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Welcome back to the 8th episode of Open Source For Business, brought to you by OpenTeams.
In today’s episode, I spoke with Nithya Ruff, the Chair of the Linux Foundation & Head of Comcasts’ Open Source Program Office.
Nithya has been listed as one of the most influential women in open source by CIO magazine.
My conversation with Nithya is very interesting and the advice she gives is truly invaluable to any company that is using, contributing to or creating open source software. Some of the topics we cover include:
- What is an Open Source Program Office (or OSPO), how do you set one up, measure ROI and ensure its success?
- Best practices for contributing to and using OSS
- Why an open source friendly approach attracts great talent
- Diversity and inclusion within the open source space.
- And much more…
I’ll leave a link in the description for Comcast’s GitHub page so that you can checkout the great projects and work they’ve been doing.
This podcast is brought to you by OpenTeams, the open source services marketplace where users of open source software can find, vett and contract with service providers. To show support for the podcast, please leave a review on Apple podcasts letting us know what you think.
All right, lets dive into this episode.
Nithya thank you so much for joining us.
Nithya: It’s such a pleasure. Henry, thank you for inviting me.
Henry: I know that you’ve published a lot of articles, I’ve seen your name all over social media when it comes to open source and you give a lot of talks around business and community, all around the world, at conferences like the OSS summit, Ozcan, All things open, Scale, Openstack, and the list literally goes on and while you didn’t start out necessarily as a coder using open source software, you began your career in open source when you’re working at SGI in the 90s, so you go well back in open source. So, could you take us a bit back and give us an idea of how you got here today?
Nithya’s journey from Silicon Graphics to Comcast
Nithya: Absolutely, Henry and it’s stunning to me when I look back that it was the beginning days of open source. So I started in, as you said, in 1998 working at Silicon Graphics, which was a world class server company who produced post-production software for movies like Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park and we were in the midst of making a transition from proprietary operating systems to Linux based servers.
We could see the writing on the wall that open source was here to stay and that customers wanted open source based servers on x86 type of architecture, standards based architecture, customers got the cost effectiveness, the innovation of Linux and so I was part of a strategy team learning all I could about how open source communities worked and how Silicon Graphics could then work closely with the community and then bridge to our customers and serve our customers using an open source based product.
It’s a very different model and so it was so much fun to be in the early days of open source and I think that began my journey and I would say the overarching story for me is I’m a connector, I connect communities of open source and companies. So I help companies work more effectively with open source and help open source communities work more effectively with enterprises and companies that are adopting open source so broadly.
So, if you will, the next step was a natural step, I joined a startup called Tripwire to help them with their open source strategy and open source their products, which then led me to really leading a whole product line and embedded Linux product line at Wind River Systems, which was a part of Intel.
I got to work with both open source communities like Yocto and other embedded open source communities and really sell customers on the benefits of a commercial open source distribution that we were providing. So, you can see, it was yet another aspect of commercial open source and then I was lucky enough to work at SanDisk Western Digital, which is a storage company, flash-based storage and on the surface one thinks what does storage have to do with open source? But there’s a tremendous amount of open source innovation that is happening inside SanDisk to make sure that software could optimize and effectively support storage.
So I started the first open source program office for SanDisk and reported into the CTO at SanDisk and that was a tremendous experience, because I also got to start the Woman’s Innovation Network at SanDisk, which was our employee resource group there for women in technology – and so I could really take both passions of representing diversity and also starting open innovation for a company like SanDisk, which led me to my current area, which is Comcast and as you also covered my opensource work at the Linux Foundation and it’s just a fantastic place to be, I’m doing the best work of my life and enjoying it.
Henry: That is great to hear and you’ve obviously got such a broad range of experience, but something of you’re really focused on too, is the open source program offices, which we will touch soon, but before we get into that, I really wanted to know, over the years and over the decades, what would have been the most important changes or the most impactful changes that you’ve witnessed in the open source space?
Evolution of open source in the past 2 decades
Nithya: Very very good question, because it’s important to look back and look at our history and where we’ve come from. The first phase I always define as the community phase, it’s where free and open source software was born in MIT with people like Richard Stallman, the Free Software Foundation, the beginning of the new GPL license, that kind of said the way business was done in proprietary software is not good enough, we need more collaboration, we need access to source code, and we need to have the freedom really to use it for whatever we want.
So that was really the community phase I would say, it was very organic, a lot of people were involved. The second phase, I would say, is the foundations phase, so you have the beginning of foundations like the Apache Foundation, the Linux Foundation, this was started because companies started using open source and they wanted a neutral place where they could collaborate with each other and create new software together, you couldn’t really do it, say, from an IBM or a San or a Silicon Graphics because it would be biased or it would be driven by one company and this provided a neutral home.
The other objective of these foundations was to protect and defend open source, to propagate open source, to educate people on open source. So, the creation of foundations to me is significant.
The third phase is the beginning of massive hyperscale and cloud companies starting to build their infrastructure on open source, so you see the beginnings of Google using open source, Facebook, Amazon, and you can go on and on. All of these companies were born post open source, the infrastructure was rich in the open source arena and they started building on open source.
The fourth phase, frankly, is enterprises like Comcast, Capital One, others starting to use open source themselves and realizing that they could be empowered and they could become software development houses, they could be technology leaders and start innovating on their own in the application space, in the customer UI space where they serve customers. So, to me, that’s the long history and some of the major events that happened in open source.
Henry: That was that was amazing and it’s great just to see the change and I think it really is just the businesses actually taking open source more seriously and that’s what’s changed to the extent that every business knows they need to take open source seriously if they want to operate in a modern-day corporate environment. So, going forward, what are some of the trends that you are seeing happening right now that enterprises should be aware of?
Open source trends enterprises should be aware
Nithya: You hit it on the nail, Henry. I think enterprises need to recognize, all enterprises need to recognize that they are now technology companies and digital companies, especially during the Covid. It has accelerated, companies need to be digital companies to serve their customers digitally and through technology. What that means is – that they are all consuming or using software of some sort and even creating software and it also means that 80 to 90 percent of the software they are consuming will include some form of open source.
So, they need to get educated in open source, they need to understand how to engage with open source, how to work with open source, you need to understand licenses, etc. And then the second major trend, I would say, for enterprises to pay attention to is that open source is not just for working externally with open source communities, you can bring the power of collaboration inside the company and use it to collaborate inside the company, across divisions, across product lines, thereby breaking down silos, reusing software, collaborating with teams across the company even to create proprietary software, and that movement has been called inner source.
Henry: Inner source, okay, as I was going to ask, that’s the source movement that you were talking about? Okay, and you briefly touched on best practices or what companies should be doing when they contributing to open source or engaging with communities, but before I actually dive into more details around that, I really wanted to focus in on what I see as your expertise and that is open source program offices.
You’re now the head of Comcast Open Source Program Office and you started SanDisk open source program office. So, for those listening, who are companies and they maybe have one representative or even just a group of people who are interested in open source, a lot of also that those that don’t know anything about it, what is an open source program office and why would any company want one?
Nithya: That’s a great question; because open source program office is a concept that started just in the last 10 years. So essentially, I would say some of the early companies were HP, Google, Intel have had major open source program offices, and it often is large companies that start kind of this type of an office. So what is it – Right. It is a center of excellence for all things open source in a company. It means that a company assembles experts in open source in one place, which becomes very efficient for all engineering teams, legal teams, communication teams to work with, not everybody needs to become an expert in this.
The six C’s of an Open Source Program Office
It’s a concept that’s pretty familiar to very large and traditional companies, for example, for many, many years, companies have standard’s bodies, a group of people inside the company who would interface with standard’s bodies and make sure that they brought back information from the standard’s bodies and also contributed and influenced the standard’s body for the benefit of the company. So, I call an OSPO as having six Cs as in Charlie.
The first C, I would say is communication, communicating about open source inside and outside the company.
The second C is consumption, so helping teams consume wisely and correctly.
The third C is contributing back to open source, so really guiding teams to contribute back and also provide a process for approving contributions back to open source.
The fourth C would be collaboration, helping teams engage with open source communities, with foundations, with other open source businesses and really harness the power of collaboration.
The fifth C would be compliance, extremely important, one of the small things we need to do when we use open source is comply with the licenses and understand the obligations that come with the licenses and so we consult and help teams inside Comcast comply with the license.
The last C, which is so all encompassing, is culture. So, it’s really creating a culture of open source, being a good citizen in open source, its competency around open source, it’s everything, it’s really being a friendly and a good citizen in open source.
Let’s see, what else can I say about an OSPO? It really kind of includes a lot of different functions, we are developer advocate, so we work with our developers, we advocate on their behalf with communications with legal teams, we champion open source engagement and one of the functions that more and more I’m doing is I’m an innovation strategist, so I consult with the business to see where open source makes sense, whether they should open source something or consume open source or collaborate with others. So, I call it ‘a Jack of all trades’ or ‘Jill of all trades’ and the team that I have, from an open source perspective, really brings together a multi-functional outlook and a huge community frame of mind.
Henry: I think it always comes back to community and one thing you touched on before that, I’d like to sort of deviate back to a little bit is the idea of compliance, primarily because last week we had a chat with Paul Chen, who works a synopsis on different auditing, mainly works on auditing and he was saying there was a client that after doing an audit report, found, I think it was over 150,000 open source project dependencies in their software, which they were just flabbergasted by, so do you have any advice to those listening? How do you make sure that you’re being compliant? Do you need a legal team, do you need just one person who’s got that legal background? Do you need legal background at all?
Compliance and Open Source Program Office’s
Nithya: So the open source program office itself, we are not legal experts, we’re not lawyers, but we work extremely closely with our legal team. One of the best relationships we have is with our legal team and we have a fabulous legal team at Comcast, people who really can think broadly, not just about risk mitigation, but can think about the business needs for open source.
So I would say one of the first things is, get very friendly with your legal team and also bring your legal team into open source events, open source forums, where they can understand and also work with their peers in open source legal to understand why and how to balance company needs with open source licenses and open source needs.
So I would say that’s number one. Number two is a lot of education, so we have a mandatory course that every single engineer and product manager needs to take in the company, it’s just 15, 20 minutes, it teaches them the compliance principles and our policy around compliance as a company.
Third, you have to have a policy document, a guideline in the company around open source, how to consume it, how to use it wisely, we highly encourage our teams to innovate using open source, but we also want them to use it correctly; so, we provide guidelines and we provide policy documents.
The fourth, I would say from a compliance perspective, is build it into your pipeline, into your workflow, into your development pipeline so it’s a no brainer, right from the intake of open source to the nightly builds, to where you’re checking for open source and resolving conflicts or resolving license issues, to creation of disclosure notices and posting of disclosure notices, automate that and make sure that it’s well-oiled and well done. To me, compliance is a respect for open source, it’s a respect for the community and we are very encouraging and supportive of our teams doing it well.
Henry: That’s great, because it is such an important issue, there’s been so many famous legal cases where you’ve just realized the money at stake if you’re not taking compliance seriously. So, for those listening who are interested in what you’ve said, where can they begin to start an OSPO, where should a company begin?
Starting an Open Source Program Office from scracth
Nithya: So I’ll be shuffling some papers because I wanted to make sure you got the best advice from us in how we have done open source. To begin I would say start with someone in your teams and not all companies are very large and not all companies can afford to have a large team of experts doing it.
So I would say start with someone in your development team who is an open source enthusiast or an open source expert, there always is one, because a lot of us really enjoy working with the open source community and love the philosophy of collaboration.
So start with that expert, have that expert go take a look at all of the uses of open source in the company, do an audit and kind of an aggregation of all the open source work that’s happening in the company and then go back and talk to legal and see how legals can be involved in open source in the company and then really compile a recommendation, if you will, to the head of engineering or CTO and say this is what we’re doing in open source, I think we need to have a focus on this and we need to have someone who can take this on, either part time or full time to work on this.
Developers often listen better to developers, so that’s why I always say it’s best to have it in engineering, in the CTO office and that’s where I am, I sit in the office in Comcast and in one of the largest engineering organizations within Comcast and we think of our developers as our customers, so we are all about making them heroes and successful in whatever they do, so if you can go with that mindset, do an aggregation of what’s happening and start small.
I would also say attend an open source event, whether it’s Open source summit. Sadly, Ozcon has gone away, but you can attend All things open, you can attend so many opensource events out there, PyCon, etc. and you start then also talking to other OSPOs, other leaders, and that helps you kind of continue to evolve your open source brackets inside your company. The last thing I’ll say is TODO groups, TODO group, it’s a huge source of information on how to start your OSPO and how to connect with other OSPOs in the industry and you can find them at todogroup.org, there are a subgroup of the Linux Foundation.
Henry: Their group has had to look at a lot of the work that I’ve done and it’s fantastic, it is just so detailed, but also nothing strays from achieving just a certain result like that, what you will learn a lot if you do check it out, so make sure that you do check that out. So you set up an open source program office, it’s running, it’s working. How do you measure success?
How do you go back and you say, okay, there’s actually a positive ROI on what we’re doing here?
How to measure the ROI of your Open Source Program Office
Nithya: And it’s so important to connect connected to the business success of the company and also to measure the ROI and to communicate that ROI. Sometimes it’s the line of sight between open source consumption and the business impact on the company, it is a long line, so it’s hard to say because I use this the revenue has grown so much or the cost is reduced so much, etc. So, what we’ve been trying to do is, first we try to measure the efficacy of the open source program office itself, have we made a difference in the lives of our developers? Is it easier for them to consume open source, to contribute to open source, to engage with open source communities? And we measure the SLA or the time it takes for someone to submit a request and and have it approved, for example.
The second thing we do is, we try to measure the health of communities we are involved in; because we have dependencies on certain open source projects, we want to make sure that they are healthy and that we are working with healthy projects, but also helping those projects be healthy through contributions of money and etc.
Measuring the health of an open source community
Henry: And how do you measure the health? What is a healthy community, what you look for?
Nithya: I think there are some well-known metrics these days, thanks to projects like Chaoss, C H A O S S, LF. You could start with some very superficial things, like the number of stars in the project, the number of forks, the number of downloads, the number of prs, etc., but I think it’s also the diversity of the community that’s involved, not just diversity in terms of the different kinds of people involved, but also different companies that are involved or different communities that are involved because you don’t want one company to dominate or one organization to dominate a project, because when they withdraw, then the project can, it can also die, it’s how frequently do they release? Do they have a README document? Do they have a code of conduct? How easy is it to engage with the project from a communications perspective? How respectful are they of communications? Do they mentor new communicators or contributors? Do they make it easy for people to contribute to the project?
To me, all of those things also matter, not just the velocity of the release of Project Innovation. We also measure such things as, if we open source something, how successful is that project? Is it being well maintained? And of course, check the health of that project as well. So I kind of tune in very much to chaoss and make sure that we look at the different things that they’re advocating in terms of measurement of the company.
We do have opportunities to kind of show business impact from the sense that, instead of using a commercial software, if you’re using open source, you can kind of say, we’ve saved so many millions in license cost – right. So, there’s some amount of hard numbers you can show, but most of the time it is effectiveness numbers and health numbers that that one can show.
Henry: That’s great, and it’s so amazing to hear and go through that list, because I think measuring RIO, I remember when talking to Guy Martin, like it’s a difficult thing, there are just so many different factors. So, thank you for laying those items out. I want to do something a little bit fun and so kind of along the idea, if you could go and you could sit down with a younger yourself and say before you set up a program office or before you’d ever manage one, what are some of the key learnings that you’d sit down and you’d say to yourself back then?
Key things Nithya has learned running multiple Open Source Program Office’s
Nithya: I would say. What would I say to my younger self as I’m about to start an OSPO?
Henry: As you are about to start, yeah, based off the biggest things that you learned on your journey?
Nithya: The biggest things I learned on my journey is, first of all, know the business of your company. What business is it in? What’s important to the company? How do they measure their success? What do their customers want? Because that drives the role of open source and open source program office in that company, every OSPO is different; because it’s supporting a different objective, a different mission, a different business case, a different product line, and so it’s very important for us to understand how you are helping the company succeed and what is the company’s business.
So, for instance, Comcast is a very practical company, very pragmatic company, very customer driven, very focused on innovation and so it was important for me to understand the culture of the company and the business of the company. The second thing I would say is find enthusiastic people and find supporters, don’t just go to the detractors who don’t believe in open source and try to convince them and argue till you’re blue in the face, go first to the supporters of open source and start building momentum, if you will.
The third thing I would say is if there are successes, shout it from the rooftops, share it with others, communicate it, make heroes of the people who are successful; so that others then realize that they want to be heroes, too, and they want to learn, too, and they want to kind of do this stuff too. Last, but not the least, I would say, is build a fantastic team around you. I am so lucky to have one of the best teams in the business and we started off as a team of women, all women team and then we said, no, we need diversity, so we brought our first man on the team and we are a team who often did not come from an open source background, but we had the right goals, we believed in collaboration, we believed in customer service, we believed in innovation and I am privileged to work with this team and I’m very lucky to work with this team.
So, I would say those are some of the lessons. Work with enthusiasts, understand the business of your company. Oh, one more thing, get a good champion or sponsor in your company and this is so so important, someone at the top who believes in the importance of open source in your company and to its innovation and I’m very very lucky to have two of my best bosses ever, Matt Zelasko, who’s our CTO, and John Moore, who’s my boss, who’s the chief software architect. They are incredibly pivotal to supporting and continuing open source work at Comcast.
Henry: That’s great and the champion is definitely necessary. I’ve heard that quite a few times now, so that is definitely a point that you need to remember. So now I’d like to shift gears a little bit and focus on best practices for managing corporate engagement with open source software, so what are some of the best practices that you’ve seen that companies have done when contributing back to open source projects they’ve used or consumed?
Best practices for enterprises contributing to an open source project
Nithya: I think you also said an important reward and which is contribute. Many companies will start and it’s so easy to consume, so the consumption is check, we have done it. Compliance is a little harder and so but they have to do it, so they’ll do that and then they’ll stop. And it’s important to give back, so it’s important to contribute back, why is it important to contribute back? And what do best in class companies do?
First, they know their dependencies, they know what open source software they’re using and they know which is critical to their success, then they go off and they start engaging with those communities, they either sit in on the mailing list, they either sponsor that project or they go attend events, they evangelize their use of the project.
And then beyond that, they start realizing that they’ve made some changes to the project and that these changes really belong back in the project, they don’t want to carry technical debt, they don’t want to fork the distribution and not benefit from the innovations of the project, they also realize that in order to use the latest security patches, they need to be on the head of the tree and not to fork and be on another side.
So they do that and they realize that if projects are not sustained in open source, the goose that laid the golden egg will be dead and so sustaining open source, giving back open source is critical to all of us succeeding in open source, all of us consuming open source, so if each of us says, hey, someone else is going to do it, I’m not going to do it, then the commons will be gone, so we do need to contribute back.
Open source sustainability
Henry: How do you foresee the path towards achieving sustainability within the open source industry? What does that look like to you and how do you think we can get that?
Nithya: I think there are many, many players toward sustainability, there are players such as the foundations who aggregate contributions and who give back to those communities. The Linux Foundation itself, for example, hosts hundreds of projects, and it provides a very professional level governance and infrastructure and moneys towards that project, which comes in from members and it gets back into the community and the philosophy of the Linux Foundation, which I love, is that project start out in a very organic fashion but then it gets used by companies, there’s a commercial ecosystem that goes around it – which then contributes money back through profits that they make and in the use of the product. So you really need that flywheel to be successful and to work very effectively.
So I would say foundations are extremely important and then, of course, every consumer in the business contributing back in any way possible, not just code, but in money and evangelization, marketing, volunteering, governance, etc. The third thing I would say is, we are really facing a lot of burnout of maintainers, of contributors, you cannot expect just one or two contributors to be bearing the burden of carrying the entire project, our expectations of contributors and maintainers is high, so we need to make sure that we are grooming new contributors, grooming new maintainers to come into the business, we are supporting maintainers through all, taking on other help in the project that’s needed, whether it’s a marketing help, website or community development, etc.
So I would think sustaining the people in open source were the commons is sustaining projects with everyone contributing and then really help through foundations, helping create kind of a professionalism in projects, which are three big things, that lots of steps, but I think these are three good ones.
Henry: Definitely and I couldn’t agree more. You touched on the point of the open source contributors and maintainers, and I know that a lot of maintainers and contributors these days are employed by companies like Amazon, by Comcast and they were in very high demand, there’s no doubt about that. So How does an open source friendly approach attract great talent? Because I can imagine that there’s a lot of developers that are working for Comcast and they love the idea that Comcast is an open source friendly company, so why is that?
Why developers are attracted to open source-friendly companies
Nithya: Yes, having a great open source program office as well as an open source program as a company and being a good citizen in open source is very, very important to attracting and retaining good talent in the community and you’re exactly right, many companies are vying with each other for the same great talent and the reason an open source culture inside the company becomes important is, a lot of new developers and frankly, a lot of mature developers today want to work with open source, they know that open source is everywhere and they also like the philosophy of working with open source and the culture of open source and the belief of giving back.
So, they want that and they don’t want to work for a company that does not support that or does not give them enough time to work with open source or attend an open source conference or learn a new skill or to speak on behalf of the company and its innovation in open source.
So I think knowing that there are mature practices in a company is a huge draw for many, many of our developers and it’s a great sense of pride, it’s a great sense of, I guess, happiness when you see your company represent itself in open source communities and be respected for the work that they do, so I think it’s important to both recruiting and retention and development.
So, for example, on the development side, the contribution to open source speaking at open source conferences is a key part of our technical ladder in the company, so if you want to go from being an engineer to a principal engineer to a distinguished engineer to a fellow, you need to have worked in open source and contribute to open source, which is huge.
In the old days, it used to be that you would win patents and getting patents is an important consideration and I’m not taking anything away from that, we highly encourage our teams to also file for patents; because patents and open source can coexist, but also, we encourage them to give back and work in open source.
Henry: I think that’s definitely also just a path towards sustainability is having that encouragement from the company deriving contributions and driving that kind of behavior is great to hear and I’ve definitely heard it. It’s consistent across a lot of people I’ve talked to at the large companies.
So again, I’d like to shift gears a little bit and focus on what some of the best practices are for managing open source communities for projects that say Comcast started or projects that a company starts. What are some best practices around that?
Managing company-backed open source projects
Nithya: And that’s so important, Henry, because you don’t want to just release a project and then just disappear. We’re not in the business of dumping and running.
Henry: Has that ever worked before with the companies?
Nithya: It works only if it is such a valuable piece of code that someone adopted and then someone kind of takes it over and starts maintaining it – right? But then with millions and millions of projects these days, how does it even get heard – right? How do people even know? So right in the in the contribution process, when someone comes to us and says, I want to release this project, we immediately ask, do you have time to maintain this project once it’s released? Have you and your manager allocated time for you to take care of that project? If you haven’t, we will discourage you from releasing this project, so that’s important.
We also ask the question of, is there an existing project that does similar things? Should this be contributed to that project or become a part of that ecosystem instead of starting yet another project- right? And so those two really big questions we ask and then once we approve the release of the project, my team gets involved and they help the developer successfully, set up the project on GitHub, set up a README, we have a real checklist of things we feel is good hygiene, README, Code of conduct, CLA, Contributor guide, a logo, a sticker.
Henry: I found a lot of open source developers, they aren’t the best designers of logos but they always seem to love to do it themselves and then the logo hangs around for years, even though it’s got tens of billions of users that go to funky little logo that is just pen drawn.
Nithya: Exactly and my team is very creative, they kind of help with trademarking logos, all of that good stuff, and they also coach them on community building, how you need to be transparent in your communications, how you need to share your roadmap, how you need to attract developers, how you need to nurture your developers by thanking them for their contribution, not biting their head off because they didn’t do it right and by encouraging, speaking at conferences about your project. So we help with a lot of the community building efforts and we encourage these teams to do it.
I’m so proud of some of our projects, traffic control which is now like the Apache Foundation, Trickster which is a Prometheus dashboard acceleration project and it’s being considered for more contribution to the CNCF Foundation, for example, Kuberhealty, which is a Kubernete’s cluster management software, Vinyl DNS, which is DNS as a service.
So, it’s things that we do at scale. We are at a Scale Company, we support millions and millions of customers, so it’s really tested in our own work and in our own production, so when we put it out there, we try to make sure that it’s supported correctly.
I’ve got to be honest with you, sometimes maintainers change, leave companies, etc. And so my team works very hard to kind of track down projects that are not very active and go back and talk to maintainers and make sure that they either assign it to somebody, so it’s kind of a lifecycle process for us, we help in the beginning and then we constantly monitor to make sure these projects are successful.
Henry: And you touched on all of the open source projects that Comcast manages. Why do you manage those open source projects? Why did you make them open source in the first place with the internal tools which you use and you thought the rest of the ecosystem could benefit from them? What was the reasoning behind really, I guess, having these open source projects?
Nithya: That’s a great question. When teams come to us, we ask them why they’re open sourcing it, because we want them to think about the reason and sometimes the reason is, I find this extremely useful as a tool or a library inside the company and we think there are many other companies which could benefit from this, so many other people who could benefit from this.
So you’re absolutely right, it’s something that people feel so passionately that is going to be useful to the world and we want to make sure that they are contributing something back from a goodness perspective.
The second reason teams will say is, they want to demonstrate the innovation, the quality of work we do, because that attracts more developers into the company, but they see the kind of work we do as a company – in proprietary days, nobody knew what you did and couldn’t even see your code, but now with open source, they can actually see your code and said, dang, they do good work and I want to be part of that.
The third reason could be that you want to create a standard in a certain area; because there is such a fragmentation of different ways to solve a problem, you want to create one way or a consistent way or a default standard in that area and then there are various other reasons of building ecosystem, it makes it easier for you to help others consume your software and work towards a common API and so for all of those reasons and others, we often approve it. We approve almost 95% of the requests that come in front of us, very rarely do we say no and this is our legal team, incredibly supporting us, working with us and making sure that we give the developers the best guidelines for being successful when they open source.
Henry: Yeah, I know and I was talking with Gil, you heard that he was saying that whenever the engineers heard something was going to be open source, they all kind of freaked out and they all thought, oh no, we better make this good, we better add good comments, we better make sure that the flow is right and it’s structured right and I was sort of thinking, why don’t you just open source everything? So, you just give them this pressure or shouldn’t technically engineers be doing that the entire time?
But I thought that was a very funny comment and observation on his behalf, but something else which I know you’re very very passionate about and something which you’ve really been driving at as the chair and also on the board for Linux Foundation for a while now is the idea of diversity and inclusion and we all know this is a very important issue across all industries today, but in particular in the open source space, it is something which we haven’t necessarily, it’s never really going to be solved, but I think it’s something that we really needed to work towards, so I was wondering if you could talk a bit about how companies can work towards being more diverse and more inclusive, whether it’s on the developer teams or within the open source projects they manage or just in general?
How your company can work on the diversity and inclusion problem in open source
Nithya: Yes, indeed, it’s a huge passion for me, a huge part of what I do. When you have a role either as a chair or heading your function inside the company, you have a platform and a privilege that you can use to voice the need for change, in the need for policy and the need for a different way of doing things and frankly, the reason open source has not been very diverse, in fact, the diversity in open source is much poorer than technology in general is because open source was a bunch of enthusiasts and they kind of just really focused on innovating and moving the code forward, they never really thought about what they need to do from a culture and community perspective, so we are working very, very hard and the Linux Foundation does a fantastic job of everything from scholarships, to mentorships, to inviting public speakers on the topic and also showcasing all of the diverse people in open source, because you cannot be what you don’t see, so if you see someone on stage who looks like you, you see someone who is a leader in this space who looks like you, that inspires you, that tells you that that is possible, that’s a path that can be possible for you and so I’m very lucky to be part of an organization that really is driving it, but to your question, what else can companies do? What else can we do to improve diversity?
And it’s for various reasons, it’s damn good for the business, it is really a world that we’re building, a digital world that needs to reduce bias, remove bias from the build, it also creates incredible innovation. It creates opportunity and equity for people, so there’s so many, many good reasons why diversity is important for me and for the world at large.
I would say companies can also make sure that the projects that they are involved in are diverse, are healthy, have a code of conduct, they can walk away from projects and say, I am not going to support you financially or otherwise if you do not have a diversity policy or mentorship and I know it’s hard for small projects to kind of invest in all that, but they can bring advice and counsel to that project. I would say do mentorship project, support mentorship projects like outreachy, like Google summer of code, like Linux Foundation, diversity projects and mentorship projects, not recognize just code, but recognize all diverse forms of contribution.
Henry, you make the contribution in the form of marketing and evangelization, I make a contribution in the form of marketing and governance and so on and so forth. So, we need to recognize that open source needs all forms of contribution, I would say pay for scholarships, for travel, for people to go attend events, do talks, do articles. One of the biggest things is walk away from conferences that do not seem to have a diverse set of speakers, do not sit on open source panels that are all male panels or have no diversity, so there’s lots and lots of different ways you can be an activist, you can be an active ally, if you will, of diversity in open source.
Henry: I couldn’t agree more, and just on the point of recognizing all contribution is something that we’ve been very passionate about it OpenTeams, and it is actually the probably the first, I guess, aspect of our business that we focused on. So if you go to openteams.com today, you can create a profile and you can build out your profile with your skills, your experience, you can add an open source project you created or you can go to an open source project that you’ve contributed to and you can add your contribution, not just code, but any contribution and I think that’s really important.
There hasn’t really been a way for people to be recognized because it’s, I might be getting this number wrong, but I do remember hearing that over 70% of all the work is in code, only 30% of all the work done for open source projects and the open source industry is code, so I thought that was really interesting. But as we get towards the end, I thought this is something I always like to ask every guest, what are you most excited about with regards to the future of open source?
Nithya: I think the future is extremely bright. I think it is here to stay, it is everywhere. One of the things that excites me is a broader adoption of open source in government, in the energy industry, in health care. There’s been tremendous innovation during the Covid days during this pandemic of groups coming together to create projects that collect data or that help with contact tracing, etc. And so, we were involved, for example, in a project with the code for Philly, a group in Philadelphia, which was working on how to track data for hospitals and so that hospitals can do a better job of planning, staffing and PPE, etc.
So, I love the broad adoption of open source. The second is, I think we are becoming more and more diverse and inclusive and there is a vocabulary and a recognition of being diverse and inclusive, which I love. The third trend I’m a huge fan of is open source inside the company or in our source and for all of us to use those same principles, especially in a time like now, Henry, where all of us are working remotely and open source has cracked the code on working across the world in an asynchronous way, across companies, across people breaking down silos and the same principles can easily be applied inside companies. So those would be the three things I would be excited about.
Henry: That’s great, and it is such an exciting future, and I think we’re just at the beginning of what is a revolution in the software industry and just the world at large, so it’s so exciting to be a part of that and you have been one of the leaders of that. So I do thank you so much for joining us today and for all of the work you’ve put in to helping open source thrive, because that’s really what we want to do in OpenTeams, that’s our mission is to help open source, also help open source thrive and I know that’s something you’ve been passionate about for a long time. So, thanks for joining us and thank you for your time.
Nithya: My pleasure, Henry. Thank you for such a thoughtful interview, I got a chance to share some of my passions and my excitement, and I couldn’t have gone better. Thank you.
Henry: And I’ve love chatting with you, so thanks. And everyone who’s listening, if you liked what you listen to or watch today, then please go to our YouTube channel and like and subscribe and leave a comment letting us know what you think and also one thing that really will help out is if you leave a review on Apple podcast or whatever medium or platform you are listening to this on. So, I just want to thank you all for listening.
Thank you, Nithya, everyone stays safe and until next time. Goodbye.