Open source – we need better pathways so inclusion can flourish

Running a conference with a really strong cohort of diversity scholars this week, with a broad range of skills and backgrounds, really made me think. We had Ian Skerrett, VP of marketing at the Eclipse Foundation, and Abby Kearns, executive director of the Cloud Foundry Foundation at the event. Both are keen to improve diversity in their communities. But how are we going to create better and more welcoming pathways for a more diverse range of entrants?

I asked both Ian and Abby what other roles there were outside writing code. They both gave solid answers about different roles and opportunities. One stock answer in open source is of course Write Documentation! You don’t need to be a great coder to write excellent docs. But when you have 20 diversity scholars in the room, you kind of want answers that are going to make some of them think – blammo – that’s what I want to do! In many ways we’re making solid progress in open source, as this exchange from OSSsummit, also this week, shows:

But I had a project manager there, looking for a job. How would she get a paid position to take advantage of her skills. I felt there was a disconnect between open source, as practised by folks that work at vendors already, and the wider community of prospects. I have written before about my empathy failure in understanding open source maintenance.

“But understanding the value of the maintainers means taking a broader view, touching on many of the critical social issues we face in open source. Thus for example we celebrate the coders, but not the people that made the patches, or documented the system, or helped manage the community, responded to the pull request politely. The best and most useful open source though has the best documentation, has the best architecture of participation.”

We need to do a better job of explaining the beauty of working in a welcoming open source community. We need to ensure the communities actually are welcoming. Kudos to the Go community – they’ve been doing a really great job of being welcoming, and encouraging new people to become committers and join the community.

But the missing element is perhaps getting the economics right. We need to find models to pay people doing the work, beyond “join a commercial open source vendor”. People from under-represented groups in tech are likely to be less well paid, and as such may find it hard to contribute. I helped two young black men this year to fund raise for their studies – it’s hard to spend time on things like open source code, docs or design, when you’re a kid from a single parent family trying to pay for your own education.

I don’t know what the answers are, but I do think we need to do a better job of the economics if we want to make our open source communities more diverse. We need to make the New Patronage Economy work more effectively. What do you think? I’d love to know.

Please let me know if you’re hiring for excellence. All of our scholars are amazing people. In hiring them you’ll also improve the diversity of your team. Not all of the folks in the program are looking for jobs, but some are. RedMonk is trying to get beyond just giving free tickets to our events for under-represented groups, and to start deepening our network and creating opportunities for people. Let me know if you’d like to get involved.


Once again, thanks for sponsoring the program.

(Read this and other great posts  @ RedMonk)

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James, aka @Monkchips is co-founder of RedMonk, the open source analyst firm, which specialises in developer advocacy and analytics.