The value of open source is the open development process

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Scott Wilson agrees that open source matters because of open code, but just as important is the process in which the code is made. Open development of code is in the social nature of many programmers, hackers, documentors, and project managers. So, what is it about open development?

Find out what developing and working in the open is like for Scott Wilson in this Community Spotlight.

The Basics

  • Name: Scott Wilson
  • username: Scott Wilson
  • Location: Manchester, United Kingdom
  • Occupation/Employer/Position: Service Manager for OSS Watch, VP Apache Software Foundation, maintainer for HtmlCleaner
  • Open source connection: I worked on the Apache Incubator, thanks to a lot of help from Ross Gardler when he was at OSS Watch. (Now, I'm at OSS Watch and Ross is the President of Apache!)
  • Favorite open source tool or application: GPGTools
  • Favorite topic: Education

Open up to us.

I live in Manchester in the UK, though a lot of the time I work at the University of Oxford where I'm one of the OSS Watch team. OSS Watch is part of the IT Services department at Oxford, but is also engaged in outreach to both academia and private sector around all things open source, but especially gnarly topics like community development, governance, and procurement.

I drifted into software more or less by accident. I studied forensic psychology and criminology and wanted to be a journalist, but my first graduate job was writing manuals for criminal investigation software! It was a slippery slope from there on really.

When it comes to open source in particular, it actually started for me through working on open standards. I worked (and still work, a bit) for CETIS, which represents UK universities and colleges on various standards initiatives such as W3C, and open source is a good way to build reference implementations for new standards.

Currently, I'm involved in quite a few open source projects, but the main ones are Apache Wookie and HtmlCleaner. Wookie is an implementation of the W3 Widgets spec, and is an ASF top level project; I'm the PMC chair so I have to deal with all the governance requirements that come from having a project at ASF. HtmlCleaner is a library for, well, cleaning up HTML! I took over as maintainer after the original author wanted to move onto other things. So thats my "reboot" project, and one of the things I love about it is all the positive feedback I get from the user community.

OSS Watch also provides training on community development and governance topics, which means I've also worked with the Apereo foundation and the TYPO3 association, and hopefully others in the future.

What open tools and data help you get things done, and how do they help you?

I'm very pragmatic about the tools I use, and some people do a bit of a double take when I do a talk on free and open source software, and I'm there with PowerPoint on a Mac! I'm starting to use OpenOffice more these days though. (When my kids are doing school projects I'm helping them use OpenOffice for their writing and presentations, though I end up having to turn it into PDFs for the teachers—we really need more open source in schools!

A lot of my work is around evaluation, so I find tools like the website really useful when looking into the data about the health of a project. One of the big things about open source is that all this data around the project is open for analysis, so you can inspect how the project works, the tempo and diversity and so on. Thats something I'd like to see more enterprises really make use of, which is why I wrote an article about how to use these things.

For development I tend to use Eclipse if its Java, otherwise I'm quite happy with text editors when messing around with JavaScript. I also love using GitHub, though neither of the main projects I work on use it, so its just for my "fun" projects really. For our website we use Jekyll, which is a great tool if you want to do some content management but hate web forms!

What do you wish were more open?

The area in IT where we most struggle to get openness embedded is in administrative systems, and there is so much bad software there in need of rewriting!

I'd love to see a really fantastic open source university administration platform. Kuali is doing well in the US, but every country is different so its not straightforward to port these things. Also, financials and HR are plagued with lots of clunky and expensive legacy systems, and I'm sure there could be a role for FOSS there. If just a portion of the energy that goes into building new open source web frameworks and other "cool" stuff could be channelled into these more "boring" areas I think it could make a huge difference. Hadoop and OpenStack are great examples of open source projects being massive in the enterprise, so it can be done.

What are the biggest challenges to openness that you encounter, either at work or in your life?

I think to some extent you can live in a FOSS "bubble" and not notice there are so many areas of work and life where it just isn't part of the culture. I've mentioned schools and administration already, but there are lots of situations where open source just doesn't enter the conversation. The barriers there are the proprietary incumbents and how that is then reinforced in the mindset of those who work in those environments, and that then influences things like procurement processes and software policies.

I think the challenge is to open up these places to open source culture. We've seen some great progress in areas like government and healthcare in recent years, and it would be great if in every sphere of work, and in every application of technology there was an open option that people were willing to consider on an equal basis.

Why choose the open source way?

Given how much our lives are affected by technology, its important to be able to direct and shape it, and to be able to take control of the tools you use. Open source is not just about the code, its about the social processes involved in building technology, which is why I'm interested in areas like governance and community development. So for me, the open source way is as much about an open development process that encourages participation and how that can be applied in all kinds of other areas not just in software.

Jen leads a team of community managers for the Digital Communities team at Red Hat. She lives in Raleigh with her husband and daughters, June and Jewel.

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