ContractPatch, Step 2: Understanding the power balance
byon September 26, 2016
Employment agreements are one of the things that I'm asked the most regularly about in the free and open source software world, almost rivaling questions about licenses. My responses have always been the usual lawyerly responses of This Is Not Legal Advice and while I Am A Lawyer, I Am Not Your Lawyer (I'm generally not acting as a lawyer on behalf of Conservancy as its Executive Director either). But even from my early days of being involved with free software, I have seen that there's a lack of understanding about employment agreements and the ability of employees to get their agreements modified. Last month, Fred announced a new initiative that we are working on together, called ContractPatch. With ContractPatch, our goal is to help provide knowledge to employees, along with sample language for better contract terms. The first step in this process is understanding the dynamics at work in employment arrangements. Step 1 is knowing that everything is negotiable and step 2 is knowing where you stand in the negotiation. Quite simply, you likely will never have as much power as you do the moment just before you sign your employment agreement.
At the point you are presented with a job offer, your prospective employer really wants to hire you. Chances are, they've screened and interviewed a number of candidates and put a lot of work into the process. Your manager has thought deeply about who they want in the position and has probably imagined how it will all work out with you in the role. Both you and the hiring decision-maker(s) are probably very optimistic about what you'll accomplish in the role and how well you'll get along working together. At this point, no one wants to go back to the drawing board and start the process over again. You will be excited to start the new job but it's worth taking a step back to appreciate the unusual position you are in with your new employer.
As part of the hiring process, you'll be expected to negotiate your salary (this can be complicated) and finalize all of the terms of your employment. Terms of employment can also be looked at through the lens of compensation, and asking for more favorable terms in your employment contract can be another kind of perk an employer can give you if they have a tight budget. A classic contract negotiation tactic (I even learned this in law school) is to make an agreement stronger in the first draft than you really need it to be, just so that you can give something away when pushed. This is certainly true of many company's standard agreement templates. The only way to find out is to ask.
Once you take the job, it's harder to change your terms of employment (though it's possible, as we'll cover later). Think hard about the long term impact of signing the agreement and whether things could happen down the road that would make you feel less comfortable with working under those terms. We'll be giving you some examples of situations you want to be prepared for when we talk about specific contract provisions.
Asking for more favorable terms doesn't have to be an adversarial process. You can ask for an agreement to be amended in a friendly way. Employers often respect workers more when they advocate for themselves.
So, we'll help you think about how to engage with your employer while anticipating things that could go wrong down the road and how to ask for more favorable terms. You can sign up for our mailing list to be part of the conversation. While it may be easier to avoid negotiating your agreement, don't trade short term comfort for your long term benefit.
Help Send Conservancy to Embedded Linux Conference Europe
byon September 21, 2016
Last month, Conservancy made a public commitment to attend Linux-related events to get feedback from developers about our work generally, and Conservancy's GPL Compliance Program for Linux Developers specifically. As always, even before that, we were regularly submitting talks to nearly any event with Linux in its name. As a small charity, we always request travel funding from the organizers, who are often quite gracious. As I mentioned in my blog posts about LCA 2016 and GUADEC 2016, the organizers covered my travel funding there, and recently both Karen and I both received travel funding to speak at LCA 2017 and DebConf 2016, as well as many other events this year.
Recently, I submitted talks for the CFPs of Linux Foundation's Embedded Linux Conference Europe (ELC EU) and the Prpl Foundation's OpenWRT Summit. The latter was accepted, and the folks at the Prpl Foundation graciously offered to fund my flight costs to speak at the OpenWRT Summit! I've never spoken at an OpenWRT event before and I'm looking forward to the opportunity getting to know the OpenWRT and LEDE communities better by speaking at that event, and am excited to discuss Conservancy's work with them.
OpenWRT Summit, while co-located, is a wholly separate event from LF's ELC EU. Unfortunately, I was not so lucky in my talk submissions there: my talk proposal has been waitlisted since July. I was hopeful after a talk cancellation in mid-August. (I know because the speaker who canceled suggested that I request his slot for my waitlisted talk.) Unfortunately, the LF staff informed me that they understandably filled his open slot with a sponsored session that came in.
The good news is that my OpenWRT Summit flight is booked, and my friend (and Conservancy Board Member Emeritus) Loïc Dachary (who lives in Berlin) has agreed to let me crash with him for that week. So, I'll be in town for the entirety of ELC EU with almost no direct travel costs to Conservancy! The bad news is that it seems my ELC EU talk remains waitlisted. Therefore, I don't have a confirmed registration for the rest of ELC EU (beyond OpenWRT Summit).
While it seems like a perfect and cost-effective opportunity to be able to attend both events, that seems harder than I thought! Once I confirmed my OpenWRT Summit travel arrangements, I asked for the hobbyist discount to register for ELC EU, but LF staff informed me yesterday that the hobbyist (as well as the other discounts) are sold out. The moral of the story is that logistics are just plain tough and time-consuming when you work for a charity with an extremely limited travel budget. ☻
Yet, it seems a shame to waste the opportunity of being in town with so many Linux developers and not being able to see or talk to them, so Conservancy is asking for some help from you to fund the $680 of my registration costs for ELC EU. That's just about six new Conservancy supporter signups, so I hope we can get six new Supporters before Linux Foundation's ELC EU conference begins on October 10th. Either way, I look forward to seeing those developers who attend the co-located OpenWRT Summit! And, if the logistics work out — perhaps I'll see you at ELC EU as well!
Update 2016-09-30: One of the event conference sponsors was kind enough to donate a spare pass to the event; so I'll see you all there! I do hope folks become a Conservancy Supporter anyway, because we'll definitely put the money to great use to advance software freedom and help our fiscal sponsored projects.
Starting Out at Conservancy
byon September 15, 2016
With a title like Director of Strategic Initiatives, you might think I started at Conservancy with big plans for new programs. I hope I'll have that kind of impact in the long run, but the truth is that I joined Conservancy because I believe the work that it already does, from the high-level mission to the day-to-day tasks, is critically important to advance many FLOSS projects. That range of vision is what makes Conservancy unique. Because the organization supports FLOSS projects that use a wide variety of licenses and technology, it has a very broad view of the challenges those projects face. And Conservancy's mission calls on us to tackle those larger problems, instead of providing a limited set of services.
Because of that, I'm taking my time to learn about how Conservancy runs today. While I do that, I've been keeping an eye out for ways to improve our systems and processes. My personal overarching priority right now is to help the organization work more effectively, so we can provide more of this critical support to more projects, and help other organizations do the same.
The first major improvement I'm leading is a web system to file reimbursement requests, as the first tool in our NPO Accounting system. Fiscal sponsorship is one of Conservancy's core activities, and we spend a lot of time on it. Today it can take a few manual e-mails back and forth to get a reimbursement request complete, and all of this handling can get backlogged around the peak conference season. The first release will provide a web form that guides users through the process of submitting a complete request, and organize the result so it's easy to add to a project's books. This will save time and hassle for everyone involved in the process, and help shorten response times too.
Of course, Conservancy isn't the only NPO that handles reimbursement requests, and a long-term goal of the NPO Accounting system is to provide software that lots of organizations can use. I've already spoken with some early adopters about what they would like in a reimbursement system, and we're building it with those requirements in mind. Even if it's not all in the first release, knowing them now should help make sure we're building something that can be broadly useful.
I've already had the chance to work with several member projects and Conservancy supporters over these first few weeks. If you ideas about what Conservancy can improve, whether it's handling reimbursements or anything else, feel free to get in touch. You can reach me by e-mail or on Twitter. I look forward to meeting even more of you over the coming months!
My Keynote at GUADEC 2016
byon August 16, 2016
Last Friday, I gave the first keynote at GUADEC 2016. I was delighted for the invitation from the GNOME Foundation to deliver this talk, which I entitled Confessions of a command line geek: why I don’t use GNOME but everyone else should.
The Chaos Computer Club assisted the GUADEC organizers in recording the talks, so you can see here a great recording of my talk here (and also, the slides). Whether the talk itself is great — that's for you to watch and judge, of course.
The focus of this talk is why the GNOME desktop is such a central component for the future of software freedom. Too often, we assume that the advent of tablets and other mobile computing platforms means the laptop and desktop will disappear. And, maybe the desktop will disappear, but the laptop is going nowhere. And we need a good interface that gives software freedom to the people who use those laptops. GNOME is undoubtedly the best system we have for that task.
There is competition. The competition is now, undeniably, Apple. Unlike Microsoft, who hitherto dominated desktops, Apple truly wants to make beautifully designed, and carefully crafted products that people will not just live with, but actually love. It's certainly possible to love something that harms you, and Apple is so carefully adept creating products that not only refuse to give you software freedom, but Apple goes a step further to regularly invent new ways to gain lock-down control and thwarting modification by their customers.
We have a great challenge before us, and my goal in the keynote was to express that the GNOME developers are best poised to fight that battle and that they should continue in earnest in their efforts, and to offer my help — in whatever way they need it — to make it happen. And, I offer this help even though I readily admit that I don't need GNOME for myself, but we as a community need it to advance software freedom.
I hope you all enjoy the talk, and also check out Werner Koch's keynote, We want more centralization, do we?, which was also about a very important issue. And, finally, I thank the GNOME Foundation for covering my travel expenses for this trip.