Elana Hashman: Governance & Federation are the Future
byon December 27, 2018
This is part of our ongoing series on generous matching donors. Elana is the Queen of Debian Clojure, Empress of Symbol Versioning, Conqueress of ABIs, Python Packaging Authority, ELF Herder and the Winner of this year's Award for most odd, but needful volunteer assistance this year (keeping people from eating pizza on top of the Conservancy tablecloth and so, so much more.) Elana and several other outstanding individuals are joining Private Internet Access and a big anonymous donor in offering a total of $90K in matching funds to the Conservancy for our continued work to provide both support for important free software and a clear voice in favor of community-driven licensing and governance practices.
Deb: What's the most exciting thing you've seen recently in free software?
EH: I'm really excited about a bunch of different emerging free social technologies based on the ActivityPub specification that make up the so-called "fediverse." I think Mastodon might be the most popular—it fills a niche similar to Twitter—but there's also Pleroma, which is Mastodon-compatible and a little simpler to deploy, a peer-to-peer replacement for YouTube called PeerTube, and a federated image sharing app you can use instead of Instagram called PixelFed.
Mastodon has demonstrated that when we prioritize user experiences and work together, we can build free software to sustainably run social collectives on independent infrastructure, and even achieve widespread adoption. This is so meaningful to me: the fediverse embodies all of user freedom, consent, autonomy, self-governance, and community in practice. Independent, federated social networks come with the promise of building online social spaces that better reflect the social needs of individuals and their communities in a way that centralized, corporate social media cannot.
Deb: What do you wish people knew about Conservancy, that they might not know?
EH: Many folks have heard of the wonderful projects that all live together under the Conservancy banner, but I'm not sure if many people are familiar with what it takes to become a Conservancy project!
Conservancy members are required to serve the public interest, develop their software in public, and use a FOSS license. They must also be community-run: a Conservancy project should have a community-elected oversight committee or a minimum of three governing members, so a project can't be run by a single developer, and when members are appointed there can't be more than one employed by a particular company. I think it's really cool that all Conservancy member projects must uphold rigorous standards for community governance.
Deb: You work on several well-known free software projects (Debian, Clojure, Python). Do you have any advice for folks who are just starting with free software contributing?
EH: It's funny when you put it that way — I got started in free software barely five years ago, and I'm almost surprised by how much I've contributed since then. One of the big barriers for me was believing I could do it at all. Even though I've been using free software since 2006 or so, I didn't really see a lot of people like me in the community, and having lurked in IRC channels for years I was so afraid of trying to contribute and getting yelled at for messing up something obvious.
In 2013, I decided to attend an open source day at a conference, and met Asheesh Laroia and Carol Willing. They jumped to onboard me with OpenHatch, a project whose mission was to help newcomers get involved in free and open source software. That chance meeting grew into a GSoC internship with OpenHatch the next summer; later, I became a core maintainer of the project until it wound down. Once I had the right skills, it's become harder for me to say no to contributing to new projects than to just contribute! The fear of messing up spectacularly in public is still there, but it doesn't stop me anymore.
Part of OpenHatch's legacy was encouraging projects to identify and publicly label issues that were relatively small (or "bite-sized") and good for beginners. Now, many spiritual successors to OpenHatch exist, including Your First PR and Up For Grabs.
Deb: What do you hope to see Conservancy accomplish in the next five years?
EH: I think Conservancy is increasingly important for the future of sustainable free software. Recently, we've seen the proliferation of a number of new protectionist licenses, as corporations become more concerned about their open source projects being monetized by other corporations that don't contribute back. I think corporate sustainability and community sustainability are different things, and I'm concerned that the idea of "sustainability" is being co-opted by companies that define it as seeing greater financial returns from their open source projects.
Conservancy fights this co-option with a two-pronged strategy: through its software license advocacy, by helping to educate the public on software licenses and by providing license enforcement to member projects to ensure free software remains free; and through its support of member project operations, by enabling the practice of sustainable community free software in providing fiscal sponsorship and administrative services. I think both are very important and I'd love to see Conservancy continue to grow in both areas over the next five years; perhaps it will even accept some fediverse projects as members :)
Deb: Anything else you'd like to add?
EH: If any of this speaks to you, dear reader, then I'd love to encourage you to support Conservancy by making a donation. But if that's not something you're able to do, you can always volunteer with Conservancy or a member project, or help spread the word for this year's fundraiser!Photo of Elana Hashman, courtesy of Elana Hashman, all rights reserved.
VM Brasseur: Freedom isn't Free
byon December 21, 2018
We got to interview the most excellent VM Brasseur, who is a steadfast Conservancy supporter, volunteer and booster. (She also happens to have written a whole book about contributing to free and open source software.) She took a little time to talk with us about why she donates to Conservancy and why you might like to too.
Deb: Tell us about the moment you decided to become a Conservancy supporter.
VMB: Prior to learning about Conservancy's mission, it hadn't really sunk in to me how critical that sort of work was to Free Software and Open Source. At the time, I was just like most other free and open source software participants: I just didn't think about the mundane administrative side of FOSS. After learning about Conservancy it was like someone had turned on a light in a dark room. It was so obvious now. Of course a project would need to think about accounting, copyright, compliance. Of course developers are unlikely to have the skills necessary to handle that sort of thing. Of course they would need help. No one starts a project thinking, "Oh boy! I'll get to write code and work on accounting, legal matters, and event coordination!", after all.
Once that finally sank in for me, supporting Conservancy was a no-brainer, as did getting the word out so more projects could stop stumbling along in the dark trying to handle their own finances or manage their own legal issues. Projects had to know that there were organisations out there that would help.
Deb: What do you wish people knew about free software?
VMB: As with any other freedom, this kind does not come for free. I'm not talking about paying maintainers, though that seems to be what everyone else is fixated on of late. Freedoms are not won through money. Freedoms are won through the time of every free software developer. Unlike money, when time is spent it's gone forever; there's no chance to earn more later. Too many projects rely on the time of too few maintainers, and those maintainers are devoting too large of a slice of their lives to supporting the projects they love.
Contributing money to a project helps pay for infrastructure, interns, and meetups, and is a worthwhile way to support the projects on which you rely. For many projects, however, contributing your time and expertise can be even more valuable. The time you donate not only improves the project, it also returns a bit of time to the maintainers so they can spend more of their time taking care of themselves and their families. Learning how to contribute to a project is therefore the most valuable way to support free software. All sorts of contributions are needed, not just coding. Security audits, marketing, system administration, user interface and graphic design, project and community management… There are so many ways to contribute to free software that don't require writing a single line of code. Conservancy, with its focus on the administrative and legal challenges faced by FOSS projects, is an excellent example of that.
Deb: What would you like to see Conservancy accomplish in the next five years?
VMB: Ya know what I've loved watching over the past few years? The increasing maturity of Conservancy as an organisation. Hiring more people to distribute the workload, adding infrastructure and tooling… It's been great watching Conservancy add all of these things. They've been going through this maturation process in such a considered and deliberate way, thinking through each change to select what will make the best impact for the member projects, rather than making change purely for change sake. I'd like to see Conservancy continue that trend. By doing that they'll be able to continue serving more projects, more efficiently, without losing any quality of that service.
Deb: What's a question you wish we'd asked? Ask yourself that one and then answer it here.
VMB: "What can people do if they want to support Conservancy but can't contribute money?"
That's a great question! I'm glad you asked! ;-)
While, yes, monetary donations will be doubled right now, money isn't the only way to show your support for Conservancy and Free Software. If you can't spare the cash for whatever reason, one very helpful way to support Conservancy is to share it and its fund drive with your networks. If more people know about the great work that Conservancy does behind the scenes to make Free Software and Open Source projects successful, then more people will have the opportunity to donate and support that work. Just one share on your favourite social networks or group chat system could lead to several donations, and every little bit helps.
Conservancy is running its yearly donation drive, and your donation is matched by other generous donors. Please consider donating to Conservancy today!"Nigel and Percy" by VMB is available under a CC-BY-SA license.
Outreachy's Year in Review: 2018 was a Big Year for Outreachy!
byon December 20, 2018
As in previous years, Outreachy's goal is to increase diversity in free software. Between May 2018 and December 2018 internship rounds, we supported 86 interns from around the world, paying and expecting to pay $473,000 in internship stipends.
The Outreachy interns worked with mentors from 27 free software communities: Bahmni, Ceph, Cloud Native Computing Foundation Tracing, Debian, Discourse, Fedora, Free Software Foundation, Git, GNOME, GNU Guix, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, Jenkins, JupyterHub, Kubernetes, LibreHealth, Linux Kernel, Mozilla, mUzima, Open Bioinformatics Foundation, Open Data Kit, Open Humans, Open Robotics, OpenStack, Public Lab, QEMU, Tor Project, and Wikimedia.
Our non-profit home, Software Freedom Conservancy, makes possible all this work on free software done via Outreachy, as well as work done via Conservancy's nearly fifty other member projects. Now is the time you can support Conservancy by donating to its yearly fundraiser and having your donation matched by generous donors. Please consider becoming a Conservancy Supporter today!Outreachy Website
Outreachy made some big changes in 2018. Outreachy launched a new Outreachy website based on Django, the free software Python-based web framework. The website is licensed GPL v3, with the source code released on GitHub.
Our website allows Outreachy organizers and mentors to review applications, approve communities to participate in the round, review intern selections, and collect intern and mentor agreements. The website also allows mentors to list the projects applicants can work on.
One of the goals of the Outreachy website was to encourage Outreachy mentors to better support people with impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome is caused by several factors: unrelenting standards for yourself, systemic discrimination sowing doubt in your mind about whether you belong in your field, and discrimination that makes you work twice as hard to get the same level of recognition. Imposter syndrome makes people who are from groups under-represented in tech feel like they aren't good enough, or that all their accomplishments are due to luck.
Outreachy organizers watched applicants struggle with impostor syndrome when they were picking a project. They would often ask, "But do I need to be an expert in Python to apply to this internship?" This is fairly common, as people with impostor syndrome are less likely to apply to a job if they don't meet 100% of the criteria.
The new Outreachy website encouraged mentors to break down project skills in two ways: What impact does this skill have on intern selection, and how experienced does someone have to be in this skill? Mentors now list whether a project skill is required, preferred, or a bonus. Mentors also list what experience level the applicant needs in that skill. That could range from "no experience necessary, we'll teach you" to "this is a challenge and you'll be expanding your skills independently".
Outreachy organizers saw an immediate decrease in the number of questions about project selection sent to the mentors mailing list after the new website was put into place. The only questions about project selections were whether we would add any more projects with a particular type of technology or skill. In interviews with Outreachy December 2018 interns at the Mozilla All Hands, they mentioned that finding projects that fit their skills was much easier. Success!Outreachy At DjangoCon
Outreachy organizer Sage Sharp presented their work on the Outreachy website at DjangoCon U.S. The video from the talk "Herding Cats with Django: Technical and Social Tools to Incentivize Participation" can be watched on the DjangoConwebsite
Sage also participated in the DjangoCon hackathon. Djangonauts solved several issues with CSS and suggested ways to tackle new projects. It was amazing for Outreachy to get involved with the Django community after being supported by their thorough documentation for so long!Outreachy at Tapia
Sage Sharp, along with three former Outreachy interns, also attended the ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing conference. Tapia is a conference that allows undergraduate and graduate students in Computer Science to celebrate the diversity that exists in computing and connect with peers, academics, and industry professionals who share their backgrounds, ethnicities, disabilities, and gender identities.
Tapia is the perfect conference to introduce free software and Outreachy to a diverse group of Computer Science students and educators. Outreachy had a booth at the conference again this year. We collected over one hundred signups for our announcement mailing list, and heard about Tapia attendees spreading the word to their university groups about Outreachy. This is Outreachy's third year with a booth at Tapia.Diversifying Outreachy
Racial diversity among Outreachy applicants has continued to increase, partially thanks to our outreach to communities and events like Tapia. In the December 2017 round there were 61 applicants from the United States, and 34% of those applicants (21 people) were Black/African American, Hispanic/Latin@, Native American/American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander. In the December 2018 round, there were 140 applicants from the United States, and 52% of those applicants (73 people) were Black/African American, Hispanic/Latin@, Native American/American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander.
It's amazing to see Outreachy's U.S. applicant racial diversity increase from 34% to 52%. Applicants of color from the United States made up for 8.3% of the total approved Outreachy applicants in the December 2017 round, and 11.2% of the total approved Outreachy applicants in the December 2018 round. We don't track racial demographics for applicants outside the United States, so it's unknown how many applicants of color from other countries applied.
Looking at gender diversity, Outreachy tracks the percentage of approved applicants who are women, as well as the percentage of people who are transgender and genderqueer. In the May 2018 round, 89% of applicants were women, 8% of applicants were genderqueer, and 4% were transgender. In the December 2018 round, 83% of applicants were women, 13% of applicants were genderqueer, and 6% of applicants were transgender.Outreachy Supporting Broader Diversity
For a long time, Outreachy's goal has been to expand to additional groups of people who are underrepresented in free software. In September 2018, Outreachy made changes to the application process to invite anyone who faces under-representation, systemic bias, or discrimination in the technology industry of their country to apply.
Outreachy added initial application essay questions, which make it easy for applicants not familiar with diversity and inclusion concepts to relate key circumstances relevant to them being from a group underrepresented in tech. Essay questions asked whether the applicants' learning environment has few people who share their identity or background, what systematic bias or discrimination applicants have faced while building their skills, and what barriers or concerns kept applicants from contributing to free software. The Outreachy organizers will continue to refine the essay questions with lessons learned from the most recent application round.
Outreachy still expressly invites applications from women (both cis and trans), trans men, and genderqueer people from around the world, as well as residents and nationals of the United States of any gender who are Black/African American, Hispanic/Latin@, Native American/American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander.Outreachy Payment Changes
This year, Outreachy made a change to our intern payment structure in order to better support people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Our goal was to ensure that interns got slightly more money up front, in order to make sure that people who were financially relying on the internship stipend would have an easier time supporting themselves. Interns receive the larger payment after two weeks of work, which is enough time for mentors and organizers to determine they have successfully started their internships. Our full announcement on payment changes can be found here.Outreachy Finances
Outreachy received several big donations this year!
In August, Outreachy [received a $100,000 donation from Handshake. Handshake donated to the Outreachy general fund, which supports program administration and increasing awareness of opportunities in free software among people from underrepresented groups in tech.
In November, Outreachy was received $50,000 in support from Ford Foundation. This supports Outreachy's efforts to improve our program's documentation. We have a lot of plans for this grant, including improving our instructions for our applicants, creating translations of our website and promotional materials, writing more blog posts, and creating videos to support and promote our program.
Outreachy also received over $123,000 in general fund sponsorship from Bloomberg, Google, Microsoft, DigitalOcean, Tidelift, Codethink, Indeed, and the Linux Foundation.
The Outreachy general fund is essential to ensuring Outreachy continues running. The Outreachy general fund pays for administrative tasks, such as the Outreachy organizers keeping 20 coordinators, 60 mentors, and 1,000+ applicants on track during the Outreachy application period. The Outreachy general fund also pays for time and travel costs for promoting the program.
The Outreachy general fund is also used by the participating free software communities when they find more exceptional interns than they have sponsorship for. Free software communities with funding for at least one intern can ask for these funds. Outreachy provides $6,500 per intern from the general fund to approved interns from these communities.
In 2018, the Outreachy general fund was used for budget items like:
- $32,500 on funding 5 interns from the general fund for Jenkins, Free Software Foundation, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, Linux Kernel, and Open Robotics
- $12,948 on conference travel, the Tapia conference sponsorship, and booth promotional items
- 683 hours on developing the Outreachy website (released under GPL v3)
- 453 hours on program organization
- 63 hours on documentation
- 14 hours on graphic design
Outreachy internships (aside from the ones sponsorsed by the general fund) are funded by sponsorship from organizations and companies committed to increasing diversity in tech and free software. The funds from our generous sponsors provided 81 Outreachy interns with $445,500 in internship stipends and $10,696 in travel reimbursements.Outreachy Applicant Helpers
The combination of these two grants, as well as Outreachy's general fund sponsors allowed Outreachy to hire two additional part-time staff members!
Anna e só is a former Outreachy intern with Wikimedia in the December 2017 to March 2018 round. Anna lives in Goiânia, Goiás, Brazil and uses they/them pronouns. Anna's internship with Wikimedia involved identifying issues that new Wikimedia translators face, and creating guides to help them. Anna is involved in the disability activism community in Brazil.
Bethany Lister has a Masters in Public Affairs, with a concentration in non-profit management. Bethany lives in Portland, Oregon, USA, and uses she/her pronouns. She was a Community Engagement Manager for NTEN, which supports non-profits in using technology to achieve their goals. The Outreachy organizers loved Bethany's experience in building up community and building relationships with NTEN conference attendees, sponsors, and partners.
Anna and Bethany proved to be invaluable in reviewing the essay questions in over 900 initial applications. They have provided fresh perspective on places for improvement in the Outreachy documentation, processes, and website. We look forward to working more closely with Bethany and Anna in 2019!What's next?
Outreachy continues to provide rock solid support for over 80 interns a year. We look forward to improving our internship processes, website, and documentation, and to working closely with our two new part-time staff members.
Outreachy internships would not be possible without the support of our fiscal sponsor, Software Freedom Conservancy. Conservancy provides support for paying interns in countries around the world. Conservancy helps Outreachy secure funds, like the Ford Foundation grant and Handshake donation, and find sponsors to support Outreachy interns. Conservancy also promotes the Outreachy program at conferences, provides legal support, and provides a non-profit home for our program.
Software Freedom Conservancy does a lot to support Outreachy interns, and now it's your turn to support them! Conservancy is running its yearly donation drive, and your donation is matched by other generous donors. Please consider donating to Conservancy today!"Outreachy at Tapia 2016" and "Outreachy booth at Tapia" are both by Sage Sharp and are available under a CC.BY.SA license and "Urvika Gola and Pranav Jain" is also by Sage Sharp is available under a CC-BY-NC-SA license.
Conservancy's Member Projects are Building the Next Generation of the Free Software Movement
byon December 19, 2018
In order for free software to succeed, we must always be bringing new people to free software. In addition to bringing in developers, we need non-coding contributors and learners of all ages for our software to fulfill the promise of our movement. We love helping our member projects as they reach out to non-coding users and learners of all ages.
Conservancy is well-known for our work to support developers which is obviously super important -- there's no free software without well, people writing software. In fact, it's tough to build truly free software without free tools. So tools and code are critically important for software freedom, but I don't believe we can build a successful free software movement without conscientiously bringing in end-users. Many of our member projects focus on building amazing software for end-users, and maybe (while you're fixing computers for family over the holidays?) one of them can help you bring someone into the free software fold.
Several of our projects don't maintain code at all and/or work solely on helping people learn more about free software. MicroBlocks is a new programming language that enables kids and lifelong learners to start building toys or tools right away. Teaching Open Source collects and advises on curricula that helps college students understand open source development and its legal underpinnings. North Bay Python is a community-driven conference serving local Python developers -- including beginners. Outreachy brings people from underrepresented groups into free software via paid internships. The longevity of the free software movement depends on our collective ability to bring in young people and new people so we are proud to support educational efforts.
Two of our newest projects maintain code bases specifically for people who work at non-profits. Non-profit folks love stuff that is free as in cost and while they appreciate free as in freedom -- they also need code that does not need a lot of tinkering to be deployed. Backdrop CMS is a lightweight, easy to deploy Drupal fork specifically designed for small businesses and non-profits. Houdini helps organizations manage every aspect of their fundraising work. Free software is a good mission match for change organizations so it was great to welcome in two projects this year that are working intentionally to serve this sector.
Of course, we believe that software freedom is for everyone and a few Conservancy projects provide tools that can be used by anyone at all. Etherpad is shared note-taking platform that we use nearly every day in our work at Conservancy. Inkscape can be used for serious artists or those just dabbling in design. There are loads of tutorial videos to help new folks get acclimated and productive. Need a band flyer or church program? There's free software for that!
We even have projects at Conservancy that help people who are just beginning to explore free software. Homebrew enables users to install free software on their Apple systems while Wine helps people use a Windows program on a free operating systems. If you don't work at somewhere like the Conservancy, it can be difficult to ditch proprietary software. Projects like Homebrew and Wine help users find ways to use free software where they can and find a way to transition away from the non-free stuff at their own pace.
So wherever you are in your software freedom journey, Conservancy might have a project that can help. We look forward to helping our member projects do even more to bring in new fans, users and supporters of their work in 2019. Help us help them, by donating to Conservancy today! And be sure to let us know if one of our member projects helped you turn a new person into a free software user -- we love those stories.