can do something significant with.

You can make some plans with that kind of money.

Yeah, exactly. So I sent it off to him. I didn’t even think of it as “This is the crazy idea that you’re probably going to hate”, it was just like the thing that had occurred to me after I’d been there for a bit. And I was sort of expecting there to be a lot of selling that was necessary, but it clicked with my boss immediately.

For most people that I have talked with who are involved in open source program offices, or otherwise involved in growing open source culture at their company, when we draw that picture, it’s $10,000/month to something you use, but it’s decided on by people who work at the company, contribute to open source… If you want to vote on where it goes, you have to make an open source contribution. Most people have gone “A-ha! I see the alignment, and I really like it.”

And I’d love to say that there was a diligent, intentional thought process that led me down this path. It would be more accurate to say that the alignment of those three things sort of occurred to me at one point, and I blasted it out to my boss, and I had no particular expectations that he was gonna go for it. I knew it was a big ask, but it worked out.

[15:54] What I like about that though is how the value changes – I said that before, when a company (especially in an open source program) is asked “How do we give back?” and just donating straight dollars to the community, it’s difficult if you don’t have… Just simply say yes, because of course you want to support open source, and in particular even the four bullet points of like “Must be in use by the company or subsidiaries, have necessary open sourceness”, and one of the core ways you define that, which is debatable, depending on who you speak with, is the OSI-Approved license. There are some people who will debate that, to some degree… And some of the other mechanics around it.

When you just give money, it’s difficult to just say “What do we get in return?” Where in this case, to me, one of the core values for the company is like we get to enable our employees, who are deeply - as you said - these unknown, passionate open source people that you didn’t even know of, that have now bubbled up to you, because of them voting for certain projects… Well, now it gets everybody thinking about open source differently. Whereas in a traditional model, just giving money - which is great, does work - it has less of this sort of like stickiness… This - terrible word to use right now - infectiousness, that other people think “Okay, this is how open source is used. This is how it gets benefitted by our company and us using it, and then funding it, too. And then finding other ways to support it in the future.” To me, that’s genius.

Yeah, and the thing that I really want us to drive, as an industry, is the idea that deciding which projects you’re going to support is not a thing that happens high up. I tell a story as part of the FOSS Contributor Fund process, kind of how we got there, about the budget that I inherited when I came in. It had this $10,000 carve-out specifically for WebPack. We had organization memberships, and one large conference, and then this single software project that we were gonna give $10,000 to. And it wound up on the list because someone fairly senior in the company said “Hey, they’re asking for money and we use it a lot, and we should give it to them.” That level of advocacy is not open for everybody, and I wanted the FOSS Contributor Fund to open up that kind of advocacy for anyone.

So not only does it give people the opportunity to voice where our dollars go, but I wanted to help people internalize the idea that if you wanna get involved in this project, this is a thing that you can do. You don’t have to wait for somebody higher up to tell you “This is where you should be making contributions.” You use it every day; you care about it enough that you want us to give them money, open an issue. Comment on an issue. Run a test for them. Give them some code.”

The only one tweak I would be curious about, especially having been two years in, is if your learnings have said “Well, $10,000 is a lot of money”, and you have a lot more open source advocates, as more people become more and more aware of its value and the value of the company funding it or supporting it in some way… If there wasn’t room for tiers, let’s say. A $10,000, and let’s say a micro, like in the $500 to $1,000 range. That way you’re still kicking some dollars around and you’re still – you can give people who don’t need $10,000 some dollars, you know what I mean? Not everybody needs 10k. It’s a good number and I understand your initial interest in that number, but have your feelings around that changed?

My feelings around it haven’t changed specifically. I still think $10,000 is a good place to keep it pinned for us. But I recognize that there’s a lot of room to try different models there, and try different things. There’s been proposals to break it up; maybe do like a 5k, a 3k and a 2k donation one month. Or to just take it and divide it evenly between all the people who were nominated, and be done with it.

[20:06] One of the problems with doing this on a monthly basis is you get about 12 different chances for an experiment in a given year. And if you want consistency in the program, you want to maintain the way you’re doing things over the course of the year. So you don’t get as many opportunities to try new things as maybe you would like.

One of the benefits I see of opening the program up for other companies to adopt and helping other companies to adopt it and to encourage them to run their own experiments is that they can run it in their context, tweak the criteria in a way that works for them, and we can double how much we’re learning; we can triple how much we’re learning. The more of us that do this and that try different things while we’re running our FOSS Contributor Fund, the more we can all learn together… And that, I think, pretty exciting.

I have been resistant to changing things on a month-to-month basis, but when we put the fund together for this year, we added these quarterly events so that we could try new things without disrupting the main flow of the program.

Yeah. Help me understand these quarterly events more. What are the details around that?

So the vision was we would have once a quarter events where other FOSS funders would come together and try something new or try something different. And I was optimistic coming into this year about how many other companies I could convince to adopt a FOSS Fund, and how quickly I could get them to adopt the FOSS Fund… I’m aware of three other organizations right now who are in various states of either executing or bootstrapping their initiatives, and I envisioned the quarterly events as “Let’s all come together and do something collective, whether that is running one poll across all of our contributors and across all of our nominations to see what happens, whether that’s doing some analysis of the dependencies that we all share in common, and directing funds toward things that have been a consistent second place appearance on the list”, or just try something new to see how that would go, and define what “something new” meant when we were all there and talking together.

The Q1 event - we ended up taking the funds that we had earmarked for that and directing it toward the Open Source speed dating event that the MOSS Fund folks did at FOSDEM, where they issued seed grants toward projects who had ideas that could move forward with a little bit of assistance. We showed up with some funds, the MOSS Fund folks showed up with some funds, as well as the Ford and Sloan foundations.

So thankfully, you’ve done all the hard work for most anybody listening to this that might be wanting to use this contributor fund as a blueprint for their business or their organization to fund open source. So you’ve got the FOSS Contributor Fund… As an overview, on GitHub, it’s an open source repo, it’s on IndeedEng. Was it you particularly that – you’re the only contributor who’s… I’ve got two contributors here. Was it just you and someone else? Did you do most of the work? Who else has written this with you?

This was a blueprint that we pulled together that described what we thought was the minimum amount of information that would be necessary for someone to take and run with this at their own company. I don’t have the repo in front of me, but I suspect that other contributors – also someone from my team who was helping me to get it in shape for folks to be able to use.

Gotcha. Jade Applegate. Thank you, Jade.

Yeah, Jade Applegate is in fact from my team, and yes, thank you, Jade. So we wanted to get something out there for people to use as a model, and kind of get a stake in the ground in a timely fashion. We wanted to release something in time for All Things Open Last Year, to invite people to join us as FOSS funders, and sort of building up this community of people who are running similar experiments. And it is the first part of documentation. We have a couple of other things that are in-flight. A playbook that’s a little more detailed about how to execute a FOSS fund… The idea is we wanna have something that we can give to anybody that is a little more detailed than the blueprint. It’s more like a build plan, so step-by-step instructions on what you would need to do… And then some other pieces of documentation on the process as well. We’re trying to be obviously as open and transparent about it as we can.

Do you see this as the easy button, to some degree, for those who are taking up the helm of an open source office, like you have with Indeed? Is this something that – it’s not the only thing an open source office does for a business, but it’s one way to give back to open source… So is your hope that many and lots of head of open sources like you are, open source czars even, take this and – is that the hope for this, so that everyone does this, and kind of follows your lead, or blueprint?

That’s definitely the thinking, yeah. This would not, by any stretch, be the only component of someone’s open source program. There’s so much that goes into running an effective open source program. You have to deal with policies, and compliance, and sponsorship activities, and writing checks for organizations or for projects is just a part of it… But I’ve been having a series of conversations recently with folks talking about what it looks like to have a well-rounded program. From the perspective of supporting your dependencies, whether you’re giving code to them, or whether you’re giving money to your open source dependencies, I think there’s like three areas where you would see that kind of activity that represent three different ways of going about it.

You would have some support that’s given based on analysis… So someone has taken a look at what you use and made some kind of determination about which of these things is most important… There’d be some kind of advocacy coming from higher levels, people who are senior in the company, who recognize that a project is important to be used and supported… And then that third area is asking. Putting out the call to other folks in the company and giving opportunities for them to talk about or request that the company support projects.

[28:07] A lot of companies can benefit from implementing a project like FOSS Fund as a way to ask people in the company what they should be using, and kind of democratize that decision-making process out. We wanted to make it as easy as possible for other folks to adopt, and we continue to work on documentation that will enable that.

And based on the timeline from Git – I can’t tell if this is the initial commit… I guess the last commit was six months ago.

How long did it take you to put this into place at Indeed, iterate through it enough to then be able to document it in this capacity to share it? What was the timeline there?

So if I walk through the whole timeline, it’s really kind of funny. I had written the initial pitch document to my boss in April of 2018. It was in October that I had gone to one of the Sustain Summits in London. We had asked for the money in the budget at that point, but hadn’t gotten any signal if it was going to get approved. But at that Sustain Summit, as I was talking about the idea, I got such positive signal that I came back and really was advocating strongly that we run the program.

We didn’t get confirmation that we had the funds until late in the year, and so the turnaround time from “Yes, we’re able to run this program” to hitting the ground running at the beginning of January was very short. So we were building it and bootstrapping it while we were also executing it.

And we learned some things early in the process about how to tweak the program and how to run things for ourselves. I would say we had a good enough handle on what needed to be in the blueprint after running it for about six months or so, and then went through the process of documenting it, and wanted to get something out in the timeframe for all things open last year, so that we could get out in front of people as they were making their budget requests for this year, and invite them to join and participate.

There haven’t been many updates to the blueprint since we pushed it out, but we have either discussed it with other folks who are in the process of adopting, or kind of workshopped a little bit with some other folks. I think you mentioned earlier whether or not having an OSI-Approved license was up for debate or not, and I believe in the blueprint we call out that it’s important to have some kind of licensing governance document, whether you use the OSI-Approved list, or the Debian list, or the Free Software list… What’s important is that there is clarity around the license and what list of licenses are going to work and which ones aren’t, and that that not be a decision that’s being made on an ad-hoc basis, project by project.

Some of that is about making sure that things are being treated evenly and fairly, and some of that is just about reducing the burden on the person who’s executing the program. If you have to go out and check every license by hand, or verify every license and make a decision about every license for nomination, that’s gonna take up too much time.

Well, I think the point is not to invest time in those kind of things, but to invest time into the nominations, the process, helping etc. I think OSI-Approved license is a great place to start; my point was just that some people - I’m thinking like open core companies, who still want contributions that are sort of like open eventually, like Sentry might be, for example… I had David Cramer on the Changelog late last year, talking about their change to open source. So there’s this blurred line. While David says he’s open source, and he agrees he’s open source eventually, it’s just those kinds of projects get – and maybe that’s the great case, because it is an open source business… So that would be not the best use of Indeed’s money, or other open source offices’ funds, so that would make sense… But OSI-Approved license is a great place to start. My point was just that some people debate “What is open source these days?” and that’s not me that debated, it’s just that that’s often the thing.

[32:21] I think what I wanna cover really is some of the takeaways. So we talked about the blueprint itself… There’s some learning process. When you put something like this into work, and then document it, and then ask others to follow it, what are some of the things you’ve learned over time after launching it? What are some of the takeaways you’ve gathered by doing this for so long around this kind of thing for a business, for a company like Indeed, to support open source?

One of them is that obviously what works for us is not gonna work perfectly for the next company. We have a process where we can kind of vet nominations more or less by hand. If we had ten times the number of developers that we do have, that would get really hard. The nomination process is kind of an interesting one. I had identified in that FOSDEM talk that you referenced earlier that we might have to ultimately curate nominations for a number of reasons… And we learned fairly early on that there was a disconnect in how we were talking about the nomination process with folks. They expected that once something was nominated, it would continue to show up as a nominated project until it fell off the list, or won.

So the nomination list is thrown away each month. You start from zero.

That was where we started, but we saw a big uptake of nominations in that first month that we ran it. We had 20-some projects that were nominated, and there were some I’d never even heard of. There were some that I vaguely knew what they were doing, and a lot of them I recognized and knew how they worked, but there were five projects I’d never even heard of. I had no idea what they were. And that was really exciting, because that meant I was getting visibility into projects that were important to people, that I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten visibility into. So it was a really good result. But there was a sharp drop-off in nominations in the subsequent month, because people just expected that they were gonna stay nominated.

Where we landed was we carry some nominations over from the last month if nominations run a little short. That seems to have worked well enough for us… But in a company where there’s a significantly larger number of developers, that would not be a nomination process that would work for them.

Right now we’re leaning in the direction of recommending that you have a nomination committee; three or four people who look at the nominations and add things into the nominations based on their analysis and observations of the dependencies that the company uses, and to try to balance that a little bit… But we haven’t tried it yet. We’ll probably try it in the second half of the year.

Gotcha. So now that it’s a blueprint, it’s in black and white, it’s a repo on GitHub, it’s – I don’t know, is it open for contribution?

Yeah, it’s open for contribution. CC-licensed.

I would assume so. I didn’t look at the license, that’s why I was delaying for a moment there. So the license is–

It should be CC By.

Yeah, there you go. Who’s taking up the flag? Who’s doing these FOSS Funds in their own organizations?

We know that Salesforce is running one. Josh Simmons over at Salesforce has tweeted a couple times about them running a quarterly version of the FOSS Contributor Fund, and we’re still waiting to see what the results are gonna be from that.

There’s a couple other organizations that are in various states of standing one up, and who have not yet made public statements about it, so I don’t want to out them without their permission… But a couple of very large organizations who are gonna learn completely different things from the things that we learned, or the things that Salesforce has learned in their context. Some of them are very unique. I’m really excited to see those announcements come out here later in the year, probably in the next couple of months, as their work continues to evolve.

[36:06] In addition to the blueprint document, we released the Starfish Voter Eligibility Tool, which is the thing that we use to decide who gets to vote in a given month, that basically ingests a list of GitHub IDs and checks against GitHub to see if it sees activity in open source projects within a certain window of time, and returns a list of people who should be invited to vote. That was another resource that we made available for running the fund.

As one of the companies who’s been bootstrapping their program, as they have been using Starfish, they hit some limits that we didn’t hit, and have been contributing changes back into that as well.

Good. We’ll link that in the show notes, too. So if you’re listening to this, at the show notes we’ll have links to the blueprint, as well as Starfish. What is it - Starfish what?

Just Starfish. IndeedEng/Starfish.

It’s the voter eligibility tool, that’s how I refer to it.

Gotcha. Any feedback from Josh or Salesforce? it seems like they’ve modified it a bit by doing quarterly versus monthly. Any other feedback from them?

Not yet. I think it’s early days for what they’re learning. I don’t know that they’ve made public statements about why they’ve decided to go quarterly or not. But Josh and I talk on a regular basis, so as they learn things, we’re gonna share them with each other. We’ve created a small sub-community for the FOSS Funders to get together and share their learnings and share their experiences and kind of brainstorm on how to solve some of these problems.

Let’s talk about results. You do all this for the obvious reason, and we’ve talked about all the details of the blueprint, the thought process, you finding your way at Indeed, all the necessary mechanics to make this thing possible… What are the results? Is there a list somewhere where you’ve said “These are the open source projects we’ve funded”? Is that a desire for this? How can you quantify the monetary and project-level results from all this effort?

We did a six-month update about halfway through the year last year, to talk about the projects that had one nomination in the first half of 2019. Those were Django, Git, Pandas, Homebrew, PyTest and ESLint. And we have been talking about trying to get the 2019 wrap-up blog post out for a little while… Things have been a little wonky for the last quarter, as I’m sure you know… But I’m happy to talk about the projects that won, because there’s a couple really interesting conversations in here.

QGIS was one, Sentry was one - and we’ll have to come back to that, because I think that’s a really interesting conversation - cURL, OpenStreetMap, Prettier and Let’s Encrypt were the rest of the winners for 2019.

So Sentry is on the list?

Sentry is on the list.

That’s one of the interesting conversations… Because at the time that they were nominated, they had not moved to their BSL license. They were still a fully open source project. And when they won the nomination, it was interesting; they were nominated, and I had taken the position that we weren’t gonna curate nominations and we were gonna trust that the process would select the right project, and Sentry was selected.

We reached out to them and said “Hey, here’s what happened. What do you wanna do?” And there’s a great blog post up on their site that talks about the overall outcome for that… But the bottom line is they passed the money on down to their dependencies, and they matched it, and they set up a fund to support open source projects for 2020, of their own.

I don’t believe they’re running it as a FOSS Contributor Fund type thing, but… It was a really interesting learning in the process, and a really great outcome from that learning, because it certainly – giving $10,000 to a large project, that was sort of fully-owned by a VC-backed startup wasn’t the kind of thing that I was envisioning when I put out the call for what projects we should be supporting. And that is one of the learnings that feeds into the idea of having sort of a nomination committee who vets and curates the nominations a little bit to make sure that projects that come through for vote are consistent with the spirit of the program.

[40:28] In this case, had we filtered Sentry out from that list, they wouldn’t have matched the donation, they wouldn’t have passed it on down to their own dependencies, they wouldn’t likely have created a fund for their own program to support open source projects… So it was a good outcome.

That’s interesting too, that aspect. I didn’t expect them to be on the list, and I mentioned David and Sentry and their change of license, and I’d left out the fact that the conversation David and I had was about their move to BSL license, and the ramifications to Sentry and the open source project thereof because of that… So that was one detail I left out of my mention of that… But yeah, David is great; I love the fact that they took this and said “You know what - thank you. Let’s double the money and give it to a project” and kind of come up with their own criteria… And even if just for one instance, to some degree adopted, this FOSS Fund you’ve got. I mean, that’s kind of what they did - they took an internal look, from Sentry engineers etc. to nominate projects, similar. So not maybe the full fund process you’ve got, but a variation of it, as a result. Which is cool.

Yeah. They ran like a little mini-version of it for themselves, and had great results, and overall it just worked out well, I think. We had a few projects that came through the nominations earlier, that it didn’t make sense for us to make contributions to… But the voting process tended to select projects that were more in line with the spirit of the program, so it was a really interesting outcome from the process and a really interesting learning.

Definitely, when they relicensed after winning the nomination, it was a thing we had to think through… But they were eligible and they won, so we followed through with it.

Well, the license applies to future code, not past code, right? Because that’s what the whole point of the BSL license – and this is sort of getting into the mucky waters of its open sourciness or not, but when the change went to… And this is sort of just too much detail probably, but interesting as a tangent… That once you transitioned to the BSL license or changed the license, it’s not past code; that previous code was still licensed as previously licensed. It’s future code that’s now under the BSL license, and that had its own parameters, which we cover at length in that podcast. If you’re at all curious, I would suggest you listen to it; I’ll put it in the show notes. We talked at length about its open source-eventuallyness, which is a pretty interesting aspect, I think, for a company like Sentry to build a business around an open source project, and eventually open source their code. It’s an interesting process, let’s just say.

You know, it wasn’t the only project that put us in this interesting position regarding the eligibility criteria. I’m gonna sort of side-step the bigger question of “Do we call the BSL an open source license or not?”, while adding on the drive-by addendum of “It’s not, because it’s not on the OSI-Approved list”, but that’s not what I wanna talk about.

The other project that put us in that position was OpenStreetMap, because it’s an open data project. And an open data license can’t conform to the OSD, and can’t be an OSI-Approved license. It’s just not actually possible for it, I don’t think. But when it won the nomination, we kind of went back and looked at it. OpenStreetMap is an OSI affiliate; they were sponsored to be an OSI affiliate based on the actions of a board member of the OSI, and it was about as strong of a recommendation that you could get for them to be qualified… So we let it stand, as it were.

[44:13] cURL was another interesting one, because cURL’s license is almost MIT, but not quite. But it was widely-recognized to be an open source license, and at the time it was the largest single cash donation that cURL had received from any one entity. That record stood for about a month, and then somebody else wrote them a larger check.

And cURL is interesting, too. I mean, we’ve had some conversations with Daniel Stenberg and we’ve sort of mapped that – it’s an interesting open source project too, generally, because it’s largely Daniel’s work. Obviously, there’s a lot of community involvement there, but it’s largely Daniel’s opus. His life’s work, essentially, is cURL, and that’s an interesting perspective.

I think it comes back to, when I hear you say these two examples - and if there’s more, I’d love to hear them. But I think what it comes back to is having that firm foundation of your criteria of licensing… Like you’d mentioned before, having that as clarity. Because clearly, the clarity for you has given you the guard rails to push back on, and sort of maneuver around. So if you don’t have those boundaries and that criteria in place, you’re gonna have internal wars if you don’t have that clarity… Because someone’s gonna think – they’re gonna have a different variation of open source, they’re not gonna care about the blurriness of OpenStreetMap and OSI etc. They’re just gonna be like “Hey, this is a project I support. It is open source. Why not do it?” That’s the reason why you need that clarity around licensing.

Right. And at the end of the day, for the projects that were arguably on the bubble, it was good to be able to err on the side of generosity. These were projects that were – someone at the company felt passionately enough about them and how we used them that they nominated them for us to support… And so finding a reason to say yes to those just felt more aligned with what we were trying to do.

There’s a new initiative you’re working on now, it’s called FOSS Responders. If I understand correctly, it started out as an organic thing led by you and Megan; I’m not sure how to say her last name, so I’m not gonna try, but maybe you can for me… What’s this about?

Byrd-Sanicki is how you say Megan’s last name.

There you go, Byrd-Sanicki. Thanks, Megan.

FOSS Responders is about mobilizing resources to help people who have suffered irrecoverable losses due to conference and event cancelation due to Covid-19 and the associated effects of that. I do a lot of conference speaking, or at least I did a lot of conference speaking…

Hence the jumpsuit you mentioned. Thank you for clarifying that, too.

No problem.

That’s why it’s your outfit.

For your own reference, I wear those every day at work as well. I’m wearing one now.

Yeah. So I do a lot of conference speaking, I had a pretty full card over the first half of this year for events that I was speaking at… And as we saw those events getting canceled, some of them very last-minute, we knew the reality was that the organizers - they’re losing money over it. And not just because people want ticket refunds, but they’re losing deposits on spaces, they’re losing food and drink minimums that they had guaranteed… In some cases losing revenue because they generated revenue for their organization by selling tickets to the event. So they’re losing fundraising opportunities because they don’t have a boot at these events, where they primarily were engaging with individual donors…

So seeing this wave of cancelations, I had put out a call for people who wanted to get together to talk about how to support individuals and organizations who were feeling those effects acutely. And that has evolved into this FOSS Responders initiative. It is very particularly focused on taking on this one aspect of the problem.

We use this metaphor when we talk about the open source community within our program, that we want people to think about the open source ecosystem the way you think about the ocean. It’s not about a few giant fish, it’s about all kinds of healthy activity at a lot of different levels; you don’t wanna throw things in the ocean that nobody wants… And in that metaphor, conferences and events we think of as the reefs; this is where people come together and congregate for many different kinds of activities. Sometimes that’s just getting together to get face time with developers, sometimes developers drop new releases at events, or communities use them to build their base of adopters, in a wide range of activities.

In that metaphor, this wide range of cancelations is like a reef bleaching event. If we want those reefs to be there in a year, we need some help. So we wanna make sure that these community events that support our wider open source ecosystem are gonna be able to happen next year.

Yeah. That’s an interesting metaphor, honestly. The reef bleaching - I hadn’t considered that, and I’ve definitely watched things around the coral reef and its disappearance, and the concerns around that for ocean life… And it’s similar to Covid-19 and similar to the Coronavirus. It was, to some degree, easy to say it’s only happening over there when it was just somewhere else. And now that it’s happening everywhere, it’s obviously in your initial purview, versus somewhere far away. So it’s easy to remove yourself and no have empathy, is what I’m trying to say… But the metaphor of the bleaching event for reefs - that’s interesting, because if you wanted to be there, like you said, when it’s time again to have it the next year, or whatever it might be, you need to help them out.


I hadn’t considered it like that. I’m glad you framed it that way.

[52:04] Yeah… That’s not a metaphor of the entire FOSS Responders group, it’s just the way that I’ve explained it to people… Like, why is it important to support these events? Because this is where our community gathers. And we want them to be able to gather at these places the next year. And some of the events won’t survive, and that’s kind of the nature of things, but we want as many of them to be around here for us and for the community next year as we can.

This was also an intentional choice to not try to address with everything that could possibly be addressed within the open source community in response to Covid-19. There’s so much work that’s being done there, between open source ventilator designs that are going around, and open data projects that are going around, and the MOSS Fund folks announcing their initiative to provide seed grants for open source projects that are doing work in this area… There’s a lot of different kinds of work that are being done. We wanted to focus our effort on this particular area, and really prioritize support for people who might otherwise fall through the cracks of the support system. So I’m much more interested in seeing us supporting that meetup organizers who’s out a couple thousand dollars, or that small regional conference organizers who is out a few thousand dollars, because they’re the folks that are gonna take it on the chin. But there’s a range of impacts.

The Python Software Foundation, when they canceled PyCon, announced in a blog post “This is what we’re gonna have to pull out of our reserves in order to make up the losses”, and it was hundreds of thousands of dollars. And if they have to shift focus away from infrastructure, maintenance and improvements and stop working on improvements to PyPI and focus on fundraising instead, that means we’re not getting the work done on PyPI that we all need as a community.

So it’s a big problem. We’re still getting our collective hands around how big the impact was on these conference and event organizers, and as well the individuals who were out of pocket going to these events who weren’t able to get refunds either from the hotel or from the conference.

Most of us who travel for work, our work folks cover that for us, but… If you were a designer who was going there to meet clients, or a bootcamp graduate who was going to one of these events out-of-pocket to try and secure your next job, the impact is felt much more significantly.

So if someone needs financial help, where is the line drawn? Who is available to submit? You’ve got three buttons here; the first one says “I need financial help, or other help, because an event was canceled.” The second one says “We had to cancel our event and we need financial aid”, so this is an organizer in this case. And the last one says “We need people to help us organize and respond.”

That first button really is about those individuals who need help.

So the designers who were going to find a job, that couldn’t find it etc.

Or I was traveling out-of-pocket and I can’t get my money back from the hotel.

And there’s an Open Collective with funds in it that people have contributed into, and there’s a team that reviews those requests and takes that on to try to help meet those needs.

That second button is really about event organizers, and that third one is sort of opening an avenue for people who have had to cancel an event and are rapidly trying to pivot to a virtual event of some kind, or just need some help organizing their own response to it, to request help that’s not financial in nature. Not everybody needs money. Sometimes they just need expertise on how to run these things virtually, or organizers or coordinators.

Well, to put it into perspective, you’ve got a dynamic list there, an Airtable that is tech events canceled due to this crisis, this full pandemic we’re in, with Covid-19 and Coronavirus.

[56:05] That Airtable link that you’re referencing is maintained by the wider community. So this is not a list of curated events that FOSS Responders is looking to address; it is the events known by the community that have been canceled. The last time I looked there were I think approaching 70 events in there.

Well, it’s more than that now. It’s 151 based on its dynamicism.

I haven’t looked at it in a while, yeah.

Maybe it’s growing, let me refresh it here quick. No, it’s still 151. But the point is that this is a – I mean, I never really considered how many… I knew there was impact, and I think the point of this conversation is to raise the awareness to even the listening audience, to take into account how much has been canceled due to this. And I do like that analogy of the reef, because we don’t want it to go away. And bleaching events do happen. Hopefully, it can in a healthy way recover. And I think the same can be said about these conferences. And some of them are ran by Microsoft and some of them are ran by large organizations that can potentially sustain that hit financially far more than a smaller individual or a regional conferences that really needs the help, that as you said before in your own words, takes it on the chin.

So just having – not that you’re trying to help all these in this organization, but having a comprehensive list is 1) eye-opening, and then 2) being able to whittle that down to those who truly need the help to get through and to come back the next year or the next season of conferences.

Right. And we’re really relying on the people who have organized those events, specifically the people who need help… Because they were organizing a community event, they got canceled, and they’re out-of-pocket on thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars of expenses. We’re really relying on them to come ask for help.

We have a process in place where we’re doing some outreach to some of those folks, to try to get our hands around the needs, and we’re aggregating the public information that we find about organizations that we know are in need based on their cancelations. That’s where the Python Software Foundation information came from; the Drupal Association has also made some information available about what they expect their losses to be if they have to cancel DrupalCon. I don’t think they’ve made a decision on that one yet.

The losses for many people will be large, some larger than others, and unfortunately, some will just have to take that hit. Not everybody – I don’t wanna say it in unempathetic terms, but not everybody is recoverable, I suppose. I guess that dovetails into “Who should donate to this collective to do this?” Because some people are experiencing their own financial hardships, whether it’s a job loss, or furloughed… I’ve got several friends, literally several close friends that had great jobs, great incomes, and are now furloughed. So there’s a little less money to go around, so I suppose when it says we can give and help, who should give? Who are you calling on to give to this collective to support this effort?

There’s a lot of us who weren’t furloughed, who were very fortunate and were very lucky to be in a position where we can effectively work from home during a time like this. Some of us who already were, and who have watched the rest of the industry trying to catch up to what it means for everyone to be remote… But for those of us as individuals who have been fortunate enough and privileged enough and lucky enough to keep our jobs through this, this is the time for us to collectively open our wallets up and help make sure that everyone has support.

And in the broader sense, I think we’ve seen a lot of that, but I don’t know anybody who works at a non-profit who isn’t sweating right now… Because while we’ve seen a lot of positive activity for people banding together to support each other and to support the things that they’re passionate about, there’s a lot of belt-tightening happening around as well. People who are holding back on giving, that otherwise they would have done.

[01:00:20.28] So at the individual label, if you’ve got room to spare, whether you donate something into FOSS Responders or just donated into some of your local causes, I wanna challenge everybody to find what is a comfortable level for them to give and give it to their food banks, to their aid organizations in their areas.

But if you’re someone who uses open source every day, and you rely on open source projects every day, I really wanna encourage you to check in with those projects, check in with the maintainers of those projects and see how they’re doing. If you’ve got the ability to give money directly to projects or directly to maintainers, you should do that. And you don’t need to give money to FOSS Responders to do that. Just go make those donations directly.

If you’re interested in helping offset the individual expenses for people who had planned to go to these conferences and events, and those events were canceled and they weren’t able to get their funds back, and you wanna make contributions to FOSS Responders, that would be great and we would love to have your support.

I’ve been doing a lot of organization-to-organization work, reaching out to folks who either have adopted FOSS Contributor funds, or who have been talking about adopting FOSS Contributor funds, and asking them if they wanna participate in the Q2 funding event that we’re doing in support of the FOSS Responders initiative.

I think that there are organizations who are well-positioned to open up and show up for the community, and to increase their level of support for these event organizers and the organizations behind these events, to help make sure that we still have a healthy open source and free and open source conference ecosystem next year.

You have an event coming up on May 22nd. This is a virtual funding event for raising awareness. What’s going on there?

It’s gonna be modeled off of the Open Source Speed Dating event that was run at FOSDEM. So we’re gonna take a number of the applications from organizations who’ve asked for help, because they had to cancel conferences, and we’re gonna work on matchmaking them with organizations who can provide some funding to help get them some relief.

When we put together those quarterly events for the FOSS Contributor Fund last year, we already had some kind of FOSS funder event on the books for Q2, and we just decided to direct that effort into pulling together the virtual funding event for FOSS responders. So Indeed is showing up with $10,000, and we’re talking with a number of other organizations who are gonna show up with funds as well… And the goal is to amplify the needs for these event organizers to make sure that everyone has visibility into them, make sure that we understand what they are, and to try to get them some financial aid as part of that process.

Well, the virtual funding event is one thing, but it’s also pretty interesting for those who aren’t really able to implement your full blueprint, to commit such a large amount each year to funding open source, that they can come into an a-la-carte event, so to speak, and still play a role.

Yeah, that was definitely the idea, to provide a way for people to show up with just a single donation and say “Hey, I love this idea of the FOSS Contributor Fund. I want to get more involved in supporting the open source community. I can’t get out money for an entire program for the year, but I’ve got some funds that I can show up for a one-off…”

Yeah, that’s good.

So these quarterly events are a good opening for that.

Somebody who’s gone to so many events - what’s this new normal for events? This year there’s so many canceled events. Are you anticipating any in-person events this calendar year, 2020?

[01:04:03.10] Oh, that’s a tough prediction… Anticipating – I think I’m hoping for. I think a lot of things have to go right for us to get there. But the new normal for events – you know, there were already some conversations happening around these events and around the industry about the climate impact of doing all this travel, and the climate impact of running these events, and there were already conversations about “How can we reduce the amount of travel that’s necessary to do these events?”

And I think that this particular conversation about how to bring our events virtual more effectively was barreling down on us one way or the other; it just got accelerated. I expect we’re gonna see two things come out of this. I think we’re gonna see a wider range of virtual events based off of the rapid innovation that’s happening right now, with people who are trying to pivot their events to virtual as quickly as they can, and trying a lot of different things… So I think we’re gonna see a lot more of that, and some kind of new, standard ways of doing things for virtual events in the longer term.

I think we’re also gonna see… You know, for organizations who relied heavily on a single event, or a small number of events for either operational income, or reaching out to fundraisers and everything else that’s associated with that - I think we’re gonna see those organizations use a variety of methods of raising to meet those needs as a response. We’ll see fewer big one-off events that fund an organization for a year, and kind of a wider range of smaller things, to kind of diversify the risk there a little bit.

That’s what I think is gonna happen out of this, but if you’d asked me what I thought was gonna happen a month ago, I don’t know that I would have been right, so…

Well, I like your perspective on the push to change around the Carbon footprint, and the flying, and the impact to the environment because of that… Because that was naturally on there. I actually had some opportunities for some of our hosts - we run many podcasts, and a lot of people are involved in Changelog Media things… And so we have lots of places to go and lots of things to do; and a few of them were like “You know what, I’m respecting my desire for a shrunken Carbon footprint this year. I’m gonna resist flying for non-necessary events.” And that’s cool with me, I’m glad you feel that way. And you’re right, it was already kind of on the doorstep of some folks considering that.

Just to dovetail off that a little bit - what’s gonna be really interesting is to see this forced change for everyone, and some sort of analytical look at the climate change because of the lack of all this flying from everyone, vehicles… I drive my vehicle maybe once a week now. Maybe. I’ve got two cars and now I’m thinking like “I don’t even need two cars.” We’ve got two kids, and my wife and I having two cars is just a lot easier for the family to be mobile individually, but now we’re thinking maybe we just need one car.

So there’s a lot less carbon dioxide out there now because of all these things, and just less people doing things, and there might be more data to say “See? If we change in these ways, this is how the environment changes because of that.” Which is great, because that’s data. Data forces change that is true, scientifically true. And if there’s data to support this change, then I think that you might be right, that we might see more virtual events, because we’ll now have more data to make these wiser choices for the environment and the Earth… And our health, too. Smog, and all these things - this is terrible for people’s lungs.

[01:08:11.04] Yeah, and I think the conference ecosystem evolved the way that it did because this was how we connected with each other. And I think there’s a lot of us that are still looking for that same connection. We’ve seen people building new ways to connect with each other over the last couple of months in the U.S, that people wouldn’t have gone for six months ago.

I can’t imagine any of my friends saying yes to a virtual happy hour over video conference software in October. They just would have said “Just come over.”

Yeah, “What’s wrong with you…?”

And by being forced into finding new ways for us to connect here, I think it’s gonna cause us to go back and kind of really rethink the ways that we have been connecting with each other at these events. I think that the events themselves are still gonna provide important centers of gravity around activity, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them survive into the future as virtual events. But if we want them to do that, they’re gonna need our support during the transition, and sort of making the jump.

So definitely for people who sponsor events, showing up for those events as a sponsor while they navigate this tough time is one of the best things that you can do for them, and continuing to do that makes it easier for them to navigate this and be here for us in the long run.

I totally agree with that. On the notion of connection, I do wanna double-down the emphasis on – while this may be happening, double-down on human connection, get creative… I’m gonna take this chance to mention our podcast, Brain Science… So if you go to, myself and Dr. Mireille Reece, we cover – I say “doctor” because she’s a doctor of clinical psychology… And we explore the human brain to understand behavior change, habit formation, mental health… And I think really, more importantly, what it means to be human. And what it means to be human is to connect. We’re a social species.

So if you’re listening to this show and that piques your interest, and you’re disconnected more so from the community, and you’re feeling this crunch of missing your conferences and missing your people, then I would encourage you to listen to that show and just be reinforced that the importance of human connection. There’s no back-up to human connection. You can’t replace that with something else. Human connection is required to be human. It’s a part of who we are.

Duane, it’s always fun talking to you. I’m curious if you have anything to trail out on… You’ve got the ear of the open source community, developer community, you’ve got this blueprint out there for open source offices and organizations to consider when looking at the way they support and value open source, more so even the people in the organization, how they support and value open source, and you’ve got this awesome thing for these tech events, FOSS Responders, to be able to support them in this dire time. Anything else you wanna close with to share with the audience?

Yeah, I’m gonna try to roll it up into four things.

If you use open source, if you rely on open source, check in with the projects, check in with the communities that you rely on and make sure they have what they need. If you’re able to give to them, to get involved in helping them organize to respond to this… Everybody needs help right now. I really wanna encourage folks to get out there and support their maintainers, support their projects.

If you want to help us as we organize the FOSS Responders initiative, if you go to, there’s all kind of information there about how to connect with us on Slack, on Matrix, to talk about how to help organize. We have calls every week, we have working groups that need team members… So if you’re looking for a way to get involved, come join us. There’s definitely room and opportunity for you to do that.

If you want to try out FOSS Contributor Fund in your company, whether you wanna run it once for a month for $10,000, or show up at a quarterly event with some money and participate in some way, or talk about the blueprint and how it could work at your company, email open That’ll come to me, and we will connect and talk about how to support you there.

And I wanna give a particular shout-out to the Open Source 101 folks, who in the course of about a month pivoted their Open Source 101 Event from Austin to an Open Source 101 at home event, that they’re doing virtually on May 12th. We’re thrilled to be a sponsor of that event. Tickets are $19, and we know it’s the same crew that run All Things Open, and we wanna make sure that we show up and support them.

I’ll let go of that one as well, we love the work that they’re doing with All Things Open and Open Source 101… $19 for a virtual event is not much to pay whatsoever, and you get to support the thing to keep going, and hopefully – the one that I’m still waiting for is if All Things Open, in October. We look forward to that each year as well. And I know you do as well, because you’re a staple there. I’ve seen you there several times.

In fact, that’s where I first met you. I forgot about it.

Is that where we first met? Yeah, it is. Yeah.

That’s where we first met. 2016 I believe it was. That was like forever ago, but that’s where I first met you.

You’ve got a sharper mind for it than I do… But yeah, we met and we were talking about – I made a point to come up and talk to you about the Peter Hintjens episode, which is still a stellar episode of The Changelog.

Oh, man… You bring that show up – I almost come to tears just thinking about it, man. That’s such a good show.

Yeah… I do, every time I listen to it.

And I was thankful that you came up and said hello too, because – you know, that’s an open invitation to anybody. You may not see me at an event any time in the near future, but when and if you ever do, when it happens again… Like you Duane, it was awesome. I really appreciated you coming and saying hello, because I didn’t know you. I didn’t know you were a super-fan of the show, I didn’t know what you did at all, and because of that act of vulnerability, just coming and saying, “Hey, Adam. I’m a fan. Nice to meet you”, whatever, we’re now friends, you’re back on the show, we follow what you do, we support what you do, and we’re very close, I would say. We wanna support you however we can. So we’ve become friends.

You know, I think it’s important to say thank you when someone does something that you love.

Yeah. Good advice.

And whether that goes for podcast hosts, or teachers, or your favorite open source maintainer; if all you do is say thank you, you’re gonna do something that maybe nobody else has done that day, so…

There you go.

…Adam, thanks for running a great show.

Thank you, Duane, for saying so. And audience, that’s great instructions for you - go thank somebody. Gratitude is gonna help you. Start every day with gratitude. Be grateful for – there’s so many things to be grateful for; even in the midst of downtimes, there’s still grateful things to be had… And say thank you to those that are helping you. Thanks, Duane.

Thanks, Adam.


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