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.
Why You Should Speak At & Attend LinuxConf Australia
byon August 4, 2016
Monday 1 February 2016 was the longest day of my life, but I don't mean that in the canonical, figurative, and usually negative sense of that phrase. I mean it literally and in a positive way. I woke up that morning Amsterdam in the Netherlands — having the previous night taken a evening train from Brussels, Belgium with my friend and colleague Tom Marble. Tom and I had just spent the weekend at FOSDEM 2016, where he and I co-organize the Legal and Policy Issues DevRoom (with our mutual friends and colleagues, Richard Fontana and Karen M. Sandler).
Tom and I headed over to AMS airport around 07:00 local time, found some breakfast and boarded our flights. Tom was homeward bound, but I was about to do the crazy thing that he'd done in the reverse a few years before: I was speaking at FOSDEM and LinuxConf Australia, back-to-back. In fact, because the airline fares were substantially cheaper this way, I didn't book a “round the world” flight, but instead two back-to-back round-trip tickets. I boarded the plane at AMS at 09:30 that morning (local time), and landed in my (new-ish) hometown of Portland, OR as afternoon there began. I went home, spent the afternoon with my wife, sister-in-law, and dogs, washed my laundry, and repacked my bag. My flight to LAX departed at 19:36 local time, a little after US/Pacific sunset.
I crossed the Pacific ocean, the international dateline, left a day on deposit to pickup on the way back, and after 24 hours of almost literally chasing the sun, I arrived in Melbourne on the morning of Wednesday 3 February, road a shuttle bus, dumped my bags at my room, and arrived just in time for the Wednesday afternoon tea break at LinuxConf Australia 2016 in Geelong.
Nearly everyone who heard this story — or saw me while it was
happening — asked me the same question:
Why are you doing
this?. The five to six people packed in with me in my coach section on
the LAX→SYD leg are probably still asking this, because I had an
allergic attack of some sort most of the flight and couldn't stop coughing,
even with two full bags of Fisherman's Friends over those 15 hours.
But, nevertheless, I gave a simple answer to everyone who questioned my crazy BRU→AMS→PDX→LAX→SYD→MEL itinerary: FOSDEM and LinuxConf AU are two of the most important events on the Free Software annual calendar. There's just no question. I'll write more about FOSDEM sometime soon, but the rest of this post, I'll dedicate to LinuxConf Australia (LCA).
One of my biggest regrets in Free Software is that I was once — and you'll be surprised by this given my story above — a bit squeamish about the nearly 15 hour flight to get from the USA to Australia, and therefore I didn't attend LCA until 2015. LCA began way back in 1999. Keep in mind that, other than FOSDEM, no major, community-organized events have survived from that time. But LCA has the culture and mindset of the kinds of conferences that our community made in 1999.
LCA is community organized and operated. Groups of volunteers each year plan the event. In the tradition of science fiction conventions and other hobbyist activities, groups bid for the conference and offer their time and effort to make the conference a success. They have an annual hand-off meeting to be sure the organization lessons are passed from one committee to the next, and some volunteers even repeat their involvement year after year. For organizational structure, they rely on a non-profit organization, Linux Australia, to assist with handling the funds and providing infrastructure (just like Conservancy does for our member projects and their conferences!).
I believe fully that the success of software freedom and GNU/Linux in particular has not primarily come from companies that allow developers to spend some of their time coding on upstream. Sure, many Free Software projects couldn't survive without that component, but what really makes GNU/Linux, or any Free Software project, truly special is that there's a community of users and developers who use, improve, and learn about the software because it excites and interests them. LCA is one of the few events specifically designed to invite that sort of person to attend, and it has for almost an entire generation stood in stark contrast the highly corporate, for-profit/trade-assocation events that slowly took over our community in the years that followed LCA's founding. (Remember all those years of LinuxWorld Expo? I wasn't even sad when IDG stopped running it!)
Speaking particularly of earlier this year, LCA 2016 in Geelong, Australia was a particular profound event for me. LCA is one of the few events that accepts my rather political talks about what's happening in Open Source and Free Software, so I gave a talk on Friday 5 February 2016 entitled Copyleft For the Next Decade: A Comprehensive Plan, which was recorded, so you can watch it, or read the LWN article about it. I do warn everyone that the jokes did not go over well (mine never do), so after I finished, I was feeling a bit down that I hadn't made the talk entertaining enough. But then, something amazing happened: people started walking up to me and telling me how important my message was. One individual even came up and told me that he was excited enough that he'd like to match any donation that Software Freedom Conservancy received during LCA 2016. Since it was the last day of the event, I quickly went to one of the organizers, Kathy Reid, and asked if they would announce this match during the closing ceremonies; she agreed. In a matter of just an hour or two, I'd gone from believing my talk had fallen flat to realizing that — regardless of whether I'd presented well — the concepts I discussed had connected with people.
Then, I sat down in the closing session. I started to tear up slightly when the organizers announced the donation match. Within 90 seconds, though, that turned to full tears of joy when the incoming President of Linux Australia, Hugh Blemings, came on stage and said:
[I'll start with] a Software Freedom Conservancy thing, as it turns out. … I can tell that most of you weren't at Bradley's talk earlier on today, but if there is one talk I'd encourage you to watch on the playback later it would be that one. There's a very very important message in there and something to take away for all of us. On behalf of the Council I'd like to announce … that we're actually in the process of making a significant donation from Linux Australia to Software Freedom Conservancy as well. I urge all of you to consider contributing individual as well, and there is much left for us to be done as a community on that front.
I hope that this post helps organizers of events like LCA fully understand how much something like this means to us who run a small charities — and not just with regard to the financial contributions. Knowing that the organizers of community events feel so strongly positive about our work really keeps us going. We work hard and spend much time at Conservancy to serve the Open Source and Free Software community, and knowing the work is appreciated inspires us to keep working. Furthermore, we know that without these events, it's much tougher for us to reach others with our message of software freedom. So, for us, the feeling is mutual: I'm delighted that the Linux Australia and LCA folks feel so positively about Conservancy, and I now look forward to another 15 hour flight for the next LCA.
And, on that note, I chose a strategic time to post this story. On Friday 5 August 2016, the CFP for LCA 2017 closes. So, now is the time for all of you to submit a talk. If you regularly speak at Open Source and Free Software events, or have been considering it, this event really needs to be on your calendar. I look forward to seeing all of you Hobart this January.
ContractPatch, step 1: Everything Is Negotiable.
byon August 4, 2016
About a year ago, I got talking with some friends in the tech industry about contracts. And it began to sound like something was very, very wrong.
Working informally through personal networks of engineers, project managers, freelance designers, and many more, I ended up with a small horde of employment contracts, offer letters, work agreements, and all manner of other documents that fall under that umbrella term, “contracts.”
And almost all of the contracts were bad.
Not badly written, though some were. Not legally unenforceable, though some were.
They were bad for the people who signed them.
They waived important legal rights, gave the employer ownership of ideas and projects it had no reason to take, or imposed serious limits on future work.
And people often didn’t realize how bad these were, the risks they’d agreed to, or what rights they’d given up.
Among the few who did, most didn’t realize they could negotiate these terms. Others did, but weren’t sure how to start. Several assumed their employer wouldn’t enforce the more onerous terms.
Nobody should bet their future on that assumption. Doing so is to build one’s career on a house of cards.
But that won’t change until enough people speak up and push back, and have the tools to do so.That’s where this project began for me.
About a month ago, I sat down over lunch with friends from Software Freedom Conservancy, and learned they’d embarked on a similar project at around the same time. In fact, Karen Sandler recently spoke on the subject as OSCON 2016.
We’re calling it ContractPatch. The idea is to provide strategy and legal knowledge to workers, along with some sample language for better contract terms.
But let’s start with the first step:
Everything is negotiable. Keep repeating that until it sticks.
Merely knowing that is an edge. Companies know it, but often don’t want their employees or potential hires to realize it. Some employers even structure their hiring, renewal, and termination processes to discourage negotiation. This can halt inexperienced negotiators, especially those from historically underrepresented groups who face widespread employer prejudice that can undermine their perceived ability to negotiate. Everyone will enter a negotiation with different leverage, different goals, and unique needs and strengths.
There are no magic words, but anyone can learn the techniques and strategies to approach contract negotiations. Like any other skill, it may not be easy at first. Also like any other skill, it can be broken down into steps, practiced, and will become easier over time.
And we’re here to teach.
In the coming months, we’ll write about legal and strategic points in contract negotiation strategies, pre-negotiation prep and practice, methods for negotiating, and we’ll provide information on your legal rights around contracts.
Down the road, we’ll look at specific contract provisions — especially those that impact tech workers the most, such as non-compete agreements and intellectual property assignment clauses. This will go hand-in-hand with a Github repository with forkable sample language for key contract provisions, such as payment terms, benefits, non-competition and non-solicitation agreements, and intellectual property assignment clauses.
But let’s walk before we run. The first step is knowing you can negotiate. Next, we’ll discuss the balance of power in hiring agreement negotiations, and how to self-evaluate your position before a negotiation begins. After that, we’ll cover timing and strategies around contract renewals, raises, and other opportune moments to renegotiate.
Whether it’s an employment offer, a mid-project contract renewal, or a termination agreement, its terms can be pushed on. Often, they can be changed. And getting there gracefully is an art, more dance than declaration.
And we want you to know as much as you can before your next dance starts.