Learning at All Things Open
“Everyone here is empowered to be the ambassador for open source.”
– Ben Balter in his talk “Software development as a civic service”
Last week I had the opportunity to attend All Things Open in Raleigh, NC. I returned home energized and inspired, and ready to find a way to contribute. It was great being surrounded by more than 1,000 people who believe they can change the world, and feeling like I had a place at the table.
As a first (if small) step, I wanted to share some of the highlights for me and things that I found particularly interesting.
Culture is important, but it may not be what you think it is
Culture is a big selling point for many companies, and there is often a focus on fun perks as differentiators – rock walls, beer kegs in the company kitchen, ping pong tables, etc. What I found interesting about Pamela Vickers’ talk titled “Your Company Culture is “Awesome” (But is company culture a lie?)” ( is that she highlighted that what really seems to matter isn’t necessarily the shiny fun perks, but the underlying values that drive people to work somewhere. She referenced Martin Seligman’s PERMA acronym: Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement,” and discussed how positive emotions usually come from from meaningful, engaging work (there was a lot of letter math – her slides are available if you want to take a look).
Focusing on good communication, appropriate tools or resources (including possible timelines), and interesting and engaging projects that have value are what drive a good company culture. While these will be different at each company, how a company defines these points sets a foundation to build their culture on. And maintaining a culture is work; it’s something that needs to be actively cultivated, rather than defined once in a mission statement and calling it done.
If there can be rock walls or ping pong tables on top of the other stuff that really matters, well that’s icing on the cake.
When there’s real conversation, panels are excellent!
On Thursday, there was a gender diversity panel that featured honest conversation about women in technology. The panel included DeLisa Alexander (host), Dr. Megan Squire, Elizabeth K. Joseph, Erica Stanley, Estelle Weyl, and Karen M. Sandler. Others have done a better job at highlighting the panel (see Jen Wike Huger’s blog post), but I wanted to share two points that I personally found interesting:
I believe it was Elizabeth Joseph who brought up that women in technology often get funneled into diversity efforts (this is not a bad thing!). As women’s careers in the technology field progress, contributing to “women-in-tech efforts” (for lack of a better label) can become more prominent, but this then creates a new demand on an already limited resource: time. There is then the choice on how to spend time and effort: on the technical work that (presumably) originally drew women to the field or working on efforts to bring more women into tech and level playing field. Both roles – technical and community development – are necessary. We need more women in tech and tech needs to be a better place for women to be, but being there also means the opportunity to do cool, technical work. I find it interesting that simply by being a woman in the field, it becomes an additional role you must choose whether to participate in.
In addition to choices made once in the field, Erica Stanley talked about choices that lead to getting into the field in the first place. I really liked her observation that for many women (not all), the path into a technology career is much more zig zagged for women than it is for men. In her experience, many of the women in technology that she knows have followed a non-linear trajectory into technology.
Walking the Walk – Open is inclusive
The ATO organizers packed a ton into a two-day event, and these thoughts are just the tip of the iceberg. The socials provided a great opportunity to meet so many new people, and the talks stretched my mind and broadened my perspective (links to the talks I attended below). My best advice for truly appreciating ATO: attend next year, October 18-20. It’s already on my calendar.
Talks I attended:
Ben Balter – Software Development as a Civic Service
Jeffrey Hammond -Open Source by the Numbers
Arfon Smith – What Academia Can Learn from Open Source
Leslie Hawthorn – What Does Big Data Really Mean For Your Business?
Bob Young – So You Want to Start an Open Source Company?
Steven Vaughan-Nichols – Open Source, Marketing, and Using the Press
Panel: the Culture of Open Source
Erin Richey – Bringing Design Thinking to Open Source
Pamela Vickers – Your Company Culture is Awesome (But is Company Culture a Lie?)