Displaying posts by Karen Sandler
Thoughts on IBM’s acquisition of Red Hat
byon October 31, 2018
There’s been quite a stir in our communities following the announcement that IBM is acquiring Red Hat. As I considered the announcement, one part of the email to employees by Jim Whitehurst posted on the Red Hat blog really struck me:
I appreciate that everyone will experience a range of emotions as a result of this news. Excited, anxious, surprised, fear of the unknown, including new challenges and working relationships - these are all ways I would describe my emotions. What I know is that we will continue to focus on growing our culture as part of a new organization. We will continue to focus on the success of our customers. We will continue to nurture our relationships with partners. Collaboration, transparency, participation, and meritocracy - these values make us Red Hat and they are not changing. In fact, I hope we will help bring this culture across all of IBM.
In addition to the normal anxiety, surprise and fear experienced by employees of companies in the wake of an announcement of a merger, takeover or ordinary reorganization, this transaction will also reverberate through the community outside of the company. Free software contributors across many communities and industries are feeling some of the same apprehension and unease that ordinarily would be reserved for employees.
I wish IBM and Red Hat luck, and I’m optimistic that the partnership will yield good things for both companies and their employees. I hope that following the acquisition, Red Hat is able to maintain its special relationship to the free and open source communities it shepherds, and that its employees continue to feel empowered to support critical free software solutions in a community-focused way. I also hope that in its announcement to keep Red Hat its own unit within IBM is an indication of IBM’s support of Red Hat’s unique business and that the deal does wind up bringing that culture to more of IBM. While some folks at IBM are important contributors to free software, IBM’s is primarily a culture of proprietary software and Red Hat’s is one of open source, so in my view this solution is likely to yield the most success anyway.
I’ve heard people imagining the best from this deal, and also people imagining the worst. The one thing everyone can agree on is that there’s a lot of uncertainty, despite whatever reassurances are contained in corporate messaging. Because of this, I think it’s a good time to remind everyone of the ways we can protect ourselves now and in the future from these kinds of uncertainties related to changes in ownership, structure or motivations of corporate players in free and open source software:
Use copyleft. Quite a lot of the software projects that Red Hat plays a critical role in are licensed under a version of the GPL. When we use strong copyleft we set the ground rules for corporate actors to participate with each other and with the public. We get a level playing field and assurance that companies will be less incentivized to go their own way. (We also get other good benefits like the right to the source code, allowing us to be in control of the technology we rely on.)
Support strong charities. Nonprofits, and in particular charitable nonprofits, keep the community’s interests at the forefront. They can serve as copyright aggregators in a more trusted way, facilitate cooperation of different stakeholders and function in a variety of ways to forward the long term interest of software freedom. The more we invest in our critical foundations, the less vulnerable we are to changes in corporate actors. The stronger foundations like GNOME, Conservancy and the FSF are, the easier it is for communities to weather a new direction from a prominent company.
Encourage diversely held interests. Making sure that interests are not aggregated in single for-profit actors insulates communities against a change in ownership of a company. For effective success in using copyleft, copyrights must not only be with for-profit companies but have substantial copyright holding from charities and individuals. Also, technical leadership should include actors from different types of entities. When copyrights are held by many actors in the field (or by charitable nonprofits), it’s much harder to relicense projects as proprietary or on otherwise less ideal terms, and copyleft enforcement is a community-driven rather than for-profit activity. When care of the technical direction of a project isn’t significantly concentrated in one company, free software projects are more robust. Development may be slower with community-led contribution, but we can have greater confidence about the stability of the project and the community.
The interests of companies are not always aligned with the free software community or the public. Companies that seem to be in one stable condition today may change dramatically tomorrow. While I expect Red Hat to flourish under IBM ownership, the acquisition is a good example of the kinds of changes we must be prepared for down the road, whether it be with Red Hat or any of the other companies on which we’ve come to rely.
Highlighting Some of Our Leaders in the Linux Kernel
byon September 20, 2018
This week has shown two interesting events related to Linux. Yesterday, the New Yorker published an article pointing out that abusive behavior in the Linux project specifically has created an unfriendly and unwelcoming environment for underrepresented groups. Linus Torvalds, Linux Foundation Fellow and leader of the Linux project, after having been contacted by the New Yorker in connection with the article, admitted his past behavior has been problematic and is taking time off from the project.
While these moves are a step forward, they cannot alone change the problematic culture we have in technology generally, and Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) in particular. One press article and one leader temporarily stepping aside can only take one small step toward reversing decades of unfriendly culture, where abusive language and conflict are often considered the appropriate way to resolve disputes. We at Conservancy, particularly in its Outreachy project, do our best to help improve this situation for FOSS.
Outreachy provides mentors and coordinators a method and process to promote inclusive culture in their FOSS projects. Our program would not be possible without a lot of key FOSS contributors who behave professionally and are deeply committed to improving the situation. We thank all the people who have contributed to great experiences for Outreachy mentees and hope that recent news helps more people in the community take heart that change is possible. I contacted a few of these people to highlight here.
Vaishali Thakkar, Outreachy internship graduate who now co-coordinates of kernel internships commented:
"Outreachy is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I came from an education system where asking questions didn't always end up in positive encounters but rather we were made fun of because not knowing things isn't normal. My first friendly encounters with bunch of mentors in outreachy kernel mailing list also helped me to understand that open learning and open education is not only normal here [in open source] but is also something you are celebrated for. Which was really a huge thing for me at that time because it helped me to build my confidence and make my space in the open source industry.
Lately, I've been giving a lot of Linux Kernel contribution workshops in Indian universities [offline] and in Kenya [online] to spread the word about the wonderful opportunities the program provides with a hope to increase more diverse set of contributors in the kernel community. Outreachy is touching so many lives at so many levels ranging from giving equal pay opportunity to people traditionally underrepresented in open source to help building a welcoming and diverse communities. My motivation for volunteering as a coordinator is merely an expression of saying thanks to all wonderful people who has helped me reach at where I am today and also about enjoying a feeling that comes from playing a role in building welcoming communities together."
Shraddha Barke, who is also an Outreachy internship graduate and now co-coordinates kernel internships with the Outreachy project added:
"During my undergrad, I was desperately looking for opportunities to work on real problems. That's when I got the chance to intern with Outreachy and that exposed me to the wonderful Linux community and gave me lifelong mentors and friends. Julia Lawall has mentored me for the past few years, right from Outreachy to my graduate school. Outreachy opened more doors for me than I could've imagined.
My motivation to volunteer stems from the feeling to give back to the community that has given me so much. Outreachy provides a supportive platform for people underrepresented in technology. I love knowing that I'm playing a small role in the worldwide impact Outreachy is having today! And I'm excited to see how big it will grow. :)"
Julia Lawall, who has previously coordinated Outreachy participation in Linux, and continues to mentor noted:
"As a former teacher and as a researcher, I have observed that many female students who start in computer science become discouraged and drop out during or after their studies. Thus, complementarily to my research activities, over the past four years, I have been active as a mentor and then as the coordinator for Linux for the Outreachy Internship program. Providing female students in computer science with the opportunity to interact with and get feedback from top-quality well-known developers helps build their confidence making it possible to move beyond the inevitable discouraging moments. There were 71 applications for Linux internships while I was coordinator for Linux, and 30 internships offered. After their internships, interns have gotten jobs at companies such as Red Hat, Intel, Bloomberg, Oracle and Collabora. Several interns have instead opted for further studies, including two who are starting as PhD students at UCSD and Columbia this fall. Former interns have also been active in outreach, both through informal events that they have organized on their own and through Outreachy itself."
Daniel Vetter, who mentors Outreachy interns in the Linux Kernel's GPU driver subsystem adds:
"The Outreachy program is the best program we have to improve diversity and inclusiveness in FOSS long-term. While Linux as a project is deeply problematic, there are pockets of sub-communities who really care about creating inclusive spaces and can provide Outreachy participants a great internship experience contributing to critical technology low in the stack.
I am very glad to provide my help supporting Outreachy participants as a mentor and Outreachy's critical role in building better communities and a diverse and inclusive FOSS culture."
We hope the events of this week indicate that times are changing, and the status quo of behavior fails as an adequate standard for civility, inclusiveness and diversity. We thank all those who have spent years, both behind the scenes and in the public fray, pointing out and pushing for inclusiveness in Linux and all other FOSS communities. We welcome mentors, coordinators and sponsors to get involved in Outreachy and we hope to continue working on related issues and supporting those of you who are working behind the scenes to make free software a place for everyone.
Thank you to all our donors and Supporters - we did it!
byon January 17, 2018
On behalf of Conservancy's staff and all of our member projects, I am excited to thank all of the people who contributed to this year's match challenge. Thanks to your generosity, we exceeded the amounts offered by Private Internet Access and an anonymous donor set for this year's annual fundraising drive.
What inspires me the most about this success is that we could not have done it without a high level of engagement from our volunteers. You not only donated your money to help sustain Conservancy, but you also took time to become a promotion machine for us. You blogged about it, you tweeted and tooted about it, you wrote about it on chat forums and you put up banners on websites. One volunteer even forwent payment on a small consulting gig and asked instead that the amount be donated to us.
Two years ago, we decided to become an individual supported charity to ensure independence from large corporate donors.Your support demonstrates that we can succeed and be vibrantly independent. We are humbled by your commitment to our mission and your trust in us and our work. We will use the money as best as we can to advance software freedom. We're so excited for the work we can all do together in 2018!
Late Summer Conference Report
byon September 29, 2017
I’ve been traveling quite a lot recently and have had the good fortune of participating in some dynamite conferences. Often we’re so busy with our work and travel that we aren’t able to make the time to report on it properly, which results in a lot of our acomplishments and activities happening silently1. August’s travel was intense, and while my inbox backlog continues to be a bit unnerving, I’ve got to tell you about where I’ve been before September is completely over too!
GUADEC: GNOME’s 20th Birthday!
As many readers probably know, I’m an enthusiastic user and fan of GNOME. And, as the former Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation, I was so thrilled when I was invited to give a keynote speech at the annual main GNOME conference, GUADEC. Given that this year is GNOME’s 20th birthday, it was a special year to be able to participate in the conference.
GUADEC was invigorating. With Ubuntu returning to GNOME and the success of Endless and other commercial initiatives around GNOME, the GNOME community is optimistic and focused on the future. There were many new contributors but also a great showing amongst folks who have been around the community for a long time.
My talk focused on the personal ethical responsibilities of free software contributors and how GNOME contributors can engage in the process of steering our technology in the direction of transparency and security. While I wasn’t intending to talk about medical devices very much in my talk, for a majority of the audience this was their first GUADEC or free software conference and the topic came up to illustrate some of my main points. As a society we’re building our critical infrastructure on proprietary software, entrusting single companies with some of our most important information and interactions. I strongly believe that we need technologists to stand up for ethical technology now, especially within the companies that are producing it. I recommended that contributors engage with management to discuss the long term business advantages of doing the right thing. As it turned out, there were also several young attendees in the audience who have implanted medical devices so it was a great opportunity to connect. Over time, these issues will impact more and more people.
I was excited to see Neil McGovern, the GNOME Foundation’s new Executive Director, in action. After I moved to Conservancy, I served on a Hiring Committee to help the Foundation find the right person for this role. There were many very impressive candidates, but Neil was the stand out. Neil gave an inspiring freedom-focused talk, revealing the great job he’s already doing.
There was also a big party for GNOME’s 20th birthday which was a lot of fun. I moderated a panel on the history of GNOME, and learned a lot of fun tidbits about GNOME’s past! I was also excited to see the “Pants Award” go to Bastian Ilso, who puts together awesome videos for GNOME releases (and ropes me into doing the voiceovers too).
Soon after I got back from GUADEC it was time to head to DebConf. I could only make it for part of DebConf, which definitely left me wishing I could have been there for the whole time.
This time the conference was in Montreal, and I had the privilege of giving a presentation about Outreachy. The talk was very well attended and I left plenty of time for questions. The best part was getting to meet a number of Outreachy alums, mentors and coordinators.
I also had the opportunity to talk to Debian folks about the copyright aggregation project and to participate as a Debian Developer. This was my first Debian event since I became an official non-uploading Debian Developer. While I felt more of a responsibility to work proactively on things that Debian needed to have done, I also felt a strong sense of belonging in the community. When DebConf was held in New York seven years ago, I went briefly for a screening of Patent Absurdity, which I was interviewed in, but was so intimidated by the conference that I basically ran away immediately after! (Somewhat relatedly, I recently recorded a brief video about Imposter Syndrome.) Being recognized as an official contributor to the project helps not only to feel like your contributions are appreciated (even if they aren’t code) but also that you are more than welcome in a community - that you are a part of it.
The last conference I got to this summer was FrOSCon. I hadn’t heard of this conference until recently and was surprised to learn how big it is. Primarily a local German conference, FrOSCon attracts almost 2000 people. Like FOSDEM, the event runs only over the weekend. Also like FOSDEM, the conference organization is extremely impressive. When I arrived the night before the conference, I went over to see if I could help get things set up but there were so many people there to help they actually had nothing for another person to do!
I was asked to do my standard medical devices talk as the first keynote of the conference, and I was glad I gave that particular talk - the room was full of people who hadn’t heard it. The questions I got were insightful and the enthusiasm in the discussions after I spoke was exciting. I also did a couple of interviews with local tech press reporters and met some fabulous people which led to great discussions. A few of us spontaneously gathered a working group on ethics for IoT and informed consent. Since then Emma Lilliestam, who also spoke at FrOSCon about issues related to software and cyborgs, has been writing up these issues and further developing thought on the topic.
I fully appreciated the organization of the event when I stuck around to help with takedown.
It was amazing to see everything get taken down, cataloged and organized for next year. FrOSCon is definitely a conference I would recommend to others in the future.
While the summer is over, it seems like it’s always conference season. This evening I’m delivering a keynote presentation at Ohio Linux Fest, a conference I’ve always wanted to attend. While it’s a lot of travel, I’m grateful to get the opportunity to meet with so many people interested in free an open source software and to have the chance to encourage folks to think about the important issues of our day. If you attend any conference that I’m at, please be sure to say hello!
1 Conservancy has a staff of four full time people, which includes no marketers, campaigns people or anyone focused on PR.