Be Clear About How Things Work (How Open Source Can Work with Companies)

This post is one of a series of posts about what open source software projects can do (if they wish to) to make it easier for companies to participate in their projects.

When a company wants to get involved in an open source software, often they need some help understanding how things work. Sometimes it’s the developer who wants to contribute that has questions. Sometimes it’s their management who wants to understand what type of commitment they are making and what they can expect.

An open source software project can make it easier for a corporate contributor to participate by being clear about:

  • What the release process and schedule looks like.
  • How long it takes for a PR to be reviewed and how to best position it for acceptance.
  • Who makes decisions and how.
  • What roles people in the project play and how they get to those roles.
  • Where and how to ask questions.
  • Who is working on the project and what their motivations are. (Is this software to make apps run faster on watches or is it to make apps run on car computers?)
  • How to find out and stay informed of security issues.

As an open source software maintainer, the more you can help organizations understand how you work and how to work effectively with you, the more likely they are to engage.

What open source governance models are available?

If you are looking for an open source governance model, there are two resources to explore.

  1. Red Hat has published the Project and Community Governance Guidebook on GitHub. It covers things from roles of the participants, to how projects evolve (and governance should evolve with them), to policies and procedures.
  2. The FOSS Governance Collection just launched with a collection of governance docs on Zotero. It is a great place to go see real, live documents used by existing open source software projects. (If you work on an open source software project, or just notice that one is missing, please upload the governance docs!)

Don’t forget, a project’s governance needs to evolve as the project evolves.

How Open Source Communities Work

Several happenings over the weekend are case studies in how open source software communities work.

The Dev Behind a Hugely Popular GNOME Extension Just Quit

While the news is about a developer quitting because it’s not “fun”. I think the message – or messages – are deeper than that.

  1. Isn’t it awesome that are free software is developed by people that love doing it? Back when I started the OpenLogic Expert Community, I contacted many maintainers and offered to pay them to fix issues that our customers had. Some of them turned me down because they loved working on open source software and thought payment would change that. (That inspired my Would You Do It Again for Free? talk.) Some of them turned down payment because this was a hobby and if they got payment their family might view it and the time they spend on it differently. They took free tech goodies instead!
  2. Wouldn’t it be great if when what you are working on no longer made sense, you could move on to something better suited for you at the moment? Working on something you love, because you love it, gives you the freedom to say it’s no longer your favorite thing to work on and to move on. You do still have responsibilities but in this case, it sounds like there was good backup.
  3. Feedback. I do hope that the GNOME community takes this feedback as an opportunity to explore how things are going. They should survey other users and figure out if this is an individual problem or a systemic problem and how they might prevent it from happening in the future.

Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth makes peace with Ubuntu Linux community

It is a positive sign that the GNOME project – or this part of it – had a clear and positive succession plan.

Again I think the title doesn’t capture the importance here.

Governance is very important to every open source software project. It’s important when you set it governance to determine how councils, boards and advisory boards are going to work. Who is going to be on them? What criteria determines who is on them? What are they supposed to discuss? What do they get to decide or control? How do their decisions get implemented?

And projects evolve. You need to continue to examine the governance structure and make sure it’s still working. Sometimes advisory groups are created to raise money or to make marketing decisions. And later they start making technical decisions. What does that mean? Should the group evolve? Or is a different part of the project experiencing difficulties that this group is trying to fill in for?

While I don’t know specifically what happened with the Ubuntu Community Council, it is normal for projects to have governing structures that change and evolve over time. As they set it back up, it will be important to figure out who is on it, how people get added and removed, what their charter is and how their decisions will be implemented.

Join us for the first ever virtual hallway track!

Do you miss the hallway track at conferences? All those impromptu conversations with other people that care about open source software? Me too! So we are setting aside some time to have a virtual hallway track.

Growing leaders in open source (Or wherever the conversation goes! It’s the hallway track!)


Meeting time:

Wednesday, April 22, 2020, 15:30 UTC

LocationLocal TimeTime ZoneUTC Offset
San Francisco (USA – California)Wednesday, April 22, 2020 at 8:30:00 amPDTUTC-7 hours
Denver (USA – Colorado)Wednesday, April 22, 2020 at 9:30:00 amMDTUTC-6 hours
New York (USA – New York)Wednesday, April 22, 2020 at 11:30:00 amEDTUTC-4 hours
London (United Kingdom – England)Wednesday, April 22, 2020 at 4:30:00 pmBSTUTC+1 hour
Paris (France – ÃŽle-de-France)Wednesday, April 22, 2020 at 5:30:00 pmCESTUTC+2 hours
Tokyo (Japan)Thursday, April 23, 2020 at 12:30:00 amJSTUTC+9 hours
Corresponding UTC (GMT)Wednesday, April 22, 2020 at 15:30:00 

If the meeting is too big for a single conversation (kind of like when everyone pours out of a lecture at a conference), we’ll break up into smaller groups.

Why People Don’t Contribute to Your Open Source Project

I just listened to Mike McQuaid‘s FOSDEM talk, Why People Don’t Contribute to Your Open Source Project.  If you are interested in communities and how they grow, I highly recommend you take a half hour and watch it.

Some of the things I got from the talk:

  • I get asked a lot what the difference between a contributor and a maintainer is. Mike does a great job of explaining it around minute 4:00. Contributors are people who write code or docs or do triage for your project but who need help from others to get their work included. Maintainers are people that review and merge contributions.
  • You should users as your source for contributors. The type of contributor that is not a user is not likely someone you want.
  • Once maintainers are not users, they are not likely to continue contributing. So if you stop using your project, you need to start recruiting someone else to maintain it because it’s unlikely that you’ll continue to maintain it.
  • Most maintainers are talked into it. Nobody thinks they are qualified at first.

I did wonder what Mike would think about open source software projects where most of the contributors are people paid by a company to work on it. There are projects that are unlikely to be used by individuals, that are primarily supported by paid contributors. Do the same rules apply?

How “I am Groot” defines a community manager’s role

I was watching Guardians of the Galaxy, Part 2 and I realized that while baby Groot was making me laugh, it was Rocket that I understood. Rocket is an interpreter. He might even be a community manager.

In Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s a character called Groot. And the only thing he ever says is “I am Groot.” After a few instances, it becomes clear that he is saying a lot with each “I am Groot.”

This becomes particularly clear in Guardians of the Galaxy, Part 2. Every time Baby Groot says “I am Groot,” Rocket either responds to him or tells the rest of the group what Baby Groot just said.

For example, in the scene below, Baby Groot knocks over an alien and then says “I am Groot” and Rocket responds “They were not looking at you funny.” In that moment, we realize that Baby Groot is obviously saying something that we don’t understand.

Community managers are often interpreters just like Rocket is. Community managers often can hear both sides of a discussion and they realize what someone is trying to say that is not being heard by others. They hear “I am Groot” and realize the person is saying “If we do it this way, then we’ll get more contributors.” or “If you do it that way, you’re forgetting about that risk I mentioned before.” They are interpreters. Or at least people that can recognize that something is getting lost in translation.

Good community managers make sure people are heard correctly and lead us to realize that we are missing some thing. That way we all learn to listen more carefully leading to better communities.

Originally published on Medium.

It’s true: because you can travel, you have to

I once sat on an airplane for 20+ hours in order to spend a day in Italy. I spent the whole trip wondering why we had to meet in person when we have all this technology like video calls, email, irc. While having my surreal foreign driving experience where a gazillion lanes merged into a few and all the signs were in Italian, I tried not to let my jet lagged brain wander and I wondered what I was doing.

Why, when we have so much technology, do we have to travel so much to work together?

MDN Hackfest, March 2015

And the secret is to flip the question around. It’s because we have all this technology that we have to travel. Because we can communicate and work with anyone around the world, we do. And when you work with people, you need to meet them. You don’t need to see them every day, but you need to understand how they talk, how they hold themselves, what’s important to them, what makes them raise their voice in excitement. Once you meet them, you’ll read all their emails differently. You’ll get what they are trying to say in that pull request so much faster. You’ll be a team.

Once you’ve met them, had a beer with them and learned that they too have a five year old kid, you’ll be more likely to be willing to get up at 6:30am for a meeting with them. You’ll be more likely to tell them you think something’s wrong with their idea and believe that they’ll really listen to you. You’ll be more likely to ask them for help. Because of how the human brain works, you’ll be more likely to remember them in another conversation where something they are working on will go together wonderfully with the idea a new friend is talking about.

Meeting in person is key to working well together. Technology lets us work with more people in more places and so now we travel further to meet each other.

10 Ways Community Managers Make Sure Projects are Healthy

Community managers must make sure their projects are healthy. Before they can help foster and grow a community, they have to make sure it’s a well functioning, welcoming place.

Photo from the Library of Congress.

While community managers and project leaders often don’t explicitly talk about what’s not working well, you will often find them doing a wide variety of things. They are doing whatever is needed — filling in the gaps — to make their project work well so that new people can join.

Here are some of the things that an open source software project needs in order to be healthy and grow community.

  1. Getting Started. In order for new people to join, here has to be an easy way to get started using the project and an easy way to get started contributing. Usually 30 minutes is the maximum amount of time someone will try to install and use your product for the first time.
  2. Clear Goals. A project needs clear goals before its community can grow. New members need to know what problem the project is trying to solve and how they plan to do that. Without a clear vision and set of goals for the project, someone who hasn’t been involved with the project won’t know what contributions might be welcomed.
  3. Target Audience/Market. As part of its vision and goals, a project needs to know who it’s for. Is it for enterprise software developers or elementary school kids?
  4. Project Lead. The project lead can be a single person (like Linus Torvalds) or it can be a small group of people (like Samba) or it can be a group of people (like Apache) but it really helps the project identity, the decision making process and the goal setting to have leadership.
  5. Release Management. Every project produces something and there needs to be a way that “something” gets produced and published for people to use. And a place where people know to find the latest version.
  6. Project Infrastructure. Every project needs some amount of infrastructure. Most projects need source code control, bug tracking and mailing lists. They also probably need a website, a place to publish documentation and a way to manage finances.
  7. Roadmap. Sometimes a project’s roadmap is simply a backlog of issues. Sometimes it’s a Trello board. Sometimes it’s a detailed 2 year roadmap. Whatever form it takes and however much detail it has, it’s important to the project to know what’s next.
  8. Governance. A well-defined project has clear processes for how decisions are made and who gets to make them. Some projects have well developed governance processes. Others have light weight, undocumented processes. But without some sort of governance, the project is likely to stall often.
  9. Advocates. In order for a project to grow, someone must be talking about it. These advocates may be users or contributors. They may be spreading the word on the internet or at in person events.
  10. Events & Outreach. More advanced projects will start to participate with a talk or a table at existing events and may even start to hold their own events.

If any of the above things is not working, it will be hard for a project to attract new users. A good community manager or project lead will focus on making the project run well first before inviting new people to join.

3 ways open source software communities could learn from Crossfit

Photo by Anthony Topper.

This week I am participating in the community blogging challenge: Encouraging New Contributors!

Crossfit gyms are great at creating community and welcoming new members. Here are 3 things that Crossfit boxes do that open source software communities could also do to encourage new contributors:

  1. Say hi to the new person. I drop in at gyms around the world, and no matter where I go, everyone in the class comes up to say hi to me and introduce themselves. How awesome is it that I can go to a gym in Frankfurt and have 10 total strangers walk up and introduce themselves and say how happy they are that I’ve joined them?
    For open source: When you see a new person on your mailing list or IRC channel, stop and say hi. Introduce yourself and tell them they are welcome. You can do it publicly or privately. (If you do it publicly, you might set a good example for others!)
  2. Celebrate daily accomplishments. When we finish a workout at my Crossfit gym, we all post our scores in an app. It gets ordered from best to worst but no matter where you are in the line up, everyone will  give you a virtual fistbump and most of them will notice when you’ve had a spectacular work out based on your skill level and they’ll congratulate you for it.
    For open source: Have a place where people can note what they’ve done, maybe point out what they are proud of or what was hard for them, and get kudos from others. Sometimes this happens on source code control systems. Sometimes on IRC. I think most open source software projects could do better at this.
  3. Allow for off topic interactions. To really build community, you have to know each other. Sometimes that’s hard to do if you just focus on the work all the time. There has to be a place to chat, to share goals, ideas and maybe every once in a while, a non-project focused thing. In my Crossfit box, we do this in a Facebook group. Usually, it’s fitness related but sometimes it’s just chatting about life in general. The group gets noisy and I turned off notifications, but I still visit at least once a day to congratulate, commiserate and just visit. It’s a place new members can ask questions, learn more about the community and get to know each other.
    In open source communities: Find a channel where people can chat. A place where they can ask all their questions, express frustration over a piece of code or complain about the weather. Sometimes it’ll get noisy but usually it will bring people together and, more importantly for the new people, help them “see” the community they are joining. Most open source software projects do this on irc or Slack.

How do you think open source software communities can Encourage New Contributors? What have you learned from the other communities in your life?

8 ways companies have influenced open source software

A decade ago, I researched and gave a talk called Would you do it again for free? If you worked on an open source software project for free, and a company started paying you to work on it, if they stopped paying you, would you stop working on it? At the time it was a valid question as many of my friends were starting to get paid positions doing their dream job. In case you are curious, the answer is “it depends”. Most people will stop working on that particular project but most will go on to work on other open source software projects. You can watch versions of the talks and see links to the research studies I found.

My new question is how have c0mpanies influenced open source software over the past decade? They’ve influenced open source software in many ways from career opportunities to support to licensing to barriers to entry. Let’s take a look at 8 ways companies have changed open source software.


They have provided paid positions and enabled people to pursue their passions for 40+ hours/week. While most open source software advocates believe that full time jobs working on open source software is awesome, many also worry that company’s priorities now greatly influence projects through the maintainers they pay.

Making it possible for open community participation to be part of a job, rather than necessarily being a personal lifestyle choice — Nick Coghlan ‏@ncoghlan_dev

It’s worth noting that, in addition to salaries, companies also provide much better research into what paying users want as well as roles such as UX and product marketing — they provide a complete software ecosystem as we discuss below.

While many open source software developers make a living working on open source software, most projects could still use many additional paid staff. Nadia Eghbal in her research funded by the Ford Foundation argues that we do not pay enough of the open source software maintainers.

Barrier to entry

Companies have changed the barriers to entry. In some cases it’s harder — for example, committers, especially product owners, are expected to work full time on projects.

an increase in # of new open source devs with no community experience, an acceptance of a high bar to get started… — Dave Neary ‏@nearyd

Without a paid position, it is hard to keep up with expectations and grow and support a community. In other cases, companies have made it easier for a more diverse group of people to join open source software projects by hiring people unfamiliar with the project and giving them time and training to get started.

Increased diversity

When companies hire people to work on open source software, they often hire from the greater pool of software developers and provide training and support for them. While the worldwide pool of software developers is not representative of our world’s diverse population, this paid training and assignment has increased the diversity of open source software projects. Anecdotally, I know many woman who were first introduced to open source software through a paid position.

Working styles

Companies bring new working styles to the projects that they get involved with. Some of these styles are probably more positively accepted than others. For example, when companies become involved with open source software projects, meetings and phone conferences become more prevalent. Conferences transition from weekends to work weeks.

Conferences happen midweek instead of on weekends, the assumption that leaders have 40h to spend on project… — Dave Neary ‏@nearyd

I also believe companies introduced concepts like agile, pair programming and six week training “dojos” such as the ones Cloud Foundry has. In order to become a committer, a Cloud Foundry contributor attends a 6 week dojo in person where they are partnered with experienced committers. Cloud Foundry does all of its coding in pairs. Work is assigned to pairs by a project manager.


Companies have shifted the predominate licensing methods from copyleft to more permissive licensing. And while they’ve cleaned up much of the copyright assignments, they’ve also often introduced controversial committer licensing agreements, CLA’s.

it has widened the governance models, with mixed results, CAs held by corporations is a controversial development — Alberto Ruiz ‏@acruiz

Complete software ecosystem

Companies have brought new knowledge and skill sets to open source software such as UX designers, product managers, market research and product marketing. Open source software on its own has not attracted many volunteer into these roles.

Loss of a unifying enemy

Much of the energy behind some of the early open source software projects seemed to center around an anti-corporate sentiment and in particular, an anti-Microsoft sentiment.

Loss of sw corporations as a enemies of freedom has led to loss of cohesiveness as a group. — Alberto Ruiz ‏@acruiz

As more open source software contributors receive paychecks from these corporations, and as more corporations support open source software, this anti-corporate sentiment is fading.


As Nadia Eghbal describes in her research for the Ford Foundation, many open source software projects are not able to provide support for their projects. Often well established projects are maintained by a few individuals who are not full time on the project. Heartbleed is one of the most famous, recent examples of how this can be an issue. Heartbleed was a bug discovered in the OpenSSL project. A project used by most of the world and at that time supported by one paid staff member. The Linux Foundation stepped in and raised money from companies and used their existing infrastructure to provide support to four paid committers.

Apache, Eclipse, Linux: Companies giving up control to #FOSS #Foundations and allowing open governance to work. — Shane Curcuru ‏@shanecurcuru

Support for open source software projects varies from, a company paying the salary of a maintainer or two to a non-profit organization dedicated to the project to non-profit organization that collect funding from multiple sources to support multiple projects.

For better or worse, I would say community vs. commercial versions. Also paid support as desired by corp/govt users. — Tony Wasserman ‏@twasserman


Open source software has become a predominate software methodology and companies have become more and more involved in open source software projects. They have supported and changed the way those projects work. They provide salaries to committers, support to users, change software methodology styles, complete the ecosystem with market research and UX designers, change barriers to entry and increase diversity.

How else have you seen companies influencing open source software projects?

Originally published on Medium.