The Hacking Open Source Business Podcast

Nithya Ruff from Amazon on Building Successful Open Source Businesses - EP. 24

April 12, 2023 Matt Yonkovit & Avi Press Season 1 Episode 24
The Hacking Open Source Business Podcast
Nithya Ruff from Amazon on Building Successful Open Source Businesses - EP. 24
Show Notes Transcript

Join us on Ep. 24 of The Hacking Open Source Business Podcast features Nithya Ruff, the Head of Amazon's Open Source Program Office, discussing various aspects of open source with hosts Avi Press and Matt Yonkovit. They cover topics such as the challenges facing open source today, evaluating new open source projects, the importance of Open Source Program Offices (OSPOs) for startups, building successful and sustainable open source businesses, reducing friction for developers, open source diversity, managing diverse talent and competing ideals in open source governance, and Nithya Ruff's role as Chair of the Linux Foundation Board. Throughout the episode, Nithya emphasizes the importance of community building, listening to the community, and maintaining the freedom of the open source definition.

What you'll find in this episode:

00:00 - Getting to Know Nithya Ruff! 
10:28 - What size companies should start thinking about an OSPO?
15:37 - What are the key metrics or KPI's for an OSPO?
18:34 -  How many open source project does the team contribute to in a year?
19:57 - How do you manage contributions across hundreds or even thousands of projects?
22:04 - What does being a good open source citizen look like?
24:37 - Dealing with complex, sometimes competing points of view, and motivations in open source.
28:18 - Role at the Linux Foundation.
31:15 - What are some of the big challenges the open source community faces? 
33:33 - Are there criteria the LF looks for in projects before getting involved?
37:06 - What should we be excited about in the coming years?

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Getting to Know Nithya Ruff! 

Matt Yonkovit: All right. Hello everyone. Welcome to another Hacking Open Source business podcast. I'm one of your hosts, Matt Yaakov, once again joined by AVI Press. And today we're joined by Nithya Ruff from AWS Nithya. How you doing today? Hey, 

Nithya Ruff: good. Um, really good to be here, like, I think two miles away from where you live.

Uh, and what a nice day here in 

Matt Yonkovit: North Carolina. Yeah, yeah. We're, we're enjoying the nice weather while it snows where Avi is, but he's going to ski, so he likes the 

Avi Press: snow. So I'm, I'm, I'm okay with it, in this case, , but it's making, driving 

Matt Yonkovit: very challenging, so Nithya. We like to start with what we call rapid fire questions.

And rapid fire questions just is to get to know you where I ask some number between 10 and 173 questions, um, to get answers from you. Um, and they could range from all kinds of odd topics to just the mundane. So, uh, let's get started with those rapid fire questions and don't fret. There's only potentially 173 of them

So, [00:01:00] uh, the first, yeah, . The first one is, I know that you attend a lot of conferences, um, and you have spoken at a lot of conferences, including keynotes. Um, so the question is, when they say, what music would you like us to play? When you walk up to the stage, what music would you choose? 

Nithya Ruff: Gosh. Um, I would say some sort of an Indian, uh, Bollywood dance music maybe.

Okay. And dancing. Uh, that, that would be pretty cool. I haven't done that yet, so I, I do need to advise my next keynote per person. . 

Matt Yonkovit: Yes. This would be awesome. I wanna see that. Yes. That, that's great. And if you do come up with an actual, like, You pick a song, let us know. We're coming up with a playlist because we ask this to everybody

And so we want the playlist of guests and we'll just make this great, you know, playlist for everybody to listen to. 

Nithya Ruff: In fact, there's a song that's making its rounds on TikTok, uh, where everybody's dancing to it, uh, grandmothers and kids, and [00:02:00] you know, everybody around the world. and I'm learning that dance.

I, I need to do that sometime before a keynote . Ooh. 

Matt Yonkovit: Oh, that sounds awesome. That sounds great. Yes. Yeah. So you know that, that, that's great. As you walk up, you give your keynote, you're done. There's people who wanna talk to you. So that means that afterwards people are gonna, you know, ask you, Hey, can we grab something to drink?

Can we go somewhere? What's the drink of choice after our. 

Nithya Ruff: Gosh, sparkling water. Sparkling water. It's fine. I, I really like this Elderflower lemonade that I picked up at Whole Foods recently. It's delicious. 

Avi Press: That sounds lovely. Yeah. Oh, yes, 

Matt Yonkovit: it does. It does . It 

Nithya Ruff: does now 

Matt Yonkovit: it's, it's, Hey, that's fine. . Uh, so if, if you are out to dinner with someone, what is the go-to food for you?

Like, what do you generally look for? Like, Ooh, that sounds good. I always try and get, fill in the. 

Nithya Ruff: You know, I'm vegetarian. Uh, so wherever we go, uh, I [00:03:00] look for good vegetarian food. Ethiopian is awfully delicious from a vegetarian perspective. Indian food, of course. Um, Mexican, um, middle Eastern, all of them ha celebrate vegetarian food, so I, I love that.

So any of those would be good choices. 

Matt Yonkovit: Okay, great. Well, so shifting gear to actually, you know, maybe a little bit of open source stuff. What is the first open source program you used? 

Nithya Ruff: I, I wouldn't talk about a program as much as a project that I was most closely associated with. Sure. Uh, I would say the Yocto Project, which is an embedded Linux distribution builder, custom Linux distribution builder, was one of the first projects that I was deeply involved in, you know, right from creating it.

At Wind River, Intel, and then open sourcing it and then building community around it at the Linux Foundation as I was part of the, uh, you know, the board. And I was, uh, part of the evangelism and advisory and [00:04:00] I, and we still use Yotta today, uh, at Amazon, at Comcast, at, you know, all over the world. So I love the fact that I was associated with that.


Matt Yonkovit: cool. Now being on the the board of the Linux Foundation, as well as being an OSPO and heading up an open source program office, you must have a favorite license. 

Nithya Ruff: Everybody's favorite today is, um, Apache 2.0. 

Matt Yonkovit: Okay, well there you go. Apache 2.0. That's fine. That's great. Yeah. You know, uh, I mean some people are old school and go G P L.

Um, I don't think anybody likes the A G P L, but you know, Hey, it's thumbs down. Oh, thumbs down. Yeah. Avi and I have argued about ag, 

Avi Press: but a wave of relief because we use Apache two as well. So validation , 

Matt Yonkovit: it's not. Yeah. Yeah. So, um, what book do you recommend to people who are trying to get into open source?

Nithya Ruff: Uh, 

Avi Press: gosh, [00:05:00] she 

Matt Yonkovit: has it right there. She has the book in front of her. Look at that. It's, it's serendipitous. 

Nithya Ruff: Cause I refer to it all the time, especially chapter 19, which I wrote and say, what did I say about os suppose? Right? And, and, yes. But, but more importantly, I'm a huge fan of Amanda Brock, who is the editor of this.

Amanda is a force of nature. You know, she, uh, recently had the state of open source conference, but she's a superb job of collecting 25 of the most experienced, the most, you know, knowledgeable people on the planet. On open source and she's written this book, which includes everything from law to policy to practice.

I particularly focus on practice of open source, and so I would say this is a great book to have right by your, you know, desk. And it's not something that, uh, you would read back to back. I would use it as a reference. 

Matt Yonkovit: Absolutely. And when, when we talk about the OSPO side of things in [00:06:00] a minute, nth, you actually wrote the chapter, um, in the book on it, so, you know, like talk about like literally the go-to.

Yes. Literally. Yes. Um, . Yeah. So I do have a really important question that I'm hoping you can help me out with. You know, um, I, I need to pick a restaurant. I always have trouble picking restaurants in Raleigh. Gotta take the wife somewhere tomorrow. Where, where's your favorite restaurant? Where should I go?


Nithya Ruff: you know, uh, one of my favorite restaurants lately, and it's pretty close to us, Matt, in the north part of Raleigh is the Chini Food Emporium, and it's in the Falls of News type of area. Okay. And she was recently, the chef is a good friend of mine and she was recently, Uh, a semi-finalist for the James Beard Award, so I think you can go along there.

Matt Yonkovit: Okay. Well, I'm gonna have to check that out. So you, you might have saved me tomorrow from having to pick where we're going to dinner plus, so we 

Avi Press: may have to go there again for all things open when I come out there. 

Nithya Ruff: good drinks. [00:07:00] Uh, also a little shopping area inside the emporium. So while are you waiting for food, you can go shop for a cookbook or a, and you know, things like that.


Matt Yonkovit: Awesome. Ah, well thank you. I appreciate that. I do, I do . 

What is an OSPO? and what do they do?

Matt Yonkovit: But let's get down to some business here. We, we wanted to talk to you a little bit about the OSPO role. One of the things that we're trying to do is help companies build out, um, successful, sustainable, open source businesses, projects. And part of that is talking a little bit about, you know, um, how do you manage the open source side of things, because a lot of people are starting in the open source space.

Maybe they have a. Maybe they're starting to get a little successful. Maybe they're growing. Some contributors, they're like, I think I can make a commercial offer and I think I can do something with this. But they often don't know the next steps. So, um, you know, I, I, I've seen many people define the term OSPO differently.

Um, some people it's very compliance related, other people it's contributor related, other people, it's evangelists. Um, [00:08:00] it's a little bit of everything. Uh, maybe share your view of what an OSPO does in some of the pros cons. 

Nithya Ruff: I think os supposes can be different things to different companies because different, uh, companies have different requirements from the business perspective.

This is my third OSPO that I'm running, and in each OSPO the requirement was different. Right. How does open source fit into your company and what's the role of open source in your company and some companies, It's all about compliance. Uh, they want to make sure that, uh, they are respecting the license and, uh, making sure that you know, the, the developers know what the policy is and use the right licenses, et cetera.

And in some companies it starts with compliance, but goes way beyond that. Uh, it goes to evangelization, it goes to education. The, the developers inside the company. It goes to sponsorship and engagement with communities that the company cares about. [00:09:00] Uh, to be honest, a perfect OSPO, or a well-rounded Osco, in my mind, does all of those things, right?

I call it, uh, the six Cs of os PPOs, you know, it, it does communication, consumption, contribution. Community compliance and the sixth one is community. Uh, unless I used it before, but, but really, 

Matt Yonkovit: um, it's OK. Community can be used twice because it's so important. , exactly. 

Nithya Ruff: Exactly. So that must have been a Freudian answer, a good step.

Um, so I, I would say, uh, you've got to do all of this. You know, most companies start off consuming, then you have to put compliance and policy in order. Then people start contributing. So you have to put policies around contribution and encourage contribution. Then we start releasing and start building communities around the projects we release.

And then you really need to. uplift, uh, the community, right? With your engagement, you should share how you're doing things, [00:10:00] best practices, um, participate in governance and boards, and, uh, participate in community and, and do what's needed in the community to sustain it. So I would say that to me is leadership and a few companies do it well.

Um, red Hat comes to mind. You know, they've the, they kind of. In all of these places. Um, and, and we, we are on our journey to do all of that as well. 

What size companies should start thinking about an OSPO?

Avi Press: I have a, a probably dumb question to, to jump in with. Um, I, a lot of people in our audience, I think are, you know, building startups and are much more on the small company side of things and why, when I hear a lot of the, you know, the functions that you're saying and OSPO has, it sounds like things that on smaller teams are often very distributed kind of throughout the whole company.

Um, What size of of scale do you think does an OSPO really start to become an important thing where you actually kind of centralize a lot of that work to one team, uh, versus kind of keeping that something that the whole [00:11:00] company has to think about? Um, when, when is the right stage for the OSPO to really become, um, an important piece?

Nithya Ruff: I think when your legal team gets overwhelmed with the number of developers contacting them and ques and asking questions and saying, can I use this? Can I contribute this? Can I do this? And then that was kind of the tipping point at a previous company I was at where the legal team said Enough already.

Uh, I think engineering, you need to own this. You need to have someone who acts as, uh, a developer advocate, works with developers, educates them, you know, works on questions before they come to us. Um, and that's also kind of a stage where companies say, you know, this is really broad spread and it's being used everywhere, and we better put a policy in place.

We better have consistent practices and it's wasting too much time of our developers. To do, uh, you know, all trying to research the same thing. Trying to do the same thing. [00:12:00] So I would say, um, gosh, it, it varies from company to company in terms of their consumption. Right. But I, I, I agree with you that even small OPOs can easily, sorry, small companies should have someone.

Designated as the go-to person for, you know, questions on open source and should have kind of a rudimentary policy in place and should have good hygiene around open source compliance and, and consumption and strategy and things like that. 

Matt Yonkovit: I think we do ob AVI. Like, you know, I think, you know, to answer your question, I think a lot of people end up being accidental OSPOs. Yes. Who are unintentional, right? I mean, they're, every company that I've worked with, you know, size and, and no, there's somebody who is like, oh yeah, they're the open source expert. You know, maybe it's the head of engineering, maybe it's the derell person, maybe it's someone, but they end up being that deciding factor.

Um, although what's interesting is, uh, nithy, you said something. Um, at a [00:13:00] lot of small companies, nobody asks the lawyers for permission. They ask for forgiveness later, in many cases. Yes. Um, so, so that, that function sometimes goes over, you know, overlooked for a while until somebody decides, oh, we need to look into this.

What are we using here? Are we, do we have any risk? Um, but yeah, so I think there's a lot of accidental os. 

Nithya Ruff: Definitely, and, and it's usually the, the, the guy or gal who seems to know, you know, a little bit about open source and licenses and dabbles in it or goes to conferences and stuff and people say, yeah, you seem to know a lot about open source.

So you can, you kind of become our expert, but on the serious side, It's important for startups to have, uh, good hygiene around open source licensing because, you know, often startups are acquisition targets for companies, and one of the due diligence that every company does is to make sure that they're not introducing any risk, uh, in ac [00:14:00] the, uh, AC acquisition.

And, you know, you, you need to have your stuff all in in order. 

Matt Yonkovit: If I could take a small little tangent, and this is just off the cuff of my head, just based on you saying that is one of the things that has been coming up lately is with that kind of hygiene, which I a hundred percent agree with that, you know, somebody needs to look out for it because there is risk, and it's not just risk from a license perspective, there's also risk from a security perspective and knowing what is, you know, potentially vulnerable.

But the introduction of AI and AI coding tools introduces a weird nuance to. Where the providence of certain code may not be known if somebody's using one of these tools. Now, I don't know if you have any thoughts on that, and you could just say, no, I don't really at this time, and we can move on, but I thought I'd bring it up because it's, it's an interesting topic.

Nithya Ruff: It is an interesting topic and I have no thoughts right now on it. Okay. I'm still on it. 

Matt Yonkovit: Yeah, it's a tough one. 

Avi Press: Yeah. I literally [00:15:00] just got that question today from someone on our team about like, what is our policy on this? And I had to say, we're gonna have to get back on that. . It's really hard question.

It's a tough question. Yeah, 

Nithya Ruff: it's precisely Avi. I think it's, it is. It is too early and it is not ready for primetime. Is my quest, my answer right now? 

Matt Yonkovit: Yeah, I, I think there's gonna be a lot of nuance down the road that we're gonna have to deal with. Maybe that's some of that cleanup that we've gotta do later on.

Nithya Ruff: Yep. Yeah. Yeah. Or we need to go, hurry, decide how we are going to treat this. Yeah. 

Matt Yonkovit: Yeah. 

What are the key metrics or KPI's for an OSPO?

Avi Press: I guess on, on another note on this podcast, we always love to dig into things related to metrics. Matt has his metrics hat on, um, as someone, you know, running, uh, an OSPO, you know, presumably one of the biggest, I I imagine.

Um, what, what kinds of things are you looking at when it comes to measuring the outcomes that, um, that, that you're opo brings? What, what, what, what, what does your [00:16:00] dashboard look like? What are the KPIs, 

Nithya Ruff: you know, some of the biggest dashboards, so, so. Our whole job as an opo and I'm part of the Amazon Software Builder Experience organization.

Our whole job is to make, uh, building software at Amazon a really delightful experience and reduce all of the friction and the toil and the, you know, difficulties that builders experience with tools and other friction and open source compliance. Open source questions can introduce, uh, you know, friction and slowness, right?

And it disrupts your flow. So one of the big, big metrics that I look at is how can we reduce, uh, the tickets that developers have to file in order to get approval of licenses. that should be auto approved and we should really kind of automate it in, in our build and flow systems so that developers don't have to be disrupted there.

And then we are also looking [00:17:00] at how can we simplify and auto approve simple contributions, simple releases, uh, simple distributions so that they never have to come and file a ticket and spend weeks with us, you know, trying to get everything approved. So our answer is how can. Get developers to really. Go off and innovate without, you know, speed bumps.

That's one big metric. And then my colleague on the marketing side, David Nelly and team, uh, often measure things like the health of projects that we host, health of projects that we contribute to, and we are dependent upon. They spend a lot of time supporting, uh, developers on GitHub, uh, sponsors and, you know, they give a lot of cloud credit, so they keep track of a lot of those kinds of things.

How engaged are we? How are we working in community? What projects do we want to support and help, and [00:18:00] things of that nature. But I would say both sides. We, we kind of look. 

Matt Yonkovit: And so, you know, just for the sake of the audience, when you talk about your colleague, you're focused a lot on the internal and the engineering side.

They're focused more on the marketing awareness community, external side. Correct? 

Nithya Ruff: Correct. So there's an example of an OSPO, you know, where we have, uh, two big groups that are working very, very tightly together, uh, to cover both sides of the coin. Uh, that's. 

How many open source project does the team contribute to in a year?

Matt Yonkovit: Okay, and out of curiosity, Ballpark, you know, like how many open source projects are you, do you end up contributing to in a year?

Like just ballpark number. 

Nithya Ruff: I can't even keep track of it. I think we contribute a lot of projects just because we consume a lot. Uh, you know, we, uh, it's, it's so foundational to how we build and how we, uh, innovate in the company [00:19:00] and also the services that we. , um, provide, right? We do a lot of managed services of open source projects like Kubernetes and uh, uh, airflow and Apache airflow and things of that nature.

So we definitely contribute to those projects. And then, uh, there are also projects like Open J d K that we contribute to, or rust, which we contribute to. Um, then we've open sourced, you know, projects like Bottle Rocket and firecracker, and. Of course, uh, open search, uh, which we support. Um, so, so there's a ton of activity happening all the time from a scale, uh, from, you know, when I was at Comcast, we, we were doing maybe, you know, 50, 60 projects or so.

Um, but here, I would say in the hundreds or thousands maybe, I, I, we don't keep track of it.

How do you manage contributions accross 100's or event 1000's of projects?

Matt Yonkovit: I mean, that's, that's tough though. Like with, with that many, [00:20:00] just managing that I is, is a challenge in and of itself. Um, but you know, working with those external communities, that's also adds a nuance because it's not just about, Here's a PR, and then you forget about it. There's more than that because just because the PR submitted upstream doesn't mean it will get accepted.

And even if it does get accepted, doesn't mean it's in a release that you can use. So there's a lot of nuance and a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to make those happen. 

Nithya Ruff: Yes. And, and, and to be honest, our builders are, we call developers builders inside the company because they build things for our customers and, um, they really are at the forefront of all this.

So the Postgres, uh, SQL l team, you know, work very closely with the upstream community. The Kubernetes services team works very closely with the Kubernetes community, container D and and so on and so forth. So we just provide. The guidance to [00:21:00] them and, and, you know, smooth down the approvals and, you know, resolve all of those.

We do, um, do consulting work with the, with the organization. You know, they'll have a question on should we or should we not do this? Or how should we do this? Or how do we build community here? Uh, or how do we engage with this community here? And we, we definitely get involved there because, Between David's team and my team, we have a lot of people who have been in open source for decades, like Spot, you know, uh, Tom Calloway or Rich Bowen, or David Nelly or myself or Henry Yandel.

So there's just so many great people, uh, who've been involved with Apache or, uh, with the Linux Foundation, et cetera. So we do a lot of work to. Um, what I call is help teams be good citizens in open source and do the right thing. So we just want to make sure that doing the right thing is built [00:22:00] into the operations and the fabric of how we work.

What does being a good open source citizen look like?

Avi Press: Hmm. That's very interesting. I guess, I mean, this is really like a broad question, but I'm curious, like to Amazon, what does that actually mean to be a good open source citizen? I've, I've, I've seen people try to take swings at defining that and it's very hard to do, so I'm curious how you think about that at Amazon.

Nithya Ruff: I think it's a work in progress for everyone, right? It, because open source is so diverse and every community is different. Every situation is. Um, so we, all we can do is respect the norms of that community and that, uh, that organization and do our best to help them with whatever they need, if they need, uh, contributions, if they need money, if they need.

Uh, you know, a maintainer, uh, kind of work. Uh, we try to do that and, and all companies, and I, I've run three, I suppose we all have to balance doing good with also [00:23:00] making sense from, uh, an investment perspective, right? Uh, I'm sure you have to, uh, say, what is the impact and how do I justify this investment and am I doing the right level of investment in this?

So, so we go through those questions all the. 

Matt Yonkovit: Yeah, I think it's, what's interesting is many people don't consider how much of a vested interest large companies, whether it's Amazon or Comcast we you have been or other enterprises have in the success of these open source projects because they need them to be successful.

So it's not just about code contributions and, you know, donations or sponsorships. Um, it's also about trying to make sure that they have a healthy ecosystem. And that's why in a lot of cases, You'll see, you know, whether it's Amazon or Microsoft or Google or any of these larger corporations, they'll be at these conferences, even smaller conferences, and they'll have a presence there.

Um, and, and it's something that I think a lot of people take for granted, that there is a vested interest in, you know, the success of these open source projects. 

Nithya Ruff: E, E, [00:24:00] exactly right, Matt. I mean, all of us want to see open source succeed. We want to see it being sustained because more than ever we are dependent upon open source.

It is the foundation of a lot of our tech stacks and, and we need to make sure that, uh, it is sustained and successful. The degree to which you, you do, that varies and, and, uh, it's, it's, it's I think an ongoing journey to, uh, articulate why you need to do that better and better inside a company and make the business case for why we need to do.

Dealing with complex, sometimes competing points of views, and motivations in open source

Matt Yonkovit: Now what's interesting is these larger organizations, but even smaller ones, you bring in such diverse talent and such, you know, people from coming from different backgrounds, different expectations, and not all of them understand open source or necessarily have the same goals in mind, right? So you could have pressure to monetize something, you can have pressure to really open source something that maybe might not make sense, like [00:25:00] so you have pressures on both sides, and part of that, Organization and governance is managing the complexities of competing, you know, um, ideals, cultures, clashes, you know, uh, and how, how do you do that?

Because with a team as large as Amazon's engineering team, a team as large as the builders, you have to have a lot of people who just think differently. 

Nithya Ruff: Yes. And yeah, and you probably, uh, have a, a really wide variety of, uh, you know, reasons and motivations, right, for what they want to do. Um, I think we bring together, uh, a lot of different functions to make those decisions.

So if someone is trying to say, release a project, Um, we, we try to do the due diligence of, is this right for business? Is there a need for this project in the world? If there are other projects that do similar things, why aren't we contributing it to that project as a feature versus, you [00:26:00] know, starting a brand new project.

Do, are we capable of supporting it once we release it? Are we have we dedicated headcount to making sure that we are not just throwing it over the wall and walking away? And, um, is this the right choice? What is the outcome we are driving? Who's the community that we need to work with? So we, we try to bring together, Uh, the legal side of things, the business side of things.

We as open source program office, we advocate for how to do it right. How to set up the community, right? And then we have the marketing team also join us. So we, we all help these teams think it through, uh, correctly. And, and you know that, that I've. And we've done this at Comcast also, it really helps balance out the thinking.

Um, when you have, uh, people saying, why are we doing this? You know, is it because you want to build a name in open source for yourself? Or is it [00:27:00] because you genuinely see a need there, you know, for this project, 

Matt Yonkovit: Yeah. Yeah, I think a lot of people wanna build the name. A lot of people are looking for the, you know, for, for, for certain outcomes and they don't always align with the organization or, you know, the, the ideals that you might aspire to.

So that, that's always a challenge. 

Nithya Ruff: Yeah. I mean, at the end of the day, um, , even universities have certain norms. Right? Universities have, I suppose I, I sit on the advisory board for r i t and for University of California, um, Santa Cruz, and both of them also have their, um, Policies and norms. So you don't just go contribute anything and everything.

You want to make sure that, uh, it aligns with your, you know, strategies and plans, but it also is supported successfully. The worst case for me is, uh, you know, letting everything and anything go and not [00:28:00] supporting it. I think that's the worst crime than, you know, holding something back.

Matt Yonkovit: So go for it, man. . Okay. Yeah. Uh, I was gonna, I was, I was deferring to Avi letting him ask a question if he wanted, but

Role at the Linux Foundation

Matt Yonkovit: I wanna shift gears a little bit because you also have a prominent role at the Linux Foundation. And tell us a little bit about your role at the Linux Foundation and what you're doing there.

Nithya Ruff: So, um, it was, I think 2016 or 17 that the lf, uh, was looking to build, uh, community representatives on the board. You know, a lot of the seats on the board typically are member companies, right. Are becoming members of the LF at a certain level. Um, but Jim, and you know, the board wanted to invite community members to the board as well.

Uh, so they made about three or four seats available for community members. And so I was [00:29:00] asked to join, uh, and to be a community member. So I do not represent Amazon on the board. I represent the community, open source community, and myself. And I speak, uh, from a community perspective. And so, um, yeah, I joined the board in 2017 and, uh, then I was elected chair of the board in 2019.

So I've been, uh, working as, uh, chair of the board. Um, the LF is, uh, so well funded, staffed, and run, uh, that, you know, the board is not, um, someone who has to. Pinch it and, you know, do a lot of work. I've, I've sat on nonprofit boards where I have to do a lot of work because there's hardly any staff, right? So everybody is volunteering and doing work.

I, I suspect, you know, certain foundations are like that because, Uh, volunteers are, you know, board members and volunteers are doing a lot of the work. I am there to make [00:30:00] sure that, um, the voice of the community is heard, the voice of diversity is heard on the board, uh, to make sure that, um, you know, I. I, I consider myself as, as being kind of a conscience and making sure that we are heading in the right direction, asking tough questions, looking around corners, uh, those kinds of things.

But we have such a fantastic board. Uh, you know, the other folks who sit on the board pro for community are Erica Brachia, Mino, uh, and also Eileen. Um, I forget Eileen's last name. I feel embarrassed. Uh, but Eileen put it in the show notes. , yeah. Yeah. We can put it in the show notes. So we, we have some really good board members and, uh, stormy Peters just recently was elected to the board from, uh, GitHub, and I was very excited to, Be part of the board.

It, it really, uh, attend board [00:31:00] meetings, provide guidance on direction. Um, I do a lot of evangelization work also for the lf, um, which I enjoy doing. Uh, so these are all part of what I do there. 

What are some of the big challenges the open source community faces? 

Avi Press: When it comes to, you know, asking LF the hard questions, um, what do you see as kind of the biggest, um, you know, either directional shifts that you may be advocating for or kind of really hard problems, hard open problems on the horizon that you see?

Like what, what are kind of the thi what are the, those top items to you? 

Nithya Ruff: Uh, I think one of the top items we worked on was how can we mentor and open doors for, you know, new people into open source. Um, and LF had already been trying to do some of those things, but we started doing that more systematically in conferences, uh, making sure we had code of conducts.

Uh, there's a Linux kernel mentorship program. [00:32:00] Uh, so those were, that was very, very important to me. And then really kind of looking. Um, growth strategies, right? Should be, or should we not, uh, host a certain project. Um, and, and you know, one are the common questions that often comes up is, is the LF too big?

Are we taking on too many things? Um, . But it's interesting that because the LF was very successful in doing things, uh, a lot of companies and a lot of, uh, organizations come to them and say, can you please host this? Because you're good at marketing, you're good at, uh, you know, uh, the IP and the legal side, and, and you provide, uh, a lot of opportunities for.

Others to collaborate here. Um, and, and I'm glad that there are many models in the industry. There's everything from software Freedom Conservancy to Apache, to Eclipse, to lf to, uh, so [00:33:00] it's, it, it's, it's, uh, it serves the needs of the community. I think lots of different, uh, ways to host and, um, you know, manage open source communities.

The other I would say is, you know, Listening to the voice of the community and, um, cuz we, you know, one of our stakeholders is member companies and so we also need to look at and balance it with, Developers who contribute to our projects and and engaging developers and respecting, you know, what they bring to the table.

Are there criteria the LF looks for in projects before getting involved?

Matt Yonkovit: So I'm gonna ask a question. Can we, can maybe we can peek behind the LF board curtain or the LF curtain just a little bit and, and ask the question, when you are considering a new project, are there certain criteria that generally are looked at? Are there things people should be aware of? Like, oh, make sure you have these types of things, or these are the types of, um, areas we're really focused.

Nithya Ruff: I think the CNCF and others have done a good job of saying, [00:34:00] Hey, uh, you know, if you want to come into the sandbox, you need to demonstrate that. You've already done good work on building community, that this is a project that, you know, people want to contribute to, that there is a healthy community behind it and, uh, maintainer, et cetera.

So I think those are all really good criteria because you don't want to just, uh, shift something there because, um, you know, you no longer have a need for it. Um, so, and Mike Dolan and his team do a really good job of looking at all the other criteria that, that they take into account before hosting it.

They also provide a lot of different ways to host it. You can do it. , you know, without cost, without raising any money or charging for it to a member supported model to, you can be a part of a, a larger sub foundation like the cncf, which has lots and lots of projects around it, right? Oh yeah. [00:35:00] So there are, they, they kind of provide a lot of different models for, uh, people to, uh, participate.

Matt Yonkovit: Yeah, I think that's one of those things that, you know, again, we'll go back to the metrics you think, I, I just, I wonder if like, you know, companies trying to submit or they're like, here's our pitch deck to get in. You know, like they, they've got like all the metrics laid out, like look at our growth rates, you know, uh, slack numbers and prs and contributors and, you know, it's, it's, it's like that, that kind of pitch to, you know, make it up to the big leagues.

Um, I I, I'm not sure if they're, uh, they're doing that or not, but, uh, that is impress. They have to, I, I 

Nithya Ruff: think if you look at a position. I remember submitting two projects at Comcast. We had to show, uh, all of those types of metrics to show that these projects deserve to be, you know, part of the sandbox.

And I think they then have criteria for getting out of the sandbox into, you know, fully graduated projects and stuff. And the Apache Foundation also has similar criteria. Eclipse does too. Which, which is exactly the right thing. You know, you [00:36:00] don't want to just, uh, dump and run. Right. You want to know that the maintainer will come over and will continue to, um, you know, maintain this project and not just say, I'm moving it to the LF so that some, you know, others can take care of this problem for me.


Matt Yonkovit: Yeah. Right. I, I underst. And I 

Avi Press: imagine with, um, with all the work that the LF is doing with the Lfx Insights platform too, I think it seems like it's kind of going in this broader direction of just more. Data driven decision making, I guess at the foundation level, which is very cool to see. 

Matt Yonkovit: Yeah, 

Nithya Ruff: so cause members need certain metrics and then the person running the project is an executive director needs metrics and developers want metrics.

So I, I like the fact that it, it is a foundation as a service, so to speak. Right. And it gives you a chance to. Do all of the things you need to do in a project. Uh, you need to [00:37:00] communicate, you need to host the project. You need to raise money and marketing and so on and so forth. Yeah. 

What should we be exctied about in the coming years?

Matt Yonkovit: So, I know we're almost outta time here, but I'm hoping we have, uh, a, a chance to get this one last question out there.

And it is the crystal ball question. It's the thing that everybody always asks, you know, um, and it's nithy you're looking into your crystal ball, is, is there something that you're really excited about in the open source space over the next year? And maybe something that worries you a little bit that you think we need to get ahead of, or maybe pay closer attention.

Nithya Ruff: I am, I'm such a, an optimistic person about open source. I think open source is goodness and it, we continue to mature it, uh, as, as you know, part of the community. Um, I. I'm really excited about how Africa and other countries are coming on board, uh, and becoming, you know, contributors and, and frankly changing their lives as a result of, uh, [00:38:00] becoming a part of open source.

There's this young woman, Ruth, uh, who stays in touch with me on LinkedIn and Twitter, and she just joined Uria as a consultant. Oh, wow. Okay. Started two, three years ago as attending a conference in Africa and then starting to contribute to a project and becoming part of a mentorship. And, and so it's wonderful to see how it's changing lives and, uh, like that, be more of that.

Awesome, awesome. Uh, things I worry about. Um, I, I think we really need to protect and preserve the open source definition and make sure that, uh, you know, we are preserving the freedoms of open source and not just, Uh, modifying it and changing it, uh, as we think fit. Granted, I'm not someone who's a traditionalist who says, you know, this cannot ever [00:39:00] change.

We have to change with times. But the freedoms of open source is what makes it successful. And, uh, I would hate to see us, uh, modify that or play with. 

Matt Yonkovit: Indeed. Well, Lithia, I wanna thank you for hanging out with us today for chatting a little bit, telling us a little bit about the lf, uh, aws, about, um, everything going on in the OSPO space.

We do appreciate your time today. Thank you so much. Thank you. Yep. All right, everybody, don't forget the like, subscribe and follow us. Give us suggestions for new content and new guests. We'd love to hear from you.