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CEO Jim Whitehurst of Red Hat gives open source inspiration
Open source all over the world
After a full day at the annual meeting of the Opensource.com Community Moderators, it was time for the the last item on the agenda which simply said "Special Guest: TBD." Jason Hibbets, project lead and community manager for Opensource.com, stood up and began explaining, "In case it wasn't going to happen, I didn't want to say who it was. Months ago I asked for any dates he'd be in town. I got two, and picked one. This was one day out of three weeks that Jim was in town."
The moderators, in town from all over the world for the All Things Open conference, stirred at the table. Their chairs squeaked and snuck a few inches edgewise.
"We're going to get a half hour to hear from him and take a couple questions," said Jason.
The door opened, and as if it had been waiting for him the whole time, the only vacant seat at the head of the table was soon occupied by a tall fellow.
"How is everyone doing?" said the man. No suit, just a button down shirt and slacks.
The next tallest man in the room, Jeff Mackanic, senior director of Global Awareness at Red Hat, explained that the majority of the Community Moderator team was present today. He asked everyone to quickly introduce themselves.
"Jen Wike Huger. Content Manager for Opensource.com. Happy to have everyone here."
"Marcus Hanwell. Originally from England, I'm now at Kitware. I'm the technology lead on FOSS science software. I work with national labs and use things like Titan Z doing GPU programming. I've worked with Gentoo and KDE. Most of all, I'm passionate about joining FOSS and open science."
"Phil Shapiro. I administrate 28 Linux work stations at a small library in D.C. I consider these folks my coworkers and colleagues. And it's wonderful to know that we can all feed into the energy and share ideas. My main interests are how FOSS intersects with dignity, and enhancing dignity."
"Joshua Holm. I spend most of my time staring at system updates and helping people search for jobs on the Internet."
"Scott Nesbitt: I write for many things, but have been using FOSS for long time. I'm a 'mere mortal' just trying to be more productive, not a sysadmin or programmer. I help people meld FOSS into their business and personal lives."
"You teach courses for the new FOSS Minor then," said Jim. "Very cool."
"Mark Bohannan. I'm with Red Hat Global Public Policy, and I work out of Washington. Like Mel, I spend a good deal of time writing for, or finding folks from, the legal and government channels. I've found an excellent outlet to discuss positive things happening in government."
"Jason Hibbets. I organize the organized chaos here."
The room has a good chuckle.
"I organize this chaos too, you could say," says the brownish-red haired fellow with a gleaming white smile. The laughs grow then quieten. Breaths become baited.
I sat to his left and had a moment to look up from transcribing to glance up. I noticed the hint of a smile behind the knowing eyes of a man who has led the company since January 2008, Jim Whitehurst, president and CEO of Red Hat.
"I have one of the greatest jobs on Earth," began Whitehurst, as he leaned back, crossed his legs, and put his arms behind his head. "I get to lead Red Hat, travel around the world and see what goes on. In my seven years here, the amazing thing about FOSS, and, broadly open innovation, is that it has left the fringe. And now, I would argue, IT is in the same place that FOSS was in its early days. We are seeing FOSS going from an alternative to driving innovation. Our customers are seeing it, too. They're using FOSS not because it is cheaper, but because it provides them with control and innovative solutions. It's a global phenomenon, too. For instance, I was just in India, and discovered that, for them, there were two reasons for embracing of open source: one, access to innovation, and two, the market is somewhat different and wanting full control.”
"The Bombay Stock Exchange wants to own all the source and control it. That is not something you would have heard five years ago in a stock exchange, anywhere. Back then, the early knock on FOSS was that it was creating free copies of things that already existed.' If you look today, virtually everything in big data is happening in FOSS. Almost any new framework, language, and methodology, including mobile (though excluding devices), are all happening first in open source.”
"This is because users have reached size and scale. It's not just Red Hat—it's Google, Amazon, Facebook, and others, they want to solve their own problems, and do it the open source way. And forget licensing—open source is much more than that. We've built a vehicle, and a set of norms. Things like Hadoop, Cassandra, and other tools. Fact is, open source drives innovation. For example, Hadoop was in production before any vendor realized there was a problem of that scale that needed to be solved. They actually have the wherewithal to solve their own problems, and the social tech and principles to do that. "Open source is now the default technology for many categories. This is especially true as the world moves more and more to content importance, such as 3D printing and other physical products that take information content and apply it.”
"We have this cool thing in one area, source code, but it is limited. But there are still many opportunities in different industries. We must ask ourselves, 'What can open source do for education, government, and legal? What are the parallels? And what can other areas learn with us?'"
"There's also the matter of content. Content is now free, and we can invest in more free content, sure. But we need free content that has a business model built around it. That is something that more people should care about. If you believe open innovation is better, then we need more models."
"Education worries me with its fixation on 'content' rather than 'communities.' For example, everywhere I go, I hear university presidents say, 'Wait, education is going to be free?!' The fact that FOSS is free for downstream is great, but the upstream is really powerful. Distributing free courses is great, but we need communities to iterate and make it better. That is something that a lot of different people are doing, and Opensource.com is a place to share what is going on in this space. The question is not so much 'How do we take content?' as it is 'How do you build and distribute it? How do you make sure it is a living thing that gets better, and can morph for different areas?'"
"But the potential to change the world is limitless, and it's amazing how much progress we've already made. Six years ago we were obsessed about defining a mission statement. We started by saying, 'We are the leader,' but that was the wrong word, because it implied control. Active participant didn't quite get it either... Máirín Duffy came up with the word catalyst. And so, we became Red Hat, the company that creates environments to agitate action and catalyze direction.”
"Opensource.com is a catalyst in other areas, and that is what Opensource.com is about. I hope you see yourselves this way, too. The quality of content then, when we started, versus now, is incredible. You can see it getting better every quarter. Thank you for investing your time. Thank you for being catalysts. This is a chance for us all to make the world a better place. And I'd love to hear from you."
I stole a glimpse of everyone at the table: more than a few people had tears in their eyes.
Then, Whitehurst revisits the open education topic of conversation again. "Taking it to an extreme, let's say you have a course about the book Ulysses. Here, you can explore how to crowdsource a model and get people to work together within the course. Well, it's the same with a piece of code: people work together, and the code itself gets better over time."
At this point, I get to have my say. Words like fundamental and possibly irreconcilable came up when discussing the differences between FOSS and academic communities.
Remy: "Retraction is career death." Releasing data or code with your paper could be devastating if you make a mistake. School has always been about avoiding failure and divining 'right answers'. Copying is cheating. Wheels are recreated from scratch ritualistically. In FOSS, you work to fail fastest, but in academia, you invite invalidation."
Nicole: "There are a lot of egos in academia. You need a release manager."
Marcus: "To collaborate, you have to show the bits you don't understand, and that happens behind closed doors. The reward model is all about what you can take credit for. We need to change the reward model. Publish as much as you can. We release eventually, but we want to release early."
Luis: "Make teamwork and sharing a priority. And Red Hat can say that to them more."
Jim: "Is there an active role that companies can play in that?"
Phil Shapiro: "I'm interested in tipping points in FOSS. It drives me nuts that the Fed hasn't switched to LibreOffice. We're not spending tax dollars on software, and certainly shouldn't be spending on word processing or Microsoft Office."
Jim: "We have advocated for that. A lot. Can we do more? That's a valid question. Primarily, we've made progress in the places we have products. We have a solid franchise in government. We are larger per IT spend there than the private sector. Banks and telcos are further along than the government. We've done better in Europe, and I think they have less lobbying dollars at work there, than here. This next generation of computing is almost like a 'do-over'. We are making great progress elsewhere, but it is concerning."
Suddenly, the door to the room opened. Jim turned and nodded towards his executive assistant standing in the doorway; it was time for his next meeting. He uncrossed his legs, leaned forward, and stood. He thanked everyone again for their work and dedication, smiled, and was out the door... leaving us all a bit more inspired.