Geek Empowerment - The Real Heart of Open Source


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As delivered at Linuxfest Northwest 2014. Open Source has succeeded in so many ways. But is it in danger of losing its greatest single value: empowering geeks to be more than just obedient coders?

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Geek Empowerment - The Real Heart of Open Source

  1. 1. Linuxfest Northwest 2014 Geek Empowerment: The Real Heart of Open Source --- Russell Pavlicek Xen Project Evangelist
  2. 2. About the Old, Fat Geek up front... ● Linux user since 1995; became a Linux advocate immediately ● Delivered many early talks on Open Source Advocacy ● Former Open Source columnist for Infoworld, Processor magazines ● Former weekly panelist on “The Linux Show” ● Wrote one of the first books on Open Source: Embracing Insanity: Open Source Software Development ● 30 years in the industry; 20+ years in software services consulting ● Currently Evangelist for the Xen Project (employed by Citrix) ● Over 50 FOSS talks delivered; over 150 FOSS pieces published
  3. 3. Open Source: Success... or Failure? ● Open Source drives the world! – The Internet breathes Open Source air ● Web servers, mail servers, app servers, etc. ● Silent benefactor of the Y2K insanity – So many companies tapped out budgets with Y2K, yet needed Web technologies – Sysadmins improvised with low cost, high quality FOSS solutions which often ran on scrap hardware – But it wasn't always this way...
  4. 4. 1990s: The Fight for Legitimacy ● In the 1990s, everyone wanted legitimacy – Constantly ignored by analysts, trade media, C-level mangement – Open Source was dismissed as “hacker's toys” – Software “written by teenagers in their garages” – Movement was almost 100% volunteer hackers – Passion ran high, code was moving fast, but Free Software / Open Source was not held in high regard at all
  5. 5. Today: Open Source has Legitimacy! ● We are active throughout the IT industry – Trade Media regularly report on Open Source news – C-level Management is acquainted with, if not embracing, the presence of Open Source in the datacenter – Analysts even pay attention – Huge numbers of people are employed creating, using, and supporting Open Source solutions – Open Source is seen as a type of collaborative software development methodology
  6. 6. It's All Good! Or Is It? ● WE WON!!! – We've earned legitimacy – We've gotten jobs – We've gotten respect – We've gotten everything we wanted... Or Did We?
  7. 7. But Are We Forgetting the Heart of FOSS? ● I suggest the Heart of Open Source was never the code itself, but the people – It wasn't primarily a revolution in methodology (although it was that as well), it was a revolution of Geekdom – It was not as much about reinventing software as it was about reinventing US! – Open Source changed the way Geeks saw themselves, and the way the world saw them ● But this lesson is slowly being erased from FOSS...
  8. 8. A Brief History of Geekdom ● Geeks Prior to the FOSS revolution: – We were corporate power tools ● Highly talented, highly skilled ● But others did the deciding about what to do and how ● Executed the plans of Product Management ● “Suggest anything you want... but just do what you're told!” ● Little respect, little self-worth, little bargaining power
  9. 9. Dawn of Geek Fervor and Passion ● The arrival of FOSS brings about a change in the Geek Mind ● My observations from the 1997 Atlanta Linux Showcase – ~500 geeks (mostly of the fat, white, male variety) on a weekend – Cheap hotel, with all the sugar, fat, and caffeine you could stand (read: Wendy's) – Fire in the eyes and the bellies; true passion and enthusiasm ● It wasn't about “a new model of commercial software development” ● It wasn't even about the “Four Freedoms” (sorry RMS) ● It wasn't about employment (just the opposite) ● It was about self-realization and empowerment
  10. 10. Early FOSS: Geeks Unleashed! ● There was no one in the room to say, “No” – Huge step forward in the development of geek power – No longer simply power tools of organizations ● The old corporate restrictions on thoughts and actions were totally gone (e.g., “Mordac the Preventer” from Dilbert) ● Suddenly, Geeks were decision makers ● We did what we thought was right – and the ecosystem would judge if we were right or wrong ● Geeks developed their voice, figuratively and literally – e.g., Miguel de Icaza at Linux Expo in the late 1990s – And me too!
  11. 11. Early FOSS: People Centerstage ● The Code: Incredibly important – It is the output of the work ● The Four Freedoms: Highly important – They enabled the movement ● But the People: We were the story! – We learned to think for ourselves – We learned to speak out for ourselves – We learned to write for ourselves – We became empowered in ways that few Geeks before us ever were – This eventually resulted in economic power as well
  12. 12. Dreams of “The Brass Ring” ● In the 1990s, few folks had a job working with Open Source – Neither as developers, nor as users – People developed code nights and weekends, on their own time – Getting a job working with Open Source was “the brass ring” ● A dream more than a goal ● People who were paid to work with Open Source were held in awe; they almost had an “aura” around them – But even their positions were tenuous – There were no truly stable Linux vendors
  13. 13. Today: The “Brass Ring” Achieved! ● Most Open Source conferences I've attended in the past year have been populated by people paid to create, use, or support Open Source ● Open Source has legitimacy in the marketplace – Few are the scoffers compared to the old days – Even Barad-dûr in Redmond is less ominous than it once was
  14. 14. “Brass Ring” or “Brass Handcuffs?” ● But have the jobs left the most important part behind? – Have we sacrificed empowerment for jobs? – Does your job allow you to make Open Source decisions? – Does your job allow you to contribute as you see fit? – Does your job force you to be a corporate voice in Open Source at the cost of your own voice? – Are you once again a Corporate Power Tool, even while working on Open Source?
  15. 15. The Rise of “Fake Open Source” ● There's something new in the world: software which has an Open Source license, but NOT an Open Source mindset! – Frequently created the old, closed source way and then thrown over the wall to consumers – No organic community formed – No empowered geeks – Open Source is “just a job” like any other traditional closed source software job
  16. 16. Fearful Questions Arise ● Is Success Killing Open Source? – Do the new people understand the history of the movement? – Do they have the passion of their predecessors? – Do they understand what it is to do FOSS as individuals? – Is FOSS “just a job” to the new folks? ● If they lost their job today, would they do FOSS tomorrow? ● When they participate, are they using their own thoughts, or merely parroting the positions of their employers?
  17. 17. What I Have Witnessed Recently ● I have been to about a dozen Open Source conferences in the past year ● My cohorts from 10+ years ago are noticeably absent – Open Source today is driven by a new crowd – Many are identified by the corporations they represent ● Enthusiasm seems solid, even if the people are relatively new and most have FOSS-related jobs ● Unfortunately, most seem to only have a sketchy knowledge of FOSS history ● Not sure if they know what it is to work on their own time ● If these people represent “the cream of the crop,” what of the rest?
  18. 18. What of the Rest Indeed? ● I've asked people at conferences if they would continue working with FOSS if their job went away, and most have said “Yes” – But a few have said “No” – And people who attend conferences frequently can be far more driven than those who do not attend ● What if these others are just “doing a job?” If their opinion belongs to those paying their paycheck? If they don't really care about Open Source? ● Can these transform Open Source into just another commercial software development model?
  19. 19. Open Source Can Lose Its Way! Unless...
  20. 20. We Must Teach Empowerment! ● We who care must take it upon ourselves to teach those in our locus of influence ● It's not about lecturing, brow-beating, or criticizing others – It's about informing them about the history, the passion, the purpose – It's about lighting the fire under people; getting them to discover the personal freedom and self-realization of Open Source for themselves – It's about the people; software of the people, by the people, for the people – Start by telling YOUR STORY of Open Source!
  21. 21. Your Assignment: Let Others Know ● If the spirit of Open Source is to survive and thrive it takes YOU to get involved and teach what you know – In the world today, the truth is rare – and powerful; speak it! ● It's not academic; it's about letting passion flow out of you – Passion trumps Powerpoint any day! ● If you have a heart for Open Source, share it ● In Open Source, participation is key – Can be developer, user, writer, thinker, noise-maker... – It is about people working with people for the good of people – Stand up!
  22. 22. Thank you! I appreciate your time and attention! Twitter: @RCPavlicek Do me a favor and visit: And please remember my Xen Project Security talk tomorrow!
  23. 23. My Story: How We Got Here ● Observations from my personal perspective
  24. 24. One Geek's Open Source Journey ● 1995: Linux meets a simple need for me – and changes everything! ● 1997: My first conference – 1997 Atlanta Linux Showcase ● 1999: Big time at LinuxWorld Conference and Expo ● -2002: The suits take over the party ● 2004: Working for a start-up which was a Open Source consumer ● 2009: Purgatory ● 2013: Redemption: The Xen Project – The key question arises: In an era when many people are paid to work with Open Source, has the heart of the movement been lost?
  25. 25. The Beginning: A Unix-like OS ● 1995: Linux was the answer to my need for Unix training – I was a Linux advocate before I ever used the software (somewhat prophetically) – Using it to solve problems brought about my epiphany ● Everyone knew PCs sucked – They could do one thing at a time, and do it badly ● But then I used Linux and it made the PC behave like a “real” operating system ● Epiphany: PCs suck only because the software sucks! ● 1997: Open Source became my passion – See the Atlanta Linux Showcase slide
  26. 26. Transition: Legitimacy ...and Suits ● 1999: The first IT Analysts see FOSS in the datacenter's future – Until this, FOSS was seen as “fringe” with no Enterprise future – A huge breakthrough in the struggle for legitimacy – FOSS shows sprout everywhere; LinuxWorld Conference and Expo becomes the mindshare leader ● ~2002: Suits begin to take center stage – It's all about business, “booth babes”, and swag – Suddenly, we are guests at our own party... and we don't know the hosts
  27. 27. And Then The Darkness... ● Like many in the movement, I signed on to a startup company working with Open Source – But it didn't produce Open Source (despite efforts to the contrary) – My participation in the community eventually dried up ● After the 2008 banking crisis, the company's runway shrank from 11.5 months to 3 weeks – Assets, including “human-compatible liveware,” (to borrow a phrase from Dilbert) sold to an old-school software company ● A place where FOSS was feared and loathed
  28. 28. The Light Once Again Dawns... ● 2013: Xen Project Evangelist – The job I had been searching for over a decade – Citrix pays the bills, but my goals are all Xen Project – Xen Project is the premier FOSS hypervisor ● Used by Amazon, Rackspace (public cloud), Verizon, ... ● 10th anniversary last year ● One year ago, Xen Project became a Linux Foundation Collaborative Project
  29. 29. But FOSS World Has Changed! ● Attending the event where Xen Project officially became a Linux Foundation Collaborative Project in April 2013: – The majority of attendees had the “brass ring”: their day jobs involved Open Source – People were often identified by the company they worked for – Much fewer were working nights and weekends on Open Source – Many of my cohorts from 10-15 years ago were noticeably absent ● There's a new crowd taking center stage ● And there's a need to educate them by telling our own Open Source stories