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Q&A: John Mertic, director of program management for The Linux Foundation

Duncan MacRae

,

Linux

The Linux Foundation’s John Mertic discusses how open source technologies and communities are going from strength to strength.

What do you think have been the most important developments in open source recently?

While there have been a number of important developments in open source over the last year, the stand out moments are definitely Microsoft acquiring GitHub and IBM acquiring Red Hat for a total $40 billion (£30.31 billion), demonstrating the economic importance of open source.

The Linux Foundation Foundation recently launched CommunityBridge. Could you tell us about that and why it’s been created?

One of the biggest challenges open source projects face is sustainability. Questions like how can a project grow it’s contributor base? How can a project improve diversity? How can the quality and security of the codebase be improved? Or how can the project have the funds to pay for the needed infrastructure to keep development moving forward have plagued the community for some time? The Linux Foundation has taken these questions seriously and is delivering CommunityBridge, a platform that enables projects to achieve sustainability with ease, allowing more developers to get connected and to create a pipeline for the mentoring of new open source developers. CommunityBridge is a resource to aid the development of the maintainers of the future and empower projects to use crowdfunding to raise money for core project operations.

You’ve been heavily involved with Linux Foundation project OPDi, which has helped accelerate open source innovation and transform industries. What do you think makes that project so unique?

ODPi, the vendor-neutral open source foundation, is committed to being a home for big data open source projects that are crucial for the growth of those technologies in the enterprise. It’s unique in that it focuses on nurturing projects that bring together a diversity of constituents – not just developers, but also vendors, solution providers, practitioners, and data professionals. Only when all parts of the community openly collaborate can the community truly build solutions that meet the challenges facing the enterprise today.

In what ways do you think open source communities have evolved over the years?

Open source has always had the ‘scratch your own itch’ mantra, which has brought numerous ideas and solutions forward and has created billions of dollars of R&D for the benefit of our society. In the early days of open source – the primary participant and contributor was the individual, often working nights and weekends for free on projects that he/she was passionate about. Today, that hard work has been recognised and funded by large organisations either employing these developers or directly funding their work.

Some might look at this as the loss of innocence of open source, but in reality it has been the vehicle for individuals, with diverse backgrounds, to be recognised for the value of their work.

How can we encourage more collaboration within open source communities?

Very simply, we can encourage more collaboration within open source communities by improving community sustainability, diversity and adopting and adhering to a strong code of conduct.

Historically, there hasn’t been a great deal of diversity (in terms of geography, gender etc) when it comes to open source contributors. What is being done to change this and what else do you think the tech community can do to help?

Efforts like CommunityBridge, the increased focus on diversity scholarships from groups like the Linux Foundation, and frankly a conscious effort to address the issue head on. To highlight the roles of women and minorities in open source and encourage them to share their experiences and to mentor and encourage others. We are seeing every medium to large open source project taking diversity seriously as an element of increasing sustainability.

What would you say to companies that are thinking about switching to open source tech as part of their infrastructure, but are unsure if it’s right for them?

As I touched on with ODPi, open source brings together a diversity of constituents and viewpoints, that enables faster problem solving with better outcomes.  In an open source environment an organisation is not just dealing with one vendor and, because of that, they have a greater influence on the software supply chain, which enhances outcomes and strengthens the organisation. In addition, open source requires a forward thinking mindset and social consciousness.

  • John Mertic will be giving a talk on March 21 at Edinburgh’s Data Summit, titled ‘AI is Everywhere and Data is King – Thank You Open Source!’ For more info, visit: https://www.datafest.global/data-summit
  • For more industry insight from experienced tech leaders, join us on the 30th of May at Digit Leader 2019 – Scotland’s third annual IT and digital leadership summit.

Duncan MacRae

Editor

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