Robin Ginn, Executive Director of the OpenJS Foundation, and Paula Paul, NearForm Field CTO, discuss inclusion and diversity in open source
Welcome to NearForm’s fireside chat series where we discuss a variety of topics important to technologists and developers with interesting panelists. In today’s chat NearForm Staff Developer Relations Engineer, Cody Zuschlag, discusses the importance of inclusion and diversity in open source with our panelists.
Below you will find a transcript of the chat with links to relevant topics that were discussed in the panel.
Inclusion and Diversity in Open Source:
We’re here to record another Fireside Chat.
Today. I’m joined by Robin Ginn from the OpenJS Foundation and Paula Paul from NearForm, and we’re going to talk about some really interesting topics related to the OpenJS Foundation about women, non-binary, underrepresented communities in tech, how people can get involved. There’s so much to see, so much to learn and hear in this talk. So stick around to the end of the video.
In the end, like I said, we’re going to talk a little bit about how you can get involved. So thanks for being here. Let’s get started. Start the show.
Great, welcome everyone. Welcome back. And so excited to be here with Robin Ginn from the OpenJS Foundation and Paula Paul from NearForm, but I know that’s just the surface because both of you have really rich backgrounds. So I’m really excited to learn more about both of you, the OpenJS Foundation and some of the other things happening right now.
I thought maybe we could just do a quick little round table. Everyone could introduce themselves, who you are, obviously we know that already, what you’re working on and maybe a fun fact or something. No pressure. Keep that really light.
So I’m Cody Zuschlag. I’ll start it off. I’m a staff developer relations engineer at NearForm. And fun fact about me, I used to write firmware for robotics, and I did that for a couple years and we used to move motors around. It’s the one time in my 15-year career where I actually got to use calculus at work. So all the math instructors should be pretty excited about that. So Robin, just real briefly, tell us a little bit about you.
Yeah, I’m Robin Ginn, executive director of the OpenJS Foundation. It’s been about three years. Prior to that, I spent most of my career at Microsoft helping the company be more open back when it was hard. I think it’s easier now, probably. Yeah, fun fact, I’m a big bootcamper, so you may see weights behind me. I was too tired to move them this morning after lifting. But anyhow, that keeps me healthy and cuts down my stress, not that I have any stress.
I love that. I love that. I love bootcamp and I love working out because spending all day in my chair here, I have to go do that and I love that. Yeah, the bootcamp, go do it and do it strong. I love that. Paula, real quick, tell us a little bit about you.
Sure. So I am Paula Paul. I’m a field CTO with NearForm, and then I am also the sponsor of the developer relations team or the DX team. So I’m Cody’s boss, no pressure. And then I am also really, really happy this year to serve Robin and the board at the OpenJSF. And fun fact about me is I always carry this little punch card around. It is a punch card from when I worked at IBM and I do little selfies with people at the Grace Hopper Conference and every year more and more people are like, what is that? It’s like that’s a line of code. So that’s my fun fact.
Ooh, I love that. I love that because I learned about punch cards in university, but I wonder if the latest generation has any idea what that is. Oh, that is a good fun fact.
That’s so cool. I never got a punch card with you last year.
Oh, we have to do a selfie.
I think I’m planning a meetup right now where we can do a…
We can do a virtual.
…all do a selfie with a punch card. So OpenJS Foundation. Robin, tell us a little bit about what is the OpenJS Foundation? What’s their mandate? What’s their objectives? Yeah, pretend that we don’t know nothing about OpenJS Foundation, that’d be a great place to start.
And so you’ve been at the foundation since the beginning?
I was their first Executive Director, yeah. There was a period where the two organizations came together and then I came on as the first Executive Director. We have about 40 projects from Node.js, jQuery, webpack, Appium, Electron, a lot of fan favorites.
Yeah. A lot of big names in there. So the Node.js project is one of the projects under the OpenJS Foundation. Oh, that’s amazing. So what does the OpenJS Foundation do for these projects? Why would a project want to be a part of that foundation and what’s gained by the projects when they’re in there?
Well, our job is really to keep projects trustworthy and modern with a huge user base. And we of course have these great open source developers who come together and build great projects, but you need a whole lot of other things to make a project successful.
So think about us as if you were at a big company or any size company, we’re sort of like the product team around that. So everything from legal to protect your IP and your brand, marketing, developer advocacy. We help any money that needs to be managed. We do events, all those things. So anything that the project needs, we host their infrastructure for example as well.
Ooh, that sounds really important. Especially when I’m thinking about, I guess, Node.js is a big open source project, but some of these are maybe smaller, they have smaller teams and like I said, those are some of the things that may be hard for a small group of devs or passionate folks, it’s hard to run a project.
I think that’s one of the things that people don’t understand when we write software. There’s so much more than just writing code. There’s, like you said, the product level and the project level stuff that comes along with it.
So Paula, how do you know Robin and how do you know the OpenJS Foundation?
That’s a great question. I feel like I’ve met Robin recently, but we’ve run in the same circles for many years because I also worked at Microsoft in the day. And then from an open source perspective, it’s a journey that I’ve been going on for many years.
I tell the story that when I joined IBM in the early 80s, I had to take antitrust training because they were bundling software with hardware and software was not open. And then we had to learn in our antitrust how IBM now had to price the cost of software into the product and that software was a real thing. So through the Microsoft years and Robin you’ll know a lot of those years where things were not easy.
And then more lately, I did a different kind of bootcamp. I did Ruby on Rails and I went into the whole open source community and then I found Grace Hopper, which I’ve been a speaker there multiple times. And then it was really fun that Robin and I were at Grace Hopper together this year. So I feel a little bit like our careers had parallels and they finally intersected. And it’s really been something that’s made me so happy because it is, like you said, software is about so much more than the code.
Ooh, I love that. Because a lot of times we don’t think about all the work that goes into those things and the people behind all that to make this amazing technology that runs our modern lives today. I love that.
So you mentioned the Grace Hopper. So what is the Grace Hopper? You both mentioned that, so I’m really curious, what is it for folks who don’t know already? Sorry, I should probably say who I’m going to point the question to. I’ll start with you Robin, because I understand you were there too this year.
Yeah, well, we were happy to participate from the OpenJS Foundation. Paula’s on the leadership team at AnitaB, which puts on the Grace Hopper conference, but it’s a conference for women and non-binary folks of all types.
It was amazing. 30,000 people. 15,000 in person, 15,000 virtual. And really for me growing up in tech, you just walk in and get the goosebumps because it’s just unreal. Even from the time I boarded the flight in Seattle to Orlando, it was just amazing and really unprecedented for me for a first time attendee. So really inspiring. Yeah.
Oh wow, that sounds like an amazing conference. And actually I got to see Paula’s slides before she presented and I was already blown away by how amazing this was going to be and it looked like an amazing event. So Paula, what is AnitaB for folks that don’t know?
So Anita Borg was a woman that started this whole movement and it was originally just someone that was like, I’d like to get together with some of the women in tech and have lunch. And then it grew from 500 people at a conference to 10,000 to 30,000.
So it’s the largest gathering of women and non-binary and just underrepresented groups in technology. So it’s a wonderful event, it’s got one of the best vibes. I used to say that the Grace Hopper celebration was the very best tech conference from a vibe. And then I actually went to my first Nodeconf in Europe and I would say they’re very similar vibes. It’s just everyone’s happy to be there, you’re always a welcome speaker.
And then the particular event that is a passion of mine is Open Source Day and they host an Open Source Day. It used to be part of the conference. This year, it was the day before, kind of like the Collab Summit for Node.
And we get all these women and underrepresented groups in to work on open source. And it is a passion of mine as part of my service to the OpenJSF to try to increase the diversity of open source contributors. So maybe from there I’ll toss it to Robin because I know we’re talking about maybe next year doing something even more for Open Source Day.
Yeah, well, hopefully we’ll do more. We had the Node Project, the Node.js project hosted a hackathon. I think we were expecting maybe 75 people would sign up for the hackathon because you had to be all prepared and ready. And there was a number of other wonderful open source projects. I think we had 300 sign up in the first 24 hours.
But then the folks from the Node Technical Steering Committee were great. Danielle Adams and Franzie and Rich Trot, they really pulled everything together. We had a great group, lots of successful pull requests over those couple of days. So we are really pleased. So next year we’re hoping to do more in partnership with the Linux Foundation and get more open source projects involved in addition to Node.js because it really demonstrated a great way to grow that pipeline.
Yeah, get more involvement. So women, non-binary or just underrepresented groups in general, this is the theme of the Grace Hopper, AnitaB. So this is such an important topic because I’ve worked in tech for 15 years. So I mean, we can see that this is something that needs to be improved.
So what other kind of work needs to be done? Moving forward, what can we do to have a more diverse tech community? Because we all like to talk about it. When I’ve applied to speak at conferences, they’ll ask those questions, but there’s so much more to do. And I’m curious, Paula, if you have some ideas, what’s some of the things that are still left to do to make it a more inclusive place for all groups?
I mean I’m a little long in the tooth because I went to work as a programmer at IBM in the early 80s, and my first manager was a person of color and I was on the new devs, the junior devs team, but the manager of the A-team devs was a woman. And so my skip level was also a woman.
So IBM actually in that time period had a push and it’s just gone through a cycle. That was in the early 80s and then the late 80s Silicon Valley came in and there’s a lot of writing about this.
So I think that the best thing that we can all do now, we are starting to come back up that hill, and it’s about people. It’s not about technology. And I encourage everyone to look at your LinkedIn connections, look at your Twitter followers, your Insta, all your social media, and say, who am I following? Who am I connected to? And if you’re only connected to people like yourself, your impact on helping us become more diverse in this field is going to be limited. And even in hiring practices, people refer their friends.
If you don’t have friends who are not like you, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you do want to help, I think that just expanding our own personal networks is a good step that everyone can take.
I love that. And actually you told me that directly when I go to conferences, go look for the people who don’t look like me and go talk to them. Let’s focus in on those folks, because we want more diversity in tech in general.
At NearForm where we both work, we’d love to have some more diversity. Everywhere, right? That’s going to just make things better. And we all know, diversity brings great ideas and helps us think outside the box. Robin, do you have anything to add about what kind of things people can do to encourage more under represented groups in tech in general?
Yeah, when I started at the Foundation, there was a board ready set and we had 0% diversity. Now we have 40%. And I would love to take credit for that.
I mean, I think representation does matter, I have seen when I mentor early career women that they want to go work for engineering orgs, for example, that are led by women. But it really was the result of direct outreach by everybody at the Foundation to bring in a diverse set of leaders. And so credit to all those folks, men, women, non-binary folks who did that.
So as Paula said, check your LinkedIn, check the people you work with in your old hallway, now virtual and invite them in. We’d love to have them.
I feel like the conference community is making a good effort around that because I do feel like when I go to conferences, yeah, maybe they’re still unrepresented communities, but I feel like that’s always the code of conduct and people are encouraged to network and try to think outside the box a little bit and go approach those people who don’t look like you. And I think that’s such a great part of the conference circuit, if I can put it that way.
So to wrap things up, I’m really curious, if people want to get involved in any projects run by the OpenJS Foundation or maybe in the OpenJS Foundation themselves, Robin, can you give us some ideas how people can get involved?
Yeah. And first of all, you can get involved with any skillset, whatever your passion is, whether you are a developer or you love to convene folks for events or you have a great legal and policy mind, marketers, we need everybody to make these projects successful.
On our website, on the collaboration tab openjsf.org/collaboration, you’ll find our public calendar, an invitation to join the Slack channel. That’s a great thing. And everyone’s invited. We have a YouTube channel if you want to see what our meetings are like. We’re radically transparent. We broadcast all of our meetings live on YouTube.
That’s awesome. So cool. So Paula, any last words for people wanting to get involved in tech and open source? What’s any advice from you?
Connect. Yeah, just reach out. We’re on LinkedIn, the OpenJSf website. Just connect. There’s always room and everyone’s welcome.
I love that, and I love that idea of being welcome. And Robin, I love what you said about you don’t have to just be like someone who writes code, right? There’s so many roles and you could just be a people person. You could be a designer, you could just be curious and have ideas and yeah, there’s so many roles to be filled in tech that doesn’t require actual tech skills. So I love that.
Thank you both so much for being here. This was a really interesting conversation for me and I’m really looking forward to some of the amazing things coming from OpenJS Foundation. So have a great day and I look forward to seeing both of you soon and hoping to take a selfie with the punch card very soon.
Great. Thanks a lot and thanks NearForm.