Monthly Archives: May 2019

biscuits

A table, containing a glass jar full of multi-colored roses, and a plate of biscuits.I love biscuits. Here is my recipe for biscuits. It’s based on the All Purpose Biscuit recipe from the New York Times.

Biscuits are good sweet or savory. This particular biscuits are soft and have a bit of a crumble to them.

They’re good for any meal — breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, dessert…

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons (one stick) butter (or other solid fat)
  • 2 cups flour (alt: 1 1/2 c flour, 1/2 c corn flour)
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tablespoons sweetener (I use honey)
  • 1 cup milk-like-substance (optional 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, if you want to curdle it)

Process

  • Preheat over to 425 F and butter a baking sheet or cast iron pan.
  • Optional: Mix the apple cider vinegar and the milk, so it curdles.
  • Cut butter into small pieces, or use a cheese grater.
  • Add butter, flour, baking powder, and salt
  • Use your hands or a pastry knife or whatever you want to to mix the butter and the dry ingredients.
  • Add the sweetener and milk.
  • Mix some more, but don’t over mix. I’m not sure how to define what over mix is.
  • Scoop onto your baking sheet (I use a 1/3 or 1/2 cup to measure out the dough)
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the tops are just getting golden and the bottom is also golden.
  • Eat, enjoy, yum.

I recommend, once you’re comfortable, experimenting with adding other things: herbs, spices, cheese, jalapeños, jalapeños and cheese, or whatever else sounds good to you.

Enbies and women in FOSS Wikipedia edit-a-thon

To be brief, I’ll be hosting a Wikipedia edit-a-thon on enbies and women in free and open source software, on June 2nd, from 16:00 – 19:00 EDT. I’d love remote participants, but if you’re in the Boston area you are more than welcome over to my place for pancakes and collaboration times.

Busy during that time? I recommend making some edits between now and then. Feel free to share them with me, so I can share your work with others!

For details and ideas, check out: this super cool etherpad!

remuneration

I am a leader in free software. As evidence for this claim, I like to point out that I once finagled an invitation to the Google OSCON luminaries dinner, and was once invited to a Facebook party for open source luminaries.

In spite of my humor, I am a leader and have taken on leadership roles for a number of years. I was in charge of guests of honor (and then some) at Penguicon for several years at the start of my involvement in FOSS. I’m a delegate on the Debian Outreach team. My participation in Debian A-H is a leadership role as well. I’m president of the OSI Board of Directors. I’ve given keynote presentations on two continents, and talks on four. And that’s not even getting into my paid professional life. My compensated labor has been nearly exclusively for nonprofits.

Listing my credentials in such concentration feels a bit distasteful, but sometimes I think it’s important. Right now, I want to convey that I know a thing or two about free/open source leadership. I’ve even given talks on that.

Other than my full-time job, my leadership positions come without material renumeration — that is to say I don’t get paid for any of them — though I’ve accepted many a free meal and have had travel compensated on a number of occasions. I am not interested in getting paid for my leadership work, though I have come to believe that more leadership positions should be paid.

One of my criticisms about unpaid project/org leadership positions is that they are so time consuming it means that the people who can do the jobs are:

  • students
  • contractors
  • unemployed
  • those with few to no other responsibilities
  • those with very supportive partners
  • those with very supportive employers
  • those who don’t need much sleep
  • those with other forms of financial privilege

I have few responsibilities beyond some finicky plants and Bash (my cat). I also have extremely helpful roommates and modern technology (e.g. automatic feeders) that assist with these things while traveling. I can spend my evenings and weekends holed up in my office plugging away on my free software work. I have a lot of freedom and flexibility — economic, social, professional — that affords me this opportunity. Very few of us do.

This is is a problem! One solution is to pay more leadership positions; another is to have these projects hire someone in an executive director-like capacity and turn their leadership roles into advisory roles; or replace the positions with committees (the problem with the latter is that most committees still have/need a leader).

Diversity is good.

The time requirements for leadership roles severely limit the pool of potential participants. This limits the perspectives and experiences brought to the positions — and diversity in experience is widely considered to be good. People from underrepresented backgrounds generally overlap with marginalized communities — including ethnic, geographic, gender, race, and socio-economic minorities.

Volunteer work is not “more pure.”

One of the arguments for not paying people for these positions is that their motives will be more pure if they are doing it as a volunteer — because they aren’t “in it for the money. I would argue that your motives can be less pure if you aren’t being paid for your labor.

In mission-driven nonprofits, you want as much of your funding as possible to come from individual or community donors rather than corporate sponsors. You want the number of individual and community donors and members to be greater than that of your sponsors. You want to ensure you have enough money that should a corporate sponsor drop you (or you drop them), you are still in a sustainable position. You want to do this so that you are not beholden to any of your corporate or government sponsors. Freeing yourself from corporate influence allows you to focus on the mission of your work.

When searching for a volunteer leader, you need to look at them as a mission-driven nonprofit. Ask: What are their conflicts of interest? What happens if their employers pull away their support? What sort of financial threats are they susceptible to?

In a capitalist system, when someone is being paid for their labor, they are able to prioritize that labor. Adequate compensation enables a person to invest more fully in their work. When your responsibilities as the leader of a free software project, for which you are unpaid, come into direct conflict with the interests of your employer, who is going to win?

Note, however, that it’s important to make sure the funding to pay your leadership does not come with strings attached so that your work isn’t contingent upon any particular sponsor or set of sponsors getting what they want.

It’s a lot of work. Like, a lot of work.

By turning a leadership role into a job (even a part-time one), the associated labor can be prioritized over other labor. Many volunteer leadership positions require the same commitment as a part-time job, and some can be close to if not actually full-time jobs.

Someone’s full-time employer needs to be supportive of their volunteer leadership activities. I have some flexibility in the schedule for my day job, so I can plan meetings with people who are doing their day jobs, or in different time zones, that will work for them. Not everyone has this flexibility when they have a full-time job that isn’t their leadership role. Many people in leadership roles — I know past presidents of the OSI and previous Debian Project Leaders who will attest to this — are only able to do so because their employer allows them to shift their work schedule in order to do their volunteer work. Even when you’re “just” attending meetings, you’re doing so either with your employer giving you the time off, or using your PTO to do so.

A few final thoughts.

Many of us live in capitalist societies. One of the ways you show respect for someone’s labor is by paying them for it. This isn’t to say I think all FOSS contributions should be paid (though some argue they ought to be!), but that certain things require levels of dedication that go significantly above and beyond that which is reasonable. Our free software leaders are incredible, and we need to change how we recognize that.

(Please note that I don’t feel as though I should be paid for any of my leadership roles and, in fact, have reasons why I believe they should be unpaid.)

advice

Recently I was asked two very good questions about being involved in free/open source software: How do you balance your paid/volunteer activities? What sort of career advice do you have for people looking to get involved professionally?

I liked answering these in part because I have very little to do with the software side, and also because, much like many technical volunteers, my activities between my volunteer work and my paid work have been similar-to-identical over the years.

How do you balance paid/volunteer activities?

My answer at the time was, effectively: I set aside clearly defined time to work on my different activities, usually once a week — generally on Sundays. I check my email a few times a day, and respond to things that are immediate within a few hours, but I handle the bulk of my work at one time. The Anti-harassment team has a regularly scheduled meeting/work time during which we handle the bulk of our necessary labor. I’ve learned to say no, I’ve learned how to delegate, and I’ve learned how to say “I’m not going to be able to finish this thing I said I could do, how can we as a team make sure it gets completed.”

This works for me because 1) I’ve put a lot of work into developing my confidence and the skills needed for working collaboratively; and 2) my biggest responsibilities outside of my job (and free software, in general) are taking care of plants and having bash. (Note: Bash is my cat.) I don’t have children or a partner. I have a band and climbing partners, but these things, much like my free software activities, are time constrained. My band meets for practice at the same time each week; I sneak in moments to play a song or run through scales during the rest of the week. I climb with the same people at the same times each week. With my fancy new job, I work remotely and am able to now even work at the climbing gym, and take little breaks to run through a few bouldering problems.

Because of all these factors — my limited and optional responsibilities towards others (I travel a lot for free software, and miss band practice and climbing sometimes, for example) — I have been able to take up leadership positions in Debian and the open source community at large. Because of my job, I was able to take on even more responsibility at the OSI. I’ve held leadership positions in my unpaid work for over ten years now, since I was a student and able to use my lack of responsibilities beyond my studies (and student job) to focus on helping to stack chairs for open source. (Note: “Stack chairs” is Molly for “perform often unseen labor, often for events.”)

As an aside, one of my criticisms about unpaid project/org leader positions is that it means that the people who can do the jobs are:

  • students
  • contractors
  • unemployed
  • those with few to no other responsibilities
  • those with very supportive partners
  • those with very supportive employers
  • those who don’t need much sleep.

I’ve slowly been swayed into the belief that many (not all) leadership positions should be paid, grant funded, come with a stipend, or be led by committee. More on this in a future blog post.

In summary: learn to tell other people you can’t do things and work on those scheduling skillz.

What sort of career advice do you have for people looking to get involved professionally?

This question was asked in an evening of panels and one thing that really stood out to me was many of the panelists saying — in response to completely different questions — that they no longer cold apply for jobs, or that all of their jobs have come from social connections, or that they just don’t apply to jobs (and only go work for places where they have been given soft offers or are invited to go straight to an interview stage).

An acquaintance of mine once said to me: I don’t believe in luck, I believe in social connections.

Our social connections form complex causal graphs, which lead to many, if not all, of the good things that happen in our lives. I got my first job in free software not because of my cool skillz, but because I happened to hang out with a friend of someone who had a friend looking for an intern.

I actually have gotten (two) jobs where I cold applied — but in both cases the people were interested in me because of a certain social connection I had — whether they realized that or not. Even my job in college, at the school library, came because I had a friend who worked there.

Telling people to network really is general job advice that works for everyone in every field of endeavor.

If you’re an introvert (like myself!) one of the best ways to form social connections is through public speaking. When you give a talk at a conference not only are you building up your personal brand and letting other people know about your skills, competency, and expertise, but you’re also giving people something to talk to you about — and they will talk to you. Giving a talk is like putting a sign on yourself saying “Come talk to me about X,” when X is something you’re actually passionate about. It’s great because you don’t have to put yourself out there to talk to strangers — strangers come to you!

Public speaking also increases your visibility in the community — this is good if you want a job. That way, when someone sees your CV/resume your name will stand out because they’ll remember seeing it before. They might not remember your talk, or maybe they didn’t even attend your talk, but they will remember seeing your name. Having a section on your CV that lists presentations you’ve given helps you stand out from everyone else because it shows you can share information well and are actually interested in what you do. Where you speak and have spoken is a shibboleth for where you see yourself in the community and what values you have: Seeing “Open Source Bridge” tells me that you’re interested in communities and building spaces where everyone is a welcome participant; OSCON and PyCon convey confidence because you know you’re opening yourself up to a potentially big audience; local meetups and conferences share a value of wanting to participate in and build up your local community; international events say that you really understand that we’re looking at a global scale here.

We also just learn to communicate better when we speak publicly. We learn better ways to share ideas, how to turn thoughts into a cohesive narrative, and how to appear confident even if we’re not.

Building off of that, learning to write is extremely, extremely important. There is an art to written communication, whether it’s a brief letter between colleagues, presentations, comments in code or other documentation, blog posts, cover letters, etc. Communicating well through writing will take you so far, especially as more jobs, especially in tech, become increasingly focused on using chat tools for collaboration.

All of the things that are true for public speaking are also true for writing well: it helps you become a recognized and valued member of your community. When I was a community manager I loved the developers (and translators and doc writers and…) who were interested in writing blog posts, participating in community Q&A/round table sessions, etc because they were the ones who made us an approachable project, who made us a great place that included people whether they were getting paid to work on the project or not.

Anyone can learn to be a passable developer (or fill in your specific role here), and anyone can learn to be a passable writer. Someone who chooses to do both is special and who I want on my team.

In summary: Learn to talk to strangers, learn public speaking, learn to write.

The people asking me these questions were, I believe, developers or at least people with technical skill sets rather than administrative, community, organizational, social, etc skill sets. This advice holds true across the spectrum of paid labor.

One person came up to me later and explained that they had been working in generating content, but wanted to switch to a more organizational role managing the aggregation and sharing of content. They asked me how they could make that transition, and my advice was exactly the same: learn to talk to people so you can learn who has opportunities and learn to communicate well because it will help you stand out and also just make your life a lot easier.

I’d also like to briefly point out that ehash gave some great answers geared towards technical roles, and I hope will share them in some public forum.

OSI Update: May 2019

A brick buildig with a wooden sign that says "Come in we're open source!"

At the most recent Open Source Initiative face-to-face board meeting I was elected president of the board of directors. In the spirit of transparency, I wanted to share a bit about my goals and my vision for the organization over the next five years. These thoughts are my own, not reflecting official organization policy or plans. They do not speak to the intentions nor desires of other members of the board. I am representing my own thoughts, and where I’d like to see the future of the OSI go.

A little context on the OSI

You can read all about the history of “open source” and the OSI, so I will spare you the history lesson for now. I believe the following are the organization’s main activities:

There are lots of other things the OSI does, to support the above activities and in addition to them. As I mentioned in my 2019 election campaign, most of what we do vacillates between “niche interesting” to “onerous,” with “boring” and “tedious” also on that list. We table at events, give talks, write and approve budgets, answer questions, have meetings, maintain our own pet projects, read mailing lists, keep up with the FLOSS/tech news, tweet, host events, and a number of other things I am inevitably forgetting.

The OSI, along with the affiliate and individual membership, defines the future of open source, through the above activities and then some.

Why I decided to run for president

I’ve been called an ideologue, an idealist, a true believer, a wonk, and a number of other things — flattering, embarrassing, and offensive — concerning my relationship to free and open source software. I recently said that “user freedom is the hill I will die on, and let the carrion birds feast on my remains.” While we are increasingly discussing the ethical considerations of technology we need to also raise awareness of the ways user freedom and software freedom are entwined with the ethical considerations of computing. These philosophies need to be in the foundational design of all modern technologies in order for us to build technology that is ethical.

I have a vision for the way the OSI should fit into the future of technology, I think it’s a good vision, and I thought that being president would be a good way to help move that forward. It also gave me a very concrete and candid opportunity to share my hopes for the present and the future with my fellow board directors, to see where they agree and where they dissent, and to collaboratively build a cohesive organizational mission.

So, what is my vision?

I have two main goals for my presidency: 1) strategic growth of the organization while encouraging sustainability and 2) re-examining and revising the license approval process where necessary.

I have a five point list of things I would like to see be true for the OSI over the next five years:

  • Organizational relevance: The OSI should continue its important mission of stewarding the OSD, the license list, and the integrity of the term open source.
  • Provide expert guidance on open source: Have others approach us for opinions and advice, and be looked to as an authority on issues and questions.
  • Coordinate contact within the community: Have a role connecting people with others within the community in order to share expertise and become better open source citizens.
  • A clear, effective license approval process: Have a clear licensing process, comprised of experts in the field of licensing, with a range of opinions and points of view, in order to create and maintain a healthy list of open source licenses.
  • Support growing projects: Provide strategic assistance wherever OSI is best placed to do so. For example, providing fiscal sponsorship where we are uniquely qualified to help a project flourish.

An additional disclaimer

As I mentioned above, these are my thoughts and opinions, and do not represent plans for the organization nor the opinions of the rest of the board. They are some things I think would be nice to see. After all, according to the bylaws my actual privileges and responsibilities as president are to “preside over all board meetings,” accept resignations, and call “special meetings.”

Free software activities (April, 2019)

April was a very exciting month for my free software life. Namely, I switched jobs, sadly leaving the FSF and excitedly starting at the GNOME Foundation. No one was mean to me in April, which is exciting as always.

Pink tulips and two red poppies from above.

Personal activities

  • I started my second term on the Board of Directors of the Open Source Initiative. Three more years!
  • With Debian, we took further steps with GSoC and Outreachy.
  • I attended my second bug squashing party. Yay, Debian!
  • I spoke at FOSS North and Linux Fest Northwest.
  • There was an OSI board phone call.

Professional activities

  • Wrapped up work at the FSF!
  • Started at the GNOME Foundation as the Strategic Initiatives Manager!
  • Attended and tables at Linux Fest Northwest on behalf of GNOME.
  • Failed to determine if I want to pronounce the “g” in GNOME.