071: Labor Organizing and Open Source Sustainability with Audrey Eschright
In this episode, Audrey Eschright of The Recompiler Mag joins us to talk about labor organizing and open source sustainability.
- 00:50 - Background in Publishing and Open Source
- 06:53 - The Contributor Pool
- 12:37 - Open Source Bridge
- 15:29 - Mistakes Open Source Contributors Make
- 17:21 - Tools for Maintaining an Open Source Project
- 19:09 - Roles
- 23:33 - Open Source Bridge (Cont’d)
- 27:47 - Governance and Decision-Making
- 36:20 - Making Open Source Accessible, Safe, and Welcoming
Open Source Bridge: Enter the coupon code PODCAST to get $50 off a ticket! The conference will be held June 20-23, 2017 at The Eliot Center in downtown Portland, Oregon.
CHARLES: Hello, everybody and welcome to The Frontside Podcast, Episode #71. My name is Charles Lowell. I'm a developer here at The Frontside. With me also is Joe LaSala.
CHARLES: Hey, Joe, another developer here at The Frontside. With us today is the publisher of The Recompiler Mag and a long-time open source contributor Audrey Eschright. Welcome Audrey.
CHARLES: Thanks for being on the show.
AUDREY: Oh, thank you.
CHARLES: Today, we're going to be talking about open source and in particular, the labor that goes into open source and making that sustainable but before we get into that, I wanted to first talk about your background, both in terms of how you came to be publishing the magazine and also your background on open source, how we're arriving at the subject today.
AUDREY: The magazine, in a lot of ways, I refer to it as a feminist hacker magazine. It holds together a lot of different things that I've worked on over the years so I'm going to jump all the way back to when I first encountered open source and then maybe that will fit together. When I was in high school, I first encountered the internet and the internet that was available to me at that time use things like Gopher. Gopher is a pretty web protocol and it was free software. I didn't really understand that it was free software at that point but I did understand that if I wanted to learn how to write code and the computer that I have access to were things like a bunch of really old PCs like 286's and an old Macintosh.
Then there were commercial compilers for writing code and there were free compilers for writing code. There was a thing called GCC and I knew that it was on university computers and if I got access to those, then I could write code. Then I got to college and write about when open source really started to take off as this concept of how free software comes into business world. I've had that as a background of becoming a programmer and getting involved in things but after college I wasn't really sure that I want to work in technology so I took a break. When I came back, I needed a way to get myself up to date so I started volunteering with this local group called Free Geek that recycles computers.
What they do is they take those computer parts and the ones that are usable, they build them into Linux boxes for people, like Linux desktop boxes. How I got back up and running was learning how to work and volunteering in an organization that was very open source based, like all of the tools that they used are just completely open source.
CHARLES: Was that for budgetary reasons or they didn't want the people to burden the recipients of these computers with any licensing fees or obligations to third parties?
AUDREY: It's budgetary but it's also ideological. The organization was started out of environmental interests. The original folks, they pointed to us this computer monitor that they [inaudible] as the reason that they do this, that the way computer waste is being handled was so unfriendly that you might as well just dump it in the river. They started from there but I think because those kinds of interests of creating something that was really accessible for people are really educational and accessible to lower income patrons has always been a really big part of it. I think that using Linux and using open source tools has been a big part of that.
CHARLES: I think open source is so pervasive, a lot of people forget that in those days, there was a lot of radical thinking behind it, of radical accessibility like it's your basic right to be able to access every layer of your stack. It's a little bit unfortunate that you mentioned GCC that like the GNU, the Free Software Foundation isn't as much part of the conversation as they were back then.
AUDREY: Yeah. I think that as more people come in to, we've shifted through these different generations basically in open source contribution and how it's formulated. The fact that I even default to open source is really interesting because a lot of the values that I referencing are those free software values.
CHARLES: Fast forward to the present...
AUDREY: Part of how I built my skills was by starting open source projects called Calagator. It's a community calendaring platform that makes it very easy to import things from other sources like Facebook. It's interesting, it wasn't our primary thing but it's so big now. We've been doing this for 10 years so a lot of recent change around us. We have a 10-year old [inaudible] app that is still up and running and is now in Rails engine.
CHARLES: Wow. Is this an application that you can run yourself or when you say it's an engine, if I've got a Rails app, I can just drop it into any Rails app?
AUDREY: Yeah, that was a direction we decided to go in a couple of years ago because my experience was that handing people in Rails app and saying, "Go fork it and then go sell it and use it in your community." That's a pretty big technical burden. At least, as an engine, it makes it a little bit more flexible for people to really come in and make some of those changes. We can bootstrap a little bit more for them.
CHARLES: It's always funny to me know how some projects always run off the fork model, like there's a lot of HTML starters or editor starters where the thing is you fork it. I always hate that model because eventually, you ended up having to do this terrible dance with the upstream in order to jump around the changes that are coming through and stuff.
AUDREY: Yeah and that was definitely one of the problems that we would run into. We would make changes to functionality and the frontend and the visual display of it. It was really difficult for people to pick and choose the parts that were useful for them.
CHARLES: Yeah. Okay, so you've got a 10-year old Rails applications/engine, now you are actually running an instance of this engine yourself or just maintaining the open source?
AUDREY: Yeah, there's actually two of them, that I'm in involved with right now. One of them is that Calagator.org. It's a Portland's techs events calendar. That was really our original site and the reason that we created this. The other one just as of a few months ago is PDXActivist.org and that is a way to get a lot of activism and political organizing off of Facebook, basically. That's really our primary target. It's just getting people an alternative to using Facebook for all of their events.
CHARLES: I see. Now, having to maintain an open source project for 10 years, that's a really, really long time.
CHARLES: How big is the community now and how many different users have you seen as you developed this?
AUDREY: Well, it's a little hard to tell. We deliberately don't do a lot of tracking, especially on PDX Activist side. I can tell you that there are a lot of events on both calendars. For the tech events, there are probably five things that you can do on any given day, maybe 10. During design week, they put all that on there too. This has been very consistent over the history of the project. I can also tell you that we've had dozens of contributors.
CHARLES: Yeah, that's more what I meant when I said users. Not necessarily the consumers of the calendar but the consumers of the software that makes the calendar.
AUDREY: It goes without saying that I think that those users are creating events, they are part of that because they help curate content. Like with the wiki, your user base isn't just the people who update MediaWiki. It's that people who really work on the content too. We've had dozens of people. There's a contributor's file that I didn't pull up but we can go and look at it. We made a point of crediting everybody who contributed at Code Sprint, whether or not they check in code. We have a really great documentation over the history of the project about how the different ways that people contributed and who they are.
CHARLES: Yeah. I feel like that's something that often goes missing in projects, especially open source projects that you find on GitHub where there's so many people that are involved in creating software beyond just what you see in the commit history. It's kind of a poor showing of what it was all involved in the whole creative act. Sure, it's an accurate reflection if it's a one-person project who's hacking away on weekends but as your project scales, there's a lot of different stuff going on.
AUDREY: Yeah, definitely. I think the other part that's really interesting for me about this is that I can point to that big contributor pool, people who have come to sprints so they've work on a project. They help define the shape of the project. Then I can tell you that we had a three-person core team for a very long time and then it was down to a two-person core team. Now, I'm not really sure which one of those is in charge. I don't look at GitHub often enough and a couple of the other computers. There isn't a lot of coaching happening anymore. We should have a wish list but there's nothing so urgent that we stop all other work and go back to making this our primary effort.
CHARLES: Of the people on the core team, how many of them are developers?
AUDREY: All of us. All three of us were. We come into with different cross skills. I've done a lot of documentation and mentorship. As of the others, I would say we have one person who were in design or one person who was more apps-oriented. We fill those different layers too.
CHARLES: Of that group of the core contributors, outside that group of core contributors, you said you accumulate a list of all the people who contributed. What's the breakdown in the roles that those people are playing?
AUDREY: You know, it has changed a lot over the course of the project. Early on, we had maybe half of the people were really doing development and the other half were helping. We took a very agile approach like index cards and users story. Maybe half of the people that show up at a given time, we just talk through the feature and do research. We were looking at a lot of integration so what needed to know what would be required to integrate it. We brainstorm a lot of things.
We did in-person Code Sprints every two weeks from the year that we started, at late of January to the end of July. We had this whole set of in-person work that really shape in that. Also a lot of people who weren't necessarily contributing code that had disappeared.
CHARLES: I see, so people who had a vested interest in a particular set of features could show up and voice that interest and be heard, as opposed to what you're having, it just be limited to the people who are writing the actual code.
AUDREY: Yeah and we would ask people to spec it out. Just sit down with somebody and figure out how the feature could work and whether it fit with everything else to what we're doing. I do that research and investigation. Over the years, we've had this come and go in waves. Every so often, we need to go up a Rails version or make certain kinds of major updates so we get people together for that.
We had some different pools of Codeschool students that have come in and really been interested in working on this to get a little bit more development experience, get some experience working with other people, have open source some resume to show off. I've been very enthusiastic about giving people that resume credit that if they need an open source of it so that they could say, "I know how to write with other people," then our projects is very happy to help them with that.
CHARLES: What is the conference that you run?
AUDREY: I am on the committee for Open Source Bridge. It's an annual conference for open source citizens, which is the same people who participate and benefit from open source.
CHARLES: Which is pretty much the planet at this point.
AUDREY: Yeah. It's funny because, I think it's just so interesting who does or doesn't identify themselves as part of that. Anybody using a computer these days is in some way benefiting from open source and could potentially contribute to it and be part of that. It's not just awareness, there are a lot of actual barriers so that, to everyone having a role in it. But the conference I co-founded it with Selena Deckelmann who's at Mozilla now.
We do say over time to ask a lot of questions about how across technologies, open source comes together to build things? How projects work? What kinds of skills are involved? How we become better maintainers by being aware of our users, by communicating better, by being good moderators of online message boards and mailing lists and things like that? We've had a chance to really just look at broad swath of elements that come in.
CHARLES: I think that literally every bullet point that you mentioned, I feel is something that we've come across and it has been a challenge for us, in our efforts to maintain our open source projects. Ours are mostly just libraries. There's very little by way of big, big frameworks or big, big applications. We've got it kind of easy, I would say and we still struggle with those things really understanding our users, understanding how your open source project should run and how it even fits into the bigger ecosystem. Is there a guide out there somewhere like how to how to open source?
AUDREY: You know, I don't know that I've seen a single guide but there is really a lot of good writing and a lot of good conference talks on this topics. Like you said, it's just this broad set of skills and we focus so much on teaching people how to code and maybe teaching people how to code together, to be good contributors together but if you ever to maintain a project, there's leadership involved. There's communication involved.
CHARLES: It seems to me that's the bulk of it, right?
AUDREY: Yeah. I don't know, did you get training on that?
AUDREY: I just decided to try things. I'm very lucky that I'm mostly made good guesses but there's some really bad ones too where later I look back at it and realized we could have done better.
CHARLES: What are some of this mistakes that open source contributors often make, where they could save themselves a lot of trouble?
AUDREY: I think a big one is thinking about it only in that technical framework. Even just by tools that we use, we tend to force people into contributing solely through GitHub, which means that you've got to understand somethings about the bug tracker and how tickets go and the workflow around that.
CHARLES: Yeah. I've literally looking at a message in our Slack from yesterday where someone on our team who doesn't interact with GitHub said literally, "Someone is going to have to show me how because GitHub is the most confusing thing I have ever logged into."
JOE: I thought about that message today too and yeah, I guess I'm wondering how do you attract those more non-technical skill sets to a project?
AUDREY: It takes a lot of direct mentoring and coaching. You already has some people that are identifying themselves to you if you're having that conversation. I think I've really benefited from looking at who else is like them, who else do they know that might want to get involved and starting conversations that way. Because the biggest projects that I have worked on are these calendars, it does give us so many users that maybe are interested in having more technical involvement.
If I can start looking at who's doing a lot of cleanup on there, who's paying a lot of attention to the content and the structure of the content and structuring information is also a technical skill. But people don't necessarily go from that to thinking, "I can write code," or, "I could submit a ticket and debug that thing and tell you what needs fixing now." But people can get there. We just have to be willing to talk to them about it and willing to look at it from their point of view.
CHARLES: One thing that I dig out of there is that if you're running your open source project solely on GitHub, it's not going to be enough. You're going to be constrained in your growth just by the toolset and the implicit exclusivity of that toolset. What are some tools that you can bring in that are going to be more attractive?
AUDREY: I think mailing list have turnout to be one of the most open-ended things that we've done. People who want to find out a little bit more, sometimes post there but also just having a good webpage, a good info pages or some sort, having your wiki actually talked about some of the less technical aspects of it. Even explaining what your project is for can be really good. You know, you start to make these assumptions like, "If they're going to go and install it, do they know?" Maybe not. I think just looking at it as a broader set of communications.
CHARLES: Right. What seems self-evident to you and maybe someone who shares a lot of context to you is a mystery to someone else. It never hurts to state the obvious. It seems to me you have to be able to use tools that people are familiar with but also part of the leadership is giving people things to do, giving them a way to think about your project or giving them a way to act independently. How do you think about the different roles in an open source project so that you can then elucidate those roles so that someone coming, who is going to look at your website or who's going to be reading your e-mail list is going to be participating in your community in some way and particularly not in a code contribution way, how do you think about the different roles of your open source project so that you can kind of hand that to them? So that they can act independently like, "Here's this thing that you could do. Here's this thing that you could do. Here's this thing that you can do." What is that kind of core set of roles?
CHARLES: We could think about it in terms of the actions that we take. If you go back to our lone weekend coder who put something on GitHub, you're already writing the code, making design decisions about the shape of the code, you are writing about it in some way, even if all you do is update the ReadMe to have two lines of something you're writing. You are managing any bug tickets that come in, any future request so you're doing some project management, some kind of general analysis of that.
They don't necessarily have to be different roles. People implicitly take on the whole thought of that when they start a project. But they can also be split out. I hate to say like, "Give away your least favorite thing," because people sometimes do that, may dump it out there and it never gets handled well because they don't really understand what they're looking for. But it's okay to say, "I am really great at this one thing and I really struggle with this other thing." I bet there's somebody else who is just way better at organizing the stack communication and they can help me with that. If I can tell them what I need it for, maybe they can help with that.
CHARLES: So you have to admit your weaknesses?
AUDREY: Yeah. I think a lot of leadership is that kind of self-analysis: really seeing where you are helping the most, where you're strongest, what things absolutely have to be done with you. I don't know. I'd learned you to be really honest about that. Sometimes, the thing you enjoy doing is not the thing that you have to do because nobody else can. But often barred things that are really not fun for me, turned out to be the thing that nobody else can do.
I just think that you have to spent some time thinking about that and thinking about what you can teach people too. You already have the knowledge of your project and what you're trying to do so I think what you can teach is what your mission is, what your goals are and maybe they can help you to communicate that too.
CHARLES: Yeah, because it seems to me if you actually can very clearly communicate your target, then people can begin to walk towards it independently and that's almost more important than the actual taking the steps. Or the steps needed to be taken but that's something that you can provide.
AUDREY: Yeah, you need that kind of definition regardless in order to make your decision and have your work actually function and the less conscious we are about, the more we tend to get a big pile of something and you go, "Now what? What do we do with that?"
CHARLES: Right. I think it also flushes out if you have a clear target and you have a clear mission, by externalizing it, it makes you reflect on it more and hardens it, if that makes any sense. You have all these ideas bouncing around in your own head about the things that you might want to do or might like to do but once you actually try to express it to people and say, "You know what? We’re going to do this." Then it takes on a reality of its own that is subject to more scrutiny but also subject to the constraints of the real world and that's a good thing. It means that whatever you're going to come up with is going to be more resilient.
AUDREY: Yeah. I think we can be scared about putting that out there. They won't see what you see or they won't like it. Those who disagree with your goals there will go, "You really should have been building an eggplant slicer and not a tomato slicer." Yeah, I don't like tomatoes. But for more definition that we put out there, the clearer we are, the more that the people who want to [inaudible] they can find us. That's why it's so important to do it and not to dodge those kinds of questions.
CHARLES: Yeah, absolutely. Now, I'm wondering so when is this conference that you're running? Is this the first one or is this the second, the third?
AUDREY: Oh, no. We're on our ninth.
CHARLES: You are on your ninth? Oh, my goodness.
AUDREY: Yeah, it's actually just in a few weeks. It's in June, the week of the 20th, I want to say. Tickets are for sale. If you're in Portland, we had a great volunteer program where you put in eight hours over the course of the entire week. You can split out with everyone and you get a free ticket.
CHARLES: Nice. This is the problem with the internet is I'm always finding out things that I wish I'd known 10 years ago. I wish I'd known about this before it actually tried to do any open source. This is the Open Source Bridge so what's a sample of what you guys are going to be talking about?
AUDREY: The thing that we've added this year and it's really exciting is the activism track. We're having a lot more people to talk about what they do as code. In this other way, more of public facing way. We have Nicole Sanchez from GitHub. She's going to talk about diversity inclusion and some of the biggest [inaudible] there. We also had Emily Gorcenski doing another keynote and she talks a lot about data and ethics and has a lot of interesting things to say about how we collect and sort and process information and the impacts of that. We have a couple of workshops that are really great. One on technical interviewing and the personal skills that you need. There is a session on keyboard hacking.
CHARLES: Keyboard hacking? This is in the activism track?
AUDREY: No. This are across all the tracks.
CHARLES: How many different tracks are there?
AUDREY: There's five.
CHARLES: This is a big conference.
AUDREY: Yeah. It is such a great community for me to be a part of. Like I said, the different kinds of projects that people come from and bring into it and the different skills, we'll have people that are everywhere from kernel hackers to working in devops to people that kind of fit, I think what we think of it are more typical like web developer or mobile developer kind of skill set. People who run their projects, folks from Dreamwidth often come and participate and they have a lot of really great things to share because they have such an inclusive focus on how they do their project.
CHARLES: Where was that?
AUDREY: Dreamwidth. It's a LiveJournal spinoff. It's online community journaling website. It's in Perl, which is cool. There aren't as many outward facing things, hiring Perl programmer these days, I think.
CHARLES: It's still a very active Perl project?
CHARLES: Wow. I did Perl a long, long time ago.
AUDREY: I think it's really useful to remember that programming languages never actually die. There is always code.
JOE: There's still plenty of COBOL positions out there.
AUDREY: Yeah. Actually my uncle is a COBOL programmer.
CHARLES: Yeah, I remember it was only some statistic where it was something like five years ago, Java, Eclipse, COBOL is the most popular programming language. The cycles are much larger than we tend to think. Surfing on the beach as we do, not realizing there's a whole ocean generating those waves.
CHARLES: Right. Man, that's exciting, so you have a very, very huge cross-section of the development community. It sounds like participating in here which is a quality in of itself. That must give you a pretty unique perspective being with that level of cross-discipline. Are there any insights that can only be gleaned by being able to perceive it from that high of a level?
AUDREY: Well, a big one is that we all struggle with governance. We don't really talk outside of just a couple of forms for events that focus on open source maintainers. We don't talk about the governance of projects, like who was in charge and how decisions are made. But it turns out that that has just an enormous impact on what a project can actually do and how it survives. I think I might not have seen that as clearly without having people from so many different angles participating.
All of those seem to have achieved a lot of success and this seemed like a very healthy projects but on the one hand of the spectrum like Rust, you have the super-transparent, super-democratic model and then on the React side, you've got this authoritarian model. That's opaque. How do you reconcile that those are both successful?
AUDREY: I think a lot of what actually determines this stuff is who pays the developers. In both of those cases, meaning projects that present information and decision making differently but there are corporations that pay those developers and that's where the primary source of that code. Because of that, really who pays the developers determines what gets made, what code gets written. In a way, they're both doing some of the same things. They're just not giving you inside into that decision making, in some cases.
CHARLES: The decision making apparatus is there, I guess the thing is this transparency to the user base matter. I would say that the user base of a thing like React dwarfs the actual corpus of decision makers. That doesn't seem to be that that decision making process is opaque.
AUDREY: Well, I might be opening too much of a larger conversation by saying this but if you're familiar with the idea of algorithm transparency, decision making is encoded into things like algorithms and when we can't examine them, then we don't know how that decision was made so we don't know what biases are encoded into it. The same thing happens with code in general. You might say, "Let the outcome of this and this working really great," but there are still biases and preferences that are encoded into that that you don't have insight into.
If they start to ship the project in a certain way, that include some users and excludes others. Even on just purely technical levels, you don't know what. You don't know how they got to that, you don't know if they're going to keep steering in that direction. If you're one of those people that is starting to be excluded, you don't know what you can do about it. I've seen these kinds of governance discussion even happen within Ruby in Rails.
CHARLES: Yeah, it does seem like these political questions come up constantly. I remember an example that leaps to mind is a project that I was involved with was the Jenkins project, which originally was Hudson, which came out of Sun Microsystems. When Oracle bought Sun, they were basically trying to, I want to say there's always three sides to every story but from where I was sitting, they were essentially trying to subvert the project to their own needs and end up being in a fork of the project. Luckily, there was recourse there where because it was open source and because it was mostly maintained by the community and not by the company, they were able to fork it. They changed the name. They changed the logo and that was the end of the story. There was a question of which fork would survive but that was resolved within probably six months.
But Jenkins lived and I think it's better off for it but I guess maybe then a question that you can one kind of stress test that you can put like, "Is it okay to put weight on this technology?" What would happen? Would my community be represented and would I be able to fork this, essentially? Maybe in that sense, React would pass that test. In the sense that it would be reasonable to fork it or something like that. I don't know. I'm just thinking of ways to try and validate if something safe to use.
AUDREY: I think it's really interesting that you commented on the new change and the logo change because those kinds of trademarks are actually the most readily protected of all of the intellectual property in an open source projects. If things are going to go off and become a community project and it's being released under some open source model, often where the corporate control stays over those assets -- the name, the logo, the graphics -- maybe even some of the work [inaudible].
You have to ask if that code is still useful without that infrastructure that they provided. If you take the whole codebase and you walk off and you don't have the same developers and you don't have the same, even hosting resources or whatever, is that code still useful to you? What if you use a bug tracker?
CHARLES: Right, now you own it. What's the cost now of maintaining? And are you going to get a return on that investment?
AUDREY: Yeah. There's been some pretty big open source projects that have struggled with that, especially for end user facing software. Those turned out to be easy things for community to pick up.
CHARLES: Can you provide any examples?
AUDREY: I'm thinking of some of the stuff that happened with Open Office LibreOffice.
CHARLES: Yeah, I remember that.
AUDREY: There's still two different batches of people working on this and from what I understand, a whole lot of intellectual property complications.
CHARLES: Yeah, it's funny how sometimes, it would be interesting to see a case study of all the major forks and the outcomes of what they were. Some I can think of, there was a fork of Ruby gems, for example I think back in 2009 that went off and was mainly, I think was a way of protest. I think some of those concerns were addressed in the main thing so that fork ended up dying, then you got the fork of io.js, which was ended up. There was a fork and then a rejoining with the Node community but I would say it was an effective tool so there was a fork but then it joined. It was a source code fork but it was a political fork. Then you have the Jenkins fork where the fork basically swallowed its ancestor and there's all these fascinating outcomes and then you've got this LibreOffice Open Office where the waters are very murky about what happened with that fork.
AUDREY: I heard people say like, "If you don't like this decision, then just go fork the project."
CHARLES: Because that's easy.
AUDREY: And if one of your major developers does it, then maybe, like you said, they have some leverage and they can make the changes they want to see happen, [inaudible]. But in general, that's a really hard thing to pull off. You've got to be able to take your entire community with you. Part of this is have to be functional and I think people are very rarely actually make that happen.
CHARLES: Right. I feel like that's a dishonest thing to say when people are like, "If you want to go fork it," because really forking the code is the easy part. It's forking the community.
AUDREY: Well, if you do that, then you've got a lot of conflicts. You've got a lot of people's feelings to address. It's not a very simple thing to recover from.
CHARLES: Yeah. Some people do it. We have some good examples of that happening but it doesn't always pan out for the best. How can we make open source more accessible and supportive of contributors? We’ve mentioned a lot of that stuff in terms of how you can support people who are contributing but there might be more to talk about that.
AUDREY: Yeah, we haven't really talked about who gets to participate. We talked about what kinds of things you can do when you see that people are interested but we don't talk about how in order to be a week encoder, you've got to have those weekends free. Certainly, I am right now.
CHARLES: Yeah, neither do I.
AUDREY: You have to have access to a laptop if you want to go to Code Sprints or [inaudible]. Not everybody has that, even people who are programming or your own computer not owned by your employer. That can be really important. You have to have a knowledge of how open source works. I do see fairly often in conferences that focus on a lot in open source, there will be how to become an open source contributor kind of talk. That kind of cultural knowledge is really important because otherwise, you're going to GitHub and you look at it and you say, "What am I supposed to do here? What am I actually supposed to do with this?" It's just a wall of information. There's something about a project on GitHub that creates these entry points for somebody who doesn't know how open source projects work.
CHARLES: Yeah and it's so hard to be able to perceive it from that person's perspective, especially if you're frog-boiled, so to speak in the community. You've been doing this for so long, these things seem self-evident that it takes a computer, it takes the time, it takes knowing where to establish a toehold. These are all non-problems for you but they're insurmountable for someone else.
AUDREY: There's one other aspect of this that we haven't really talked about, which is the friendliness to the kinds of contributors that you have, the diversity of the project versus the homogeneity of the contributors, whether or not you have a code of conduct and you know how to do something with it so that people feel safe and welcome in your environment. There's a lot of people that stay away from open source projects because all they've ever seen is harassment and that behavior.
You can have a counterexample but if you don't have some mechanism for showing that that won't happen in your projects, then there are folks that are never going to submit about. They're never going to make a commit. They're not going to put anything on the wiki.
CHARLES: Why would voluntarily subject myself to, if the only thing on the other end of the phone is pain?
AUDREY: There are plenty of people that decided just to opt out because of that. If open source projects want to see more contribution, you have to be very proactive in dealing with that.
CHARLES: Yeah, I feel like it almost would be nice to have some sort of training. Even if you have a code of conduct on your open source project, I think as you grow it from something that's maybe just one or two people to where there's a larger community, the first time you have a bad actor who shows up and start slinging turds, it's shocking and you're taken aback. But just as the number of people grow in a community, that is going to happen. It's just an unfortunate fact of human nature so not having to react to it, but be prepared for it, I think is something that's extraordinarily valuable. I don't know if there's a guide for that on GitHub or guide for that on anywhere else but I think it would be very useful skill to have.
AUDREY: It's just very funny that you say this because this is actually a training idea.
CHARLES: Oh, really? I promise there was no payment under the table to ask that question.
AUDREY: Yeah. There was some consulting around this and I started a program with a local non-profit called Safety First PDX and what we do is train user group leaders, conference organizers, open source project maintainers on exactly that: what to do with their code of conduct to enforce it and help people feel welcome in their community.
I worked through a really specific examples with people about how you respond, how you have this conversations and what kinds of things you need to do to protect your contributors who are participants and be really firm about what is next in your space.
CHARLES: Absolutely a critical skill for any open source project, for any open source community, for any large accumulation of people.
AUDREY: And GitHub made it very easy to put a code of conduct on your project now but without these kinds of resources, I think what happens is that people get that first incident and they panic because it is scary to tell somebody that their behavior isn't okay. To tell them that they might have to step away from the project or stop doing that or even leave indefinitely, those are really hard things to get started doing. I really enjoy doing the training and getting to walkthrough that to people.
CHARLES: Are you going to be offering that training anytime soon?
AUDREY: We just had one here in Portland last week. We're doing it a quarterly thing but I'm also really open to bringing it elsewhere like a place to host and some sponsorship that they can throw at that and people that want to take this.
CHARLES: That'll be awesome. Maybe we can have you in Austin.
CHARLES: Thank you, Joe. Thank you, Audrey for coming on the show.
CHARLES: It was really great to talk to you. It's great to talk about your history in open source and the things that you're doing in the community, especially the insights that you have around running sustainable open source projects. Also, thank you for talking to us about Open Source Bridge which is, I understand coming up right around the corner.
If you want you can go to our podcast page and there will be a link to get $50 off if you enter in the discount code 'PODCAST.' That's $50 off of your open source bridge ticket. Be sure to go check it out. That's it for today, from The Frontside. If you're interested in hiring us, we do have availability starting in July so reach out to us. All right, everybody. Take care.