The Opportunity of Open Source to Create Opportunities for Others
GitLab sponsored this podcast.
Open source volunteering is a great way to gain work experience and make a name for yourself in certain tech circles. But having time and money to do work for free is an indisputable privilege. That’s why, while the tech industry as a whole is about 23% women, open source is at about 4%. And that’s just one of at least ten important ways to measure diversity, equity and inclusion.
In this episode of The New Stack Makers podcast, we sit down with Christina Hupy, GitLab’s senior education program manager, and Nuritzi Sanchez, GitLab’s senior open source program manager to discuss the ups and downs of inclusion in the open source world, how you can best leverage the career opportunities of open source, and most importantly, how open source communities can open themselves up more to better foster those opportunities. We discuss this all, not only within the context of traditional enterprise settings, but at universities and in prisons.
Much of both Hupy and Sanchez’s time is spent with the broader community of GitLab users. And it’s part of their job to bring external feedback inside the company. So they may be more prepared than most to answer the essential question: What does a better open source community look like?
Sanchez harkens open source sustainability, not only of the project but its people. This involves making sure people are able to contribute to open source while still paying the bills. It’s also about protecting contributors from burnout.
A core value at Gitlab is iterating on the smallest viable change. This carries over to the way they bring more people on board as they try to lower the barrier to entry in open source. This includes welcoming contributions beyond engineering that leverage diverse skillsets.
Hupy adds that it’s important to leverage open source to increase diversity in the tech talent pipeline. This includes lowering the barrier to contribute, particularly not requiring a four-year degree, which often doesn’t even reflect industry needs.
The GitLab education program provides its software to 1.62 million students around the world so they can learn how to build with and collaborate over DevOps, Git, and end-to-end open source, which adds some of the more softer skills to resumes and CVs.
Outreachy is certainly a wonderful, paid internship program open to all under-represented in tech. And not just for engineers but also for folks in translation or design or even coaching. But Hupy mentioned that even Outreachy has an arduous and often unclear application process, while the biggest tech-backed enterprises provide mentorship and training for how to apply to their companies.
“For open source, the whole philosophy so far has been: [if] you wanna do it, you have to come in and make it happen,” said Hupy. “There’s not as much mentorship as there has been for other things. I think that’s one way where we can really start making progress — developing more mentorship programs and really focusing on building relationships with people in really under-represented communities.”
Hupy went on to warn that we all tend to bring in more people who are like us and we need to make sure to leverage existing communities like the AnitaB foundation. And to take the open source relationship-building past chats, mailing lists and boards.
Part of Sanchez’s job is to connect across different organizations and then advocate change within GitLab. This included reaching out to more countries and (pre-pandemic) targeting Latin America and Africa with core contributor in-person conferences.
“I really see GitLab as a platform that enables cross-functional team collaboration, making it easy for people organizing open source events,” said Sanchez.
One of the most exciting employee-driven initiatives we talk about on this episode is GitLab’s work with The Last Mile, which prepares incarcerated people for re-entry with business and tech training.
As Hupy said, “With open source, it’s all about making that smallest possible change to get started. And, particularly, removing the barrier to entry to start and making it easier for people to contribute” — no matter where they are.”