This week is all about Maintainer Week — it’s a week long event starting June 7th for open source maintainers to gather, share, and be celebrated. We’re joined by Josh Simmons (Ecosystem Strategy Lead at Tidelift & President of Open Source Initiative) and Kara Sowles (Senior Open Source Program Manager at GitHub). Of course we love open source maintainers, that’s why we’re so excited about Maintainer Week and making it an annual thing. Today we talk through all the details of this event, what we can expect for this year and the years to come.
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So we’re here to talk about maintainers. Maintainer Week, with Josh Simmons and Kara Sowles… So what’s the big deal here? Josh, I know we’ve talked with you being at Tidelift now, previously OSI, still involved in OSI, I think… You can probably talk more about that, but I think the story here might be how did you and Kara connect to make Maintainer Week? What’s the story?
I love this story. [laughter]
Kara, correct me if I’m wrong, but we met first about seven years ago at LinuxFest Northwest. I was attending my first conference traveling solo, representing O’Reilly. I was a community manager there at the time… Kara was at Puppet…
That would have been my first time giving a talk at a conference as well.
So that was kind of a big deal conference for both of us. We connected, and we’re both weird, and so we’ve been professional BFFs ever since… [laughter]
We do a bunch of work together also in kind of early 2015-2016, when meetups I think were kind of emerging more as a tech strategy that you could do en-masse, so we did a lot of conversations around that, and sort of strategizing around that from the community management perspective.
So we had worked together on that, and fast-forward to maybe three months ago, something like that, Kara reaches out, sends me a DM on Twitter and says “Hey, I’ve got this thing I’m working on. I would love to have OSI involved. I think there’s a spot for Tidelift to be involved as well…”
At that point I was a few months into planning – very early planning, but planning this maintainer event, keeping a really tight focus on specifically maintainers… And it was something that we’d been wanting to do for a while… So obviously, I reached out to Josh to get him involved.
So when she did reach out - the funny thing is that Tidelift had also been planning a conference, very similar themes, exact same week. In fact, I think we had the same dates…
We had the same dates… [laughs]
…so I was thrilled to get that message from Kara. To me, that was extremely validating, like “Okay, we’re on the same wavelength. Clearly, there’s a need for us to host this kind of thing.” So we took that discovery and figured out how to co-exist and put on something that’s bigger than any of the one events that either of us were planning.
Right. It wasn’t originally Maintainer Week, right? GitHub had their own thing… Kara, I didn’t say what your role is at GitHub, or even that you’re at GitHub yet, so please share your role and what you do at GitHub… But you all had your own plans. It wasn’t Maintainer Week. Or was it?
[00:04:18.27] It was. On the GitHub side, my intention was to do Maintainer Week. We had a lot of discussions, should we do a month, should we do a week… So I was hoping that other folks would do events that week. So for us, it was a big win, like “Oh, cool, Tidelift’s already planning something.”
Tidelift was looking at - correct me, Josh - doing a month… [laughs]
We were looking at a month, and once we talked that through, we decided maybe a month was – ambitious is exactly the right word. Maybe not for our first year.
So we hadn’t talked in years, but we were magically on the exact same wavelength. I think if we didn’t know each other so well, it would have been a time to panic, like “Are you kidding me? Someone else is planning the same event, on the same day, with the same concept.” But instead, we were both really honestly energized by it.
Yeah. I think, Josh, we had a conversation before you and Kara connected? I can’t recall, but I think we had a whole separate conversation, and then you came back with this whole new spin on it. I’m like, “Okay, there’s a lot of life here. He’s got new energy.” Maybe because you had a coworker or a buddy to sort of ping off of, or just the enthusiasm of GitHub obviously towards maintainers… But we had a meeting, I was excited about it, but then you came back again after talking to Kara, and Maintainer Week, and all this fun stuff, like “Okay, things have gotten bigger now, so let’s blow up a show on this, let’s do some fun things around it, and let’s share this bigger story.” So that was kind of fun.
So for folks listening, can we dive in a little bit at least to the Maintainer Week concept?
Yeah, so the week of June 7th we’re calling Maintainer Week. Keeping the name basic for now, you’ve gotta forgive us, but it gets the concept across. I think it’s a good time to out a sticky note reminder to say “Let’s get together, talk about open source maintenance, talk about the maintainers that make this whole ecosystem possible.” It’s something that I know is really important to a lot of folks, but it always helps to have a moment to kind of talk about it altogether. So we’ll talk more about this, but GitHub’s running an event, of course, Tidelift’s running an event, but other folks are also gonna be involved.
So if you’re listening to this and you wanna host something that week, whether it’s like you put out a blog post, whether it’s a podcast like this, whether it’s like “Hey, I’m getting a bunch of folks together and having a conversation”, I really encourage you to. There’s a whole site as well, we can point you to a repo where you can list it there, so other folks can find it and check it out.
Yeah, github.com/github/maintainerweek is the repo I think you’re talking about.
You know, on the basicness, I suppose, of Maintainer Week, I have to compare this to the enthusiasm around Shark Week. [laughter] People get really excited about Shark Week, and it’s been going for a long time. I don’t even know if it’s a decade or more, but it’s a long time. And it’s a big deal. Everybody gets excited about Shark Week; why wouldn’t you also get excited about Maintainer Week, right?
There’s a lot of similarities there too, because sharks actually kill very few people, and maintainers also kill very few people. [laughter]
Very few people.
I think you’re right, we can kind of build up that suspense - will they kill, will they not kill…?
Sure, okay… [laughs]
2:Another cross-over I heard you guys talking about was – I think it’s confirmed now, there will be a Megalodon at Maintainer Week. I think that’s confirmed, right? Josh, can you confirm that, we’ll have a Megalodon?
Their agent just signed.
Either the Monster Truck or the actual animal itself? Or I guess in this case – what is it? It’s not a fish, right? It’s a mammal. Is the shark a mammal?
No. Sharks are fish, right?
Whales are mammals, sharks are fish…?
Sharks are fish.
I’m guessing. It was a question. [laughs]
Well, I always get confused, because you’ve got whales - those are mammals, right? But then sharks are similar sized, they’re also very ferocious.
Sharks lay eggs, don’t they?
They just push them right out.
They have babies?
Yeah. Wait, actually it’s because mammals do live births, so…
Right, that’s why I’m asking. That’s why I’m asking. I’m actually stalling while I google the answer. Keep going, keep going…
Google faster, we’re embarrassing ourselves… [laughter]
I can’t google and talk at the same time…
This is exactly the same kind of energy we’re trying to cultivate around Maintainer Week, you know? This is spot on.
Yeah. Where do they come from? Do maintainers come from eggs? Egg sacs? There’s a lot to explore there.
What makes a maintainer a maintainer? When do they call themselves a maintainer? What is a necessary contribution to be a maintainer? Is it simply code? Is it documentation? Is it community involvement? Is it you wrangling, sponsors? All the things that makes the ecosystem thrive and sustain… Right?
All the things, right? But on a slightly more serious note though, with this I like the idea that you’re inviting the community to be involved. This isn’t just a GitHub thing, or isn’t just a Tidelift thing. It’s a “Let’s put the emphasis on the importance of maintaining and creating open source software, and keeping it thriving, keep it sustaining, bringing in other members of the community…” I like that aspect of it, because that seems more giving rather than taking, and I think that’s a good perspective for Maintainer Week. What did you find, Jerod?
So I have confirmation that sharks are fish. They are not mammals. But as I read this article, I’m starting to wonder if this is a worthy source… [laughter] Let me grab one more, let me back it up one more time, because this one’s ActiveWild.com.
Wikipedia, man… Wikipedia.
Sorry, Active Wild. You looked a little bit fishy. Pun not intended, but very much enjoyed… Um, they do give live birth, like you said, but they don’t feed them via breastfeeding, or something…?
[unintelligible 00:09:43.05] second site also says the same thing. I’m thinking they’re fish, not mammals.
I’m clearly no Bill Bye Science Guy, nor am I Steve Irwin. What were we talking about?
So at least on Wikipedia they’re talking about the differences between their digestive systems… And it says “One of the biggest differences between the digestive system of a shark and a mammal is that sharks have much shorter intestines.” So maybe somebody out there’s gotta know this stuff… Come on, tell us.
That’s a great point, Adam, about how do we nurture, feed and sustain our open source maintainers.
That was exactly what I was thinking.
These are big questions.
We ask the big questions around here.
We’re so stuck on this… I really think they’re definitely similar to mammals, that’s for sure.
Well, I had my mind blown because I was reading about mammals and laying eggs, as I said earlier, but apparently, the platypus does lay eggs and is a mammal. So it breaks all taxonomies.
Same with the echidna, actually. The echidna does it, too. Cool stuff.
Gosh… Science is hard. Do you know what’s also hard? Maintaining open source software.
True that. Very true.
Which is why we’re getting everybody together to talk about it. What are the kind of things – can we focus in on one of these two events and what’s gonna be going on, who’s gonna be there, why would I go, how do I go…? Because it seems like our audience is keen on supporting open source maintainers, many of them are maintainers… It’s like a huge topic of conversation for us, so we don’t need to give them the hard sell. They probably stopped listening with the shark talk… [laughter] If we still have them, we can tell them. Let’s start with you, Josh. Tell us about the event y’all are putting on.
Yeah, sure. So Upstream, the one-day event, we’re trying to do two things. For Upstream we’re really trying to center maintainers. But maintainers are not the audience for Upstream, is the first thing that I will say. We have two tracks. One track is kind of corporate open source people at the top of their game, looking at how we got to where we are, what are best practices now, what are the challenges we’re still facing and how do we address them, then what are the deeper systemic issues that we have, that we still need to figure out as an industry, with the idea that hopefully everybody who attends comes away with a more nuanced understanding of open source, in the sense of “Hey, these are the things that our organizations need to do to make this ecosystem work for everybody.”
[00:12:07.25] So that’s one side of the house, the corporate open source side. The other side is where - to put it frankly, the way that I’ve described it is we’re giving maintainers a soapbox. Because Tidelift is bringing together an audience of downstream users to its conference Upstream, and we want to really make sure that - you know, what is the pain that maintainers are feeling? What are the frustrations that they have? I’ve got some guesses, I’ve got some thoughts, but I would really rather just give them a platform to speak directly to their downstream users, and have it be a place where it’s expected that you’re gonna be pontificating; it’s expected that you might be griping a bit, or asking other stakeholders to step up in ways that you haven’t seen them in the past.
That could be therapeutic for some people.
I bet, yeah.
And I think that fits so well to Tidelift’s goals around making it easier for folks to support open source maintainers. So I love that theme of folks coming and really finding out what it’s like and how they can support these people.
I’ve gotta imagine it strikes a lot of empathy options for people too, because if you’re talking to those – essentially your users, who use your software, and may not even know your name, that maintaining the thing is even a thing, that there’s many ways to support, not just financially, but community-wise, maybe donating some workforce to some of the project if necessary, or maybe doing some local community stuff in your area, or in your neck of the woods… Maybe it’s finance, maybe it’s different sectors, so to speak, but somehow striking that empathy note, which is very difficult for maintainers to sort of get that soapbox that you said, to speak to them directly.
I’ve been involved in conferences a lot, and in many places if a maintainer were to give that talk, it might be considered a little gauche or self-serving…
But that’s what we want. Maintainers are carrying so much weight for all of us, and damn, we need to do better by them, so I’m eager to let them hold court and tell us what they need.
Nice. So that’s Monday, June 7th, followed by GitHub’s event Global Maintainers Summit, which is the next two days. Kara, talk about that one.
Yeah, so for us, the audience is maintainers, the speakers are maintainers. It’s a very tight focus there. We like to think of this one as sort of group therapy, where you come together and chat with your peers about what you’re all facing. Obviously, a lot of folks are dealing with similar problems, similar stressors, and I think don’t have enough opportunity to kind of talk with folks who are seeing the same niche issues.
We’re kind of going at it with the approach that folks don’t necessarily need to find similar solutions, especially they don’t need to find similar technical solutions, since projects differ a lot… But they often have similar problems, and we can define those together and work through at least how we approach that.
So yeah, that will be the 8th and the 9th… We’ll have a variety of talks, but we’ll also have some smaller conversations. We’re gonna be using Gather.town, which is a spatial chat. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, it’s kind of like a little 8-bit aesthetic, your little character, with spatial chat. Whoever you’re closest to, you can kind of hear what they’re saying… So it has that feeling of a hallway track; you can have more private conversations, you can drop in on other folks’ chats. We figured that – I’m at least kind of tired of the Zoom chat… [laughs] It’s just a bunch of people, so we’re trying this out for folks to kind of connect.
It’s interesting to bring that hallway track theme to it, because people missed that… And I’d never heard of Gather.town being used at a conference like this, so I’m excited to see what kind of fruits that will bear.
One of the things that I’m really excited for at Global Maintainers Summit is the way that it’s creating a space for people to compare notes across ecosystems, across different types of projects. There have been really great efforts in the past to bring maintainers together, but we really don’t see much of a throughline; those efforts have come and gone, and stalled, and maybe gone on pause… And the challenges we’re facing are such that we really just need to keep that cross-pollination going. So I’m so excited to see what we all learn there.
That’s a good point, Josh, about kind of other related stuff. A lot of folks have asked me how is this similar or different from Maintainerati. For those who might remember, Maintainerati was an ongoing event bringing maintainers together to have these really important conversations. It was something GitHub’s been really involved in each year. And the last one of those would be I think Berlin 2019, where a few hundred folks got together to have really that quality, unconference conversation. And I think that is the ideal method for folks in a specialized role like this to talk to each other. Nothing beats open spaces, nothing beats defining your own topics and having those connections.
So when we looked at doing this event this year - everything’s virtual. It’s not possible. So what was the second-best, knowing that we couldn’t do something like that in-person? So that’s why this is a different model from Maintainerati. I know that the Maintainerati board plans to still do stuff in the future when we’re back in-person, but this is kind of the compromise space… But we’re gonna reach a lot more folks, so we’re hoping that that’s gonna be a good trade-off.
In the spirit of acknowledging our inspiration and our fellow travelers thematically, I also wanna shout out to Open Collective and Sustain Open Source. Sustain OSS is sort of an unconference in the community that has been going on for a few years; I think it was first hosted in 2017, something like that, in San Francisco… They’ve had 4-5 events now. And it’s such a – totally organized as an unconference, and it’s just such an incredible community to bring together, to talk about – “systemic” is my word of the day, clearly… These deep, systemic issues that we have in open source, and to really think critically about them and question our assumptions about open source, and have those big conversations.
So Sustain - I just wanna give a shout-out, because that’s very much an inspiration for what we’re trying to do here… Somewhere between Sustain where we’re being super-aspirational and critically examining things - somewhere between that and say an OSCON or an All Things Open, where we’re also trying to make sure that attendees leave with some tangible value, like “Hey, I can do this thing now to make things better.”
I think both of these events are kind of in a compromise space, both Upstream and Global Maintainers Summit. I don’t think either of us would want to run a virtual event if we had the option to run an in-person event. But we don’t right now.
Yeah. Sustain is an awesome conference. Jerod, you were at the first one; do you wanna speak to some of the things, like similarities, and what you liked from that? Mostly the likes, not dislikes; so what was the fan-favorite from that? I know you met a lot of people we’re still connected to there…
Yeah, absolutely. The connections are always the best part about those things, and Sustain was, especially the first one, a very small event. Probably 100 people maybe.
Yeah, very small.
And a lot of ideation, a lot of safe places to let your gripes out if you had them… It was a lot of fun. The challenge, like y’all said, is that we’re only virtual right now, and those connections are just harder to make via Zoom. This Gather.town thing is very cool; I hadn’t seen it. For those who haven’t, it kind of has like this top-down Secret of Mana, or Zelda, circa A Link to the Past aesthetic, which is super-rad… And I’d be interested to participate and just see if this gives you some of that serendipity, some of that opportunity to connect in ways that we haven’t been able to as of late.
[00:19:51.03] I think one of the defining things about events like that is the ability to be vulnerable, to say things you might not say on a larger Zoom call, and to acknowledge things that are more difficult. So a big part of our goal with the Global Maintainer Summit is how do we bring that vulnerability back, even though it’s a virtual event. So a lot of the speakers are going to be (I think) opening up a bit more, and we’re gonna try to keep that – I guess a place that’s kind of safe to have those conversations. Whether or not we’ll accomplish that with the virtual event, you folks will let us know afterwards.
So we had the two of you magically coming together, co-planning without even knowing you’re co-planning, the same kind of thing on the same day, turning it into Maintainer Week, multiple events, lots going on… But why? Why were you planning these things? Let’s start with Kara; you are at GitHub. Tell us what you do at GitHub, why are the maintainers on your mind, why do you think Maintainer Week is something worth doing? What’s your role there, and what’s a day job look like?
Yeah, so I’m on the developer relations team; we’re super-focused on making sure that folks are getting everything they can out of the platform and understand how to use GitHub best. Specifically for me, I’m open source programs manager, so I maintain contact with large open source projects, chat with maintainers on a regular basis, and check in, and see what they need; make sure that people have someone to talk to when they have any kind of an issue.
We do a lot of letting folks know about new features that we think would be specifically good for their projects, and then we also invite a fair amount of maintainers to certain sort of beta releases that we are really curious for their feedback on.
I think that’s really important - I mean, in any platform - that you’re staying in close contact with the folks who are using it, and making sure to incorporate that feedback every step of the way.
Yeah. How does that play out, with the contact? Is it where you have small chit-chat with maintainers, do you really have deep relationships, like catching up, knowing their kids, knowing their friends? How deep does it go, or is it pretty “Yeah, I need more money” or “I need this”? How does that exchange play out? Give us an example.
Yeah, that’s a good question. So most of it is checking in… We’ll do a video call every couple of months with a number of the projects, or they’ll just reach out when they’re having issues. And it’s nice to just check in and see how things are going… So that stays kind of GitHub-focused, but over time I think we’re really getting to know each other, and that’s part of developer relations - the kind of joy of building those connections. I feel so fortunate to be working in this area of the industry at all, because you get closer and closer to people.
I’m gonna guess this is the same for all of you folks, but the thing that’s been hardest on the professional front about working virtually is not having that time to really bond with people at conferences. That absence has been deeply painful.
I agree with that.
How do folks get on your radar? Is it “squeaky wheel gets the oil” kind of thing, where like if I’m a maintainer and I’m like “I would love to have Kara or somebody at GitHub as a sounding board, or questions, or ideas, or whatever” - how does that play out? How do I reach you?
[00:24:00.01] Yeah, it’s a mix. We do outreach, folks reach out to us… So if you wanna chat with me, you can email email@example.com. It’s pretty easy, and you’re always welcome to send an email through there, let us know how stuff’s going, stuff like that.
Or you could come to the Maintainer Summit… [laughter]
…and talk with us there.
There you go.
But I wanna be really clear, the Global Maintainer Summit isn’t about the GitHub platform. It’s not about us. That’s a big theme with Josh that we have talked a lot about this week - it’s not about either company. It’s about the community in general.
Yeah. I think when we commiserate on what we missed in terms of OSCON and Maintainerati - or the differences at least, in some ways… And we’ve missed that; we need something where it’s like – we even talked about it before, Josh and Kara… We attended OSCON each year (I know Jerod and I did) and we really looked forward to that timeframe… And I think Jerod you were there one time when somebody just came up and gave me a big ol’ hug, and I was just like… I didn’t even know the person. He’s this big, burly dude, and I’m like “Oh, thanks for the big hug”, and I give him a hug back. It’s just like, you don’t get that virtually. You just don’t get it. It’s literally impossible. And I used that “literally” right, Jerod.
That’s where we did so much of our connection, Josh’s Community Leadership Summit, attached to OSCON…
I feel like I learned my craft there.
Even some of the shared speakers - we’ll probably talk about some favorite talks, but Hong Phuc Dang - I think we talked to her about a lot of stuff going on in Asia with open source. FOSSASIA… That was fun. We would have never met her if we didn’t go physically to OSCON and meet her. And that was cool. We didn’t know, because we just don’t have that connection to what’s happening in open source that big in a whole different country; we just didn’t have that connection. And because of being at a conference like that, or having that kind of space, we were able to.
To your point, Adam, there’s a word you used that’s one of my favorite words, “serendipity.” When you’re at a conference, there are opportunities for serendipity, for stumbling into connections that you wouldn’t anticipate. And I guess technically you could get that at a virtual event too, but it’s just – there’s both the opportunity for those unexpected connections, but also is there really an opportunity to take those connections offline and turn that “Oh, this is cool. There’s a spark here” into like a three-hour or six-hour conversation? And that was what I loved about the hallway track; it’s like, okay, I didn’t expect to be spending my afternoon this way, but this is exactly where I need to be, building this relationship with this person, learning about what they’re doing, what their world is like. I just miss that so much. That is the most edifying, most joyful part of the work, I think.
And I’ve gotta say, I thought - as someone who primarily works online - that perhaps I had developed a skillset where I was good at maintaining relationships online… But the elimination of in-person conferences has set the record straight. It turns out I really struggle to maintain relationships without that in-person forcing function. I look forward to the return.
Yeah. At a certain point I had burned out on all the travel, pretty badly, and I had to take kind of a break from tech for a period there, and come back… And it was, it was specifically like that fast pace of constantly being on the road. But now I’m like, “Please, throw me out the door. Send me anywhere.” It hurts. I have this emptiness not seeing all these folks.
Well, I just got the email yesterday from All Things Open 2021. I think it’s October, and it’s going to be IRL, with a virtual component… And then there was kind of a disclaimer, “Unless things change.”
October this year?
Yes. In North Carolina is where All Things Open are, so…
I have a lot of sympathy for event organizers…
[00:27:56.07] So one of the other hats I wear is I’m a co-organizer of North Bay Python. We live in Fire Country, and two out of the last conferences we found ourselves just barely dodging fires. At the last one, the fires were so intense, we were a week out from the conference and we were both planning how to go forward with the conference, as well as how we would cancel the conference if push came to shove.
And I know for us that was really difficult, but it would have been far more difficult if we were one of those larger conferences where they’ve got multi-year contracts with the venues, they’ve got insurance that will only cover their losses if for instance it’s a mandate, rather than just sort of a voluntary “Okay, it’s not safe to hold an event.” And across the U.S, the rules are so different… I think a lot of event organizers have been planning to go in-person, whether or not they want to, almost because that’s kind of what the insurance environment requires of them.
I don’t know that you can run an event equitably in-person this year in the United States. On the other hand, I also just don’t blame organizers, because I think some of them are really trapped within difficult constraints.
Yeah. There’s a lot of factors and there’s a lot of opinions on “Is it too soon/not too soon?” And I think we’ll wait and see, I guess, the virtual component, what is that gonna look like… I think what we’ve learned this last year - and of course, virtual alone over the long run is not enough, but it is so valuable because of access that maybe it should always be a component moving forward. Maybe a hybrid is always gonna be what happens from here on out.
As event organizers yourselves, you’ve probably put more thought into these things that I have. I’m just over here, getting the emails and wondering what’s gonna happen next, but…
We tried that. I was at Puppet for a long time, and we planned actually a joint event like that in 2016-2017 (time is weird), where we said “Okay, we’re doing an event simultaneously, three different locations, totally different geos, different timezones, and we’re gonna stream it back-to-back”, so you could see the entire event live, but each one kind of had its own location.
Did it work?
And that was a lot of work.
It sounds like hard mode.
[laughs] Like, “Oh, we’ll just plan three conferences, and then also stream all three of them into a full streaming experience.”
Right, because one isn’t hard enough.
And it was early. We were just a little too early to that format. It went well, but no one was ready. So when Covid hit, at least it helped being like “Okay, we’ve tried that out. We’re comfortable with that format”, and we know that we’re gonna get more toward that as things come back in-person.
Yeah. I almost wonder if the culture of streaming has an impact to this too, because as a participant you almost don’t even really care about the live, to some degree, except for if you really want that in-person touchpoint, and not everybody does… So as an inclusive thing of just preferences, really, some prefer to be real-time live and watch every talk, some prefer to just like “Hey, thanks for putting me on your list. Let me know when the talks are up and I’ll watch them when I feel like it.” And that’s cool, too. It’s really about the ways that humans consume content, and I think it’s just so varied. Not everybody has the same consumption styles or tastes, or even bandwidth. They might just watch one talk from the conference and get enough out of it and move along. They’ve got the necessary sentiment from the theme, or whatever it might have been… Or their favorite person. It’s just so different now.
Yeah, we’re finally getting the kind of broad spread, like you said, of experiences that we need from a neurodiversity standpoint, which people have been asking for it for years. And I hope that we keep that.
I think we’ve seen a lot of experimentation over the last few years, and especially during the pandemic, because we’ve had to experiment. I don’t know that I’ve seen what a good hybrid solution looks like yet. A good hybrid solution that works for the event organizers as well as the participants, because that’s a huge lift… But the goal, I think - and Kara, correct me if I’m wrong - as event organizers, access is a huge priority…
[00:32:06.26] Because events have a multiplier effect on our culture and on people’s careers, so if we don’t run events that are accessible, then we are either entrenching the status quo… I don’t think it’s controversial to say that the status quo within open source demographically is pretty disappointing…
So either we can make our events a tool in entrenching that status quo, or we can keep our eye on access and make sure that we’re helping to get us to a world in which our communities are actually representative of the world around us. So I think “access” is a really key word there, and I’ll be curious to see what events look like in the next few years, because I don’t think anyone wants to go back to less access… But also, a lot of us really wanna get back in-person.
We do wanna gather though, don’t we…
The idea of hybrid really comes home then, because I think you have a lot of people who are going to remain – like habits; this is a new habit. Living in this kind of fear or this world or this threat, so to speak, especially as you have Covid changing, and a lot of things happening right now in India… There’s just a lot of unknowns with the Coronavirus and how it’s gonna stay, or be eradicated, if ever. I think they say it’s here forever, pretty much. It sounds like this is a new normal, to have some, if not all people threatened by it… And the need for this hybrid approach, as you mentioned, Josh, where it’s like, in-person is necessary; and then access is also necessary, so people who cannot or do not want to participate face-to-face, you’ve gotta have access. We’re kind of getting into the weeds of specifics on running a conference, but I’m curious what you mean by access specifically. Is it price, is it geographic availability, is it language access? This really puts a lot on an event organizer’s plate.
Before it was a little easy, like “Hey, good branding, good website, good theme, great at networking… Throw an event. Come here. Be able to book hotels.” I’m sure I’m leaving out a lot of stuff; I’m not trying to diminish by any means what it takes, but a lot easier than this hybrid approach where you’ve got all these other concerns now layered onto what was a pretty achievable workflow and job to do to be an event organizer. Now it’s just so much more complex, considering.
The stakes have definitely risen for what is expected of an event organizer. I was a meetup organizer for years before I got into community management, and heck, that’s why Kara and I connected in the first place… And I look back on my days as a meetup organizer, and sometimes, on the one hand, I have compassion for myself; I didn’t know what I didn’t know. But on the other hand, there were a lot of things that I just really didn’t invest in with the community building efforts, and the event hosting and planning that I was doing, that whether I knew it or not at the time, excluded some people.
So I think that does add a lot for event organizers, because not only do we need to host an event that is valuable for people, but we need to recognize that when we bring people together, we have a duty of care for them, and so we need to make sure that it’s a safe environment, hopefully a welcoming one, too… I mean if an event’s not welcoming, what are we doing…?
Right, exactly. So when I say access, really broadly I think about price point, I think about the geography, I think about the scholarship or opportunity grant programs to make sure that people can get there who maybe couldn’t afford it otherwise… And the key is just making sure that people can get there and that they’re not excluded because either they lack the funding or they happen to use a wheelchair, or what have you.
So access I define extremely broadly… And I think we’ve seen a lot of progress. With North Bay Python, that was the first conference I ran that was in a non-profit setting, and we got to build it from the ground up, so we got to really incorporate a lot of the best practices that we’ve learned in community organizing and event planning.
We gave a talk at PyCon US a few years ago about this. I keep mentioning North Bay Python - it is a tiny, tiny conference, for maybe a couple hundred people, with a budget that’s like less than $50,000, and yet, we actually were able to pull off an event that was extremely accessible.
So I know that on the one hand we’re asking more of event organizers, but I know it’s doable. These lessons are out there. People are happy to help, too.
So Josh, we heard about Kara’s role at GitHub, and we heard about your event planning exploits… We haven’t heard much about what you do at Tidelift and what it even means to be the president of the Open Source Initiative. It sounds awesome, but is that like a big deal, or what do you do with the Open Source Initiative?
Well, I am so glad you asked. The Open Source Initiative - being president of the board of OSI is a hell of a responsibility. I joined the board of OSI five years ago. I’m entering my sixth year on the board… And after serving as a vice-president, and as a treasurer, as this, that and the other, I was the last person standing with all the institutional knowledge, so I landed myself in the president’s seat.
OSI is such a fundamental piece of infrastructure for everything that we care about here, whether or not it’s acknowledged or not… And it’s just a really, really interesting time to be at OSI. The last couple of years we’ve seen a lot of relicensing… The landscape of open source licensing is a very interesting space right now, so I feel a great deal of responsibility as president of the board there to lead the organization through that time, but then also help evolve the organization so that it is a more effective advocate going into the future.
[00:40:00.02] OSI has been largely volunteer-driven for a long time, and we’re trying to shift it to be a staff-driven organization, with volunteer supervision, so that it continues to be representative of community values, and evolves with the community as our values evolve… But that ultimately the work gets done by staff, so that it can be responsive and get things done. Because suffice it to say, getting things done through a committee of volunteers - not effective or efficient.
Yeah. Tidelift - I joined Tidelift at the start of this year after being a huge fan since the inception of the company. Tidelift is all about paying maintainers; getting money from enterprise subscribers, passing that on to the maintainers who do the work for their projects.
I’m on the lifter engagement and success team. Lifter is what we call the maintainers who work with us. Just to make the metaphor explicit, a rising tide lifts all ships…
I like it, I like it.
…Tidelift. There it is.
Thank you, I needed that.
Yeah. So I’m five months into the job, and really my focus so far has primarily been on putting Upstream together… But as somebody who has been sort of a meta community manager for a number of years, and just has a lot of relationships in the non-profit ecosystem around open source, my day job at Tidelift is really to find what are the novel partnerships and opportunities that are out there, what are different ways that we can arrange ourselves so that we are all aligned, moving forward toward a world in which open source really works for everybody, and isn’t just this kind of pool of free labor for a bunch of companies who are grateful for the labor, but then maybe don’t contribute upstream.
So both of you have maintainers on the mind, and maintainers on your Twitter, and on your email, and in your events… So what’s the pulse? What’s going on with manintainers today? Here we are, middle 2021, or Q2 2021; things change, money is always a part of what’s going on… But what are maintainer problems now? What are they feeling, what are they thinking, what are they telling you? Where are the challenges, where are the things that are getting better, things that are getting worse? What’s that look like out there today?
It’s tough. It’s a tough time to be a maintainer; it really always has been. What was it - seven years ago, when Heartbleed shook a lot of us and woke us up to the plight of maintainers… But really only through the lens of corporate needs. Since then there has been a lot of ink spilled on the challenges that maintainers face.
Funding is absolutely a part of it. A lot of maintainers feel like they put in a lot of work and they don’t necessarily get commensurate value for the work they’re putting in… But a lot of people contribute to open source or a maintainer project not necessarily because they’re looking to get paid, but this expectation that working in open source is uncompensated has led us to a place where only the people with the privilege of free time are able to participate and do that… And that only makes our culture issues worse, which isn’t great.
So on the one hand, we’re still trying to figure out “How do we get maintainers paid? How can we get them paid so they have the time of day to lead their projects?” Because of course, it’s one thing to build a piece of software in open source, and it’s another thing to lead the thing. There’s the community management skills that are needed, there’s the marketing skills, the design… If you’re not an accessibility or a security expert - well, those are things you’re gonna need other contributors to help with as well…
I get the sense that there’s this feeling of exploitation, and people feel raw… So I think we have a lot of problems to solve; not just funding, but how do we wrap around these maintainers to provide them all of the supports that they need? Because funding is really just one piece of the puzzle.
[00:43:46.14] I think adding into that this year - we’ve looked at the numbers on GitHub at least in the State of the Octoverse for 2020… Which you can see at octoverse.github.com, because it’s really interesting metrics, and I love that stuff… But you see a lot more time being spent by a lot more folks on open source throughout this year. So you have this surge; we’re stuck at home, people don’t have as much definition between different kinds of work, family life and work, so you have people working even a lot longer hours on open source, which exacerbates a lot of that.
Tidelift just got done running its first ever maintainer survey. Not just of people who work with Tidelift, but maintainers writ large; and we’re still processing the results of that. We’re gonna release that I think in the coming weeks here, but I’m just looking at a draft here. One of the findings is that more than half of the maintainers we’ve surveyed have either quit or considered quitting. And that just gives you a sense of – I love the phrase “open source has won”, of course I do; I’m president of the Open Source Initiative, I work at Tidelift… But “Open source has won” as a marquee just misses the point in a huge way when over half of maintainers have seriously considered quitting, or have already quit. We’ve got a little bit of a house of cards here, no matter how much we think open source has won.
Yeah. And commercial open source doesn’t solve it, funding doesn’t solve it… I think the one thing that comes to mind - and it may not solve it, but at least shoulders the burden - is just telling them that they’re not alone, and providing that space to invite other maintainers other friends who are struggling as well, or in some cases thriving, to share what they’ve learned along the way… And to give that space, that week, really; this Maintainer Week thing I think is such a great idea because it’s like a staple in the year that you can – especially, and we haven’t asked y’all yet, will this be a yearly thing? I sure hope it is, because if that’s the case, then this can be something where that community can look forward to this week.
And then you see metrics over time growing… Obviously, you saw OSCON growing, Maintainerati grow, and Sustain, all these conferences - they either remain small because that’s naturally how they are, but you see some sort of metric that you can trend. And I think that’s what’s important - you may not be able to solve all the problems, but you can at least be there for a virtual or a physical hug, or just be present in their life and provide a space to belong
Yeah. To the question buried in there, “Is this gonna be an annual thing?” I think we all hope so.
I’m putting a stake in the sand there. No question.
I even went as far as to look up maintainerweek.com, and it is owned by GitHub, from what I understand… So I think one day it’ll be a bigger deal, a .com. So you can share that if not, Kara. That’s my suspicion, at least; that’s my sleuth hat put on.
You’re right. Do you like my website that I put up there?
I do, yeah. I like how it just points to the repo. It’s phenomenal.
It’s an incredible work of art.
Well, you know, keep it simple. Perfection is the enemy of done… And that’s perfect, because it just points right to the repository. You can send a pull request, you can invite others to get involved… And that really just leans on GitHub as a platform to collaborate. So to me, it makes total sense.
Yeah. And we don’t own it. This is the intention, is for us to not really–
Yeah. I really appreciated that, what you had in the readme. So what’s going on here, it’s important to note that this is not a GitHub-owned thing; this is a – you said “No one owns Maintainer Week. It’s for everyone.” I think that’s the – it’s why I wanted to do this show, it’s to share that bigger story; how you all got together, your background relationship, how this idea came together… And then truly, this at-large invitation, and now confirmed annual thing.
[00:47:45.29] That’s right. I wanna speak a little more to that point, about like, this isn’t owned by GitHub, this isn’t owned by Tidelift. GitHub and Tidelift are fortunate that their business models are such that the better open source does, the better they will do. So we are invested in open source in a really authentic way. The incentives are aligned, and so similar to how Global Maintainer Summit and Maintainer Week are not owned by GitHub – you know, Tidelift may be convening upstream, but it’s not a vendor event. We’re not there for ourselves. If we are, it’s for thought leadership; like, let’s bring together people and have quality conversations and make a dent in the world in a positive way. But we’re not selling anything, and we don’t wanna own this space. We wanna be peers, we wanna be fellow travelers. We just wanna stand up this sort of community infrastructure for other people to pile in.
I think we’ve got at least one, maybe two other events that are in the works for this year’s maintainer week. Stay tuned for those. But the hope i that 2022 comes around, and there just aren’t even enough days in the week for us to pile in… And we’ve got a much, much bigger, more communal thing.
So for this year, I really encourage people to put on an event, whether it’s a watch party or what, to just be a part of that week… But okay, maybe two weeks is not enough notice to put on something like that. We’ll be back in 2022, and I would love to see more community participation.
And to clarify, the Global Maintainer Summit - that is owned by GitHub. We’re putting our heart and soul, and aesthetic design resources, we’re pouring that all in. But it’s platform-neutral, which we thought was really important. So we’ll have folks speaking who are not on the GitHub platform, because we wanna have a broader representation than that, even though obviously the majority of the projects out there are.
Yeah. I like the “obviously” there. That is very obvious.
Well, let’s nail in the point here, that Maintainer Week is more than just this event by Tidelift on Monday and an event by GitHub on Tuesday and Wednesday… You’re encouraging everybody to do things, throw events, watch parties… If you’re a streamer, stream a thing with a maintainer. If you’re a podcaster, get a maintainer on your podcast. Lots of events is the goal. Everybody should be doing a thing.
And Adam, I think we should do a thing. What do you think?
I think we should do a thing.
Here’s my idea - this is live on the air. This is like when Steve Jobs said that Facetime would be open source… He pretty much just made that up right there, at the keynote… Except for I’m not Steve Jobs, so hopefully this one comes true. Because when he said that, all of his employers were like “What?!” [laughter] So I’m saying this live here, to Adam, how about this - thank a maintainer on us. So we’ll come out with the details, but during Maintainer Week - maybe it’s a specific day, maybe it’s all week long - you can thank a maintainer publicly, whether it’s Twitter, or GitHub, or a public channel; thank a maintainer of a project that you use and love, and we Changelog will send them a Changelog T-shirt as a thank you for being maintainers, on us. How does that sound, Adam? Do you like that?
I like that.
Thank a maintainer on us.
Oh, I love it.
There we go. Now, we don’t have infinite T-shirts, so we might have to come up with some constraints, but there you go. So there’s another event that [unintelligible 00:51:15.27]
That’s why I haven’t spoken. I’m adding up the amount of T-shirts necessary; is this a DigitalOcean thing, where it’s like –
This is not Hacktoberfest.
I was gonna say, after this I’m gonna DM you the amount of money that DigitalOcean spends on T-shirts for Hacktoberfest.
A lot, yeah.
Yeah… We’re gonna have a very humble limit, because we’re a humble little company… But we’ll throw it out there. [unintelligible 00:51:37.01]
Yeah, absolutely. I love that. I mean, I think that we should thank maintainers.
We already give a T-shirt to every guest, because it’s a way of us thanking you for your time. Of course, it’s optional. If you don’t want or need a T-shirt, you don’t have to have it. Same thing with this maintainer thing - if they don’t want it, we’re not gonna send it to them. But we already do that for our guests… Why not thank a maintainer, on us?
I love that.
You heard it here first, folks.
I heard it here first, for sure. [laughter]
Oh, I just thought of it.
Now, what day of the week will it be on?
I like the time constraint of it. It’s like, “Hey, thank all the maintainers within this window of time”, or this date stamp.
There you go.
As long as it’s the – you know, the 9th, for example. Or maybe the 10th, since the 9th is Global Maintainer Summit.
I think you should commit to a day right now… And I’m good with any of those days.
Go ahead, Jerod. Commit to a day.
June 9th. Thank a maintainer on us. [laughter]
So the 9th would be the Wednesday. I like that day. And y’all can tell everybody about it.
We’ll put it in the readme, we’ll put it on the website. We’ll put out maybe a blog post, something that makes it a little more official, with some guidelines and stuff. We’ll formalize it up. But you’re hearing it here first, and we’ll have our own event. Boom.
Very cool. I love it.
What haven’t we covered, y’all? What have you been waiting to say, waiting to tell us, points…? It’s all free; these events are free. I think we said it at the top… Right? Is that correct?
Just sign up and be part of something cool, right?
Yes. We’ll be streaming it live… We’ve kind of discussed this, Josh and I, as we’ve talked about our content. But Josh, I’m interested to hear what talks are kind of floating to the top, as Jerod brought up earlier.
So I’m gonna keep myself brief, but there are two, because there are two tracks that we’re running, and they’re very different. On the one side, I’m really excited about a talk from Kevin Fleming, Bloomberg. Bloomberg recently stepped up to the plate in a huge way with the Python Software Foundation, paying for a full-time staffer to support the Python Package Index (PIP).
The TL;DR there is if companies want X, Y and Z, well, these foundations and projects have their own sense of priorities. If those priorities don’t align and a company still needs a thing, put down the money. Make it happen. Invest in these foundations and you’ll finally get the things that you need. So I’m really excited to have Kevin talk about that.
I’m also very excited for a talk from [unintelligible 00:54:20.15] She’s been working with a lot of the Python ecosystem recently. She’s gonna be talking about four non-developer ways to support your upstream projects, harking back to something y’all were saying earlier, like “Hey, this project needs more than coders.” So let’s talk about that.
Now I’m looking forward to those. Okay.
Yeah, it sounds good.
Some of the ones that have been top of mind for me - we’ve got Brendan Burns, one of the co-creators of Kubernetes, is gonna come in and talk about scaling the project culturally, what kind of stuff they wish they had in place early on, and what that pain… [laughs] And victories was like, having a project grow that fast, from a cultural perspective, in terms of what they had in place.
I’m excited about that. I love [unintelligible 00:55:10.21] about scaling stuff technically, but I haven’t seen as much talk from that on the Kubernetes side of that. So I’m really interested in that.
I’m also really excited - we’ve got Ashley Williams talking about Rust’s decision to start the Rust Foundation, and what that actually looked like, growing that. That’s a big commitment from Rust to do their own foundation, and I’m really interested in what that looked like on the inside.
I don’t want you to think it’s all this broad stuff. We have plenty of very specific talks… Rose Judge, who is a maintainer on Tern, just put one in that I really like, which is “Letting them down easy: How to nicely say no to unwanted change proposals.”
Yeah. I’m not sure how you say [unintelligible 00:56:02.14] is very similar to what we had, that conversation with Ben Johnson around “open source, but not open contribution.” Not quite the same, but similar. Basically, avoiding that pain of like - sometimes code you don’t want for reasons you don’t want it, or just extra code… And that was the idea there. I think those are very necessary to talk about, because unless you have those kinds of talks, maintainers aren’t kind of collecting together and saying “How do you deal with this?” We did that call with Ben that was like – we got a lot of feedback around this idea of “Sure, it’s open source, but it doesn’t have to be open to contribution, for any reason.” And one of Ben’s reasons for his choice was mental health. He’s been an open source maintainer in his past project; it wasn’t healthy for him personally. And we can all make our own choices for our own reasons, and open source doesn’t have to only be this way. Sure, it is open source… I forget what the license is; is it MIT, Jerod? Or is it AL v2? I’m not sure which one it is. But it’s permissive.
Maybe it’s GPL. No, it’s not permissive.
My bad then…
He went GPL, didn’t he? With Litestream.
Did he? Okay… Yeah, he did.
So it’s still open source.
That’s right. Either way… [laughter]
The point is, these are good ideas to share at a place like this, because otherwise they’re just passing tweets, or unsaid things, if you don’t have places to gather where you’re sharing these ideas.
Actually, I’m really curious for you folks kind of getting through this pandemic isolation period, what’s it been like having these regular weekly, bi-monthly conversations with folks? Has that helped? Has that changed things?
I feel like – me, very personally, I already worked from home, so a lot of my life didn’t really change. I think it’s probably pretty similar for Jerod, except for certain group activities we weren’t involved in as often or at all…
So for me, life didn’t change a ton, except for it changed a ton. I’m not gonna say it didn’t change. My family left less often, we were at home quite a bit… But for the podcast–
You got a dog…
You got a dog.
Recently. Very recently. That was like three months ago.
That wasn’t a lockdown buy?
I told Kara and Josh about my dog.
Oh, I saw the dog.
They saw the dog.
I have screenshots of the dog I looked at today, no joke. [laughter]
That’s right. That’s right.
Well, I just think a lot of people were buying dogs and pets, because they were not having as much contact with living things… So dogs are actually a hot commodity; not to belittle them by calling them commodities, but you know what I mean… People are buying dogs because of the lockdown. And as I was saying, you bought a dog; I was trying to think of ways that your life changed.
Right, right. Things we did, that we had to change. But the podcast for us - it’s nice. I zoom a lot, and I have to say that I don’t actually mind it, because I’m always connecting… And they’re not terrible meeting Zoom calls. They’re always like this, this conversation. It’s very good.
I will have fatigue, so to speak, but it’s not as if I’m on droning Zoom calls that just suck the life out of me. In many ways, it definitely takes energy to be involved, mental energy and whatnot, but I love it. I think for us it’s the best time to be a podcaster, because I haven’t felt very alone in this. I feel like the community has been strong through it, we’ve connected with many people through it… I feel like for us, our homeostasis in that way was maintained.
I’m kind of jealous, honestly… You get these ongoing conversations.
We have a lot, yeah.
My office mate is usually – I’m on the second floor. There’s a scrub jay that I feed out the window, and that’s been my office mate the whole year. But I think it’s watching its nest right now, so it hasn’t really been coming by… Instead, the day before yesterday this squirrel came by… The first time ever was a squirrel up on this floor, covered in mange. Just half of its hair really scabby. And I kept giving it peanuts. Like, I’m lonely–
Yeah, I’ve got no one up here, and finally I… I texted all my friends, I was like “Look at this cool mange squirrel.” But finally, opened the window to put another peanut out, and she jumps in excitement up onto my hand and scratches me…
So I spent like an hour, googling, being like “Am I gonna die? Do I have mange?” I don’t wanna die from a squirrel scratch… That’s so embarrassing. I’m not ready.
I mean, you didn’t have to people that; couldn’t you just call it Covid, or something, just to hide the squirrel scratch?
Yeah… I was so embarrassed. And I had to follow up with all my friends and be like “I’m sorry, everyone. It’s not my fault. I totally got scratched.” But I’m still alive today, so… I haven’t gotten mange yet. We’ll see.
Well, you’re a survivor, and you have a new friend.
Great point. Great point.
Yeah, a maintainer bite. [laughter]
I really do like the comparison to Shark Week, because there’s just so much enthusiasm around that week, and it’s been a staple for so many people… And who doesn’t love to learn more about the things in the ocean? Sure, it’s just sharks, but –
It took the four of us ten minutes to confirm if a shark was a fish or a mammal… [laughter] And you’re talking about learning stuff from Shark Week? What have you learned?! [laughter]
Lots. Fish are friends, not food, man…
The point is the enthusiasm. Sure, people come back to this because they’re always discovering new stuff about sharks. If you go back to the beginning of Shark Week to now, there’s definitely learnings, scientifically. So I think there’s definitely a trendline to follow. My comparison is not so much like that maintainers are sharks, but there’s so much enthusiasm around this, and it is a staple.
I’m googling “Is Shark Week good PR for sharks?” Because I’m not sure…
I think within the last year one of the shark developments was we’ve got volcano sharks, right?
Have you not heard of this…?
There are – I mean, they’re not in volcanoes above land, but under the sea volcanoes…
Sharks come out of them?
Some of them seem okay hanging out in the caldera…
I know, it’s wild.
Check this out - hammerhead sharks along with silk sharks were found living in a volcano.
There it is.
Oh, my gosh.
Next thing we’ll have sharks on a plane.
Here’s my question. As Maintainer Week becomes a thing, for the next decade, what is the maintainer equivalent of volcano shark?
See, Jerod? I’m on to something here.
That’s something to ponder… [laughter]
I would like everyone who’s listening to this - the few, the brave that are still here - to google the goblin shark just to round out this experience. I would really appreciate that.
That’s scary-looking, okay… We’ll leave it there.
That’s my favorite shark.
Yeah. Well, here’s to maintainers, here’s to Maintainer Week, here’s to the serendipity of y’all’s relationship, and how you met, and how you planned the same thing without knowing it was the same thing, and you DM-ed each other and you found out, and boom, it’s all happening here… Maintainer Week is happening. It begins June 7th, and it’s gonna be awesome. What’s the URL? Where do people go to? Is it MaintainerWeek.com? What is the URL to easily say? I think it’s maintainerweek.github.com, potentially, or…?
Show notes. It’s in the show notes.
Yeah, Jerod’s reminded me we have show notes. GitHub.com/github/maintainerweek is the repo.
That’s it. Go to the repo.
That’s it. Go to the repo.
The repo is where it’s at.
For the Global Maintainer Summit, you could type in…
That’s the thing - every time I type in maintainerds.com… Because Martin Woodward made it redirect. So I never remember the URL.
I know, he told us about that.
He mentioned that on our show with him. That was so cool. Maintainerds.
I’m jealous of that domain.
Either way - hey, listen, it’s in the show notes. We’ve got some places to go, some things to do… We love you maintainers, we’ll see you there. Josh, Kara, thank you so much for all you do. We really appreciate you, and thanks for joining us.
It’s a pleasure. Seriously, thanks for having this conversation, and looking to kind of continue it start of June.
This has been great. I’m looking forward to partnering on this Maintainer Week and many more to come.
There you go. Thanks, y’all.
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