Erynn Petersen

73 points
United States

Executive Director at The Outercurve Foundation. Member of the Board of Directors at Girl Develop It.

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Thanks for the feedback, Hans. The beauty of search engines is that they often pick up and disseminate blog posts from one site and expose them as results to other people looking for posts on the same topic. It seems that that has happened in this case as well, and people who are interested in the topic had found this post, too. I appreciate your interest and engagement with the post.

It's an interesting problem. There are many careers- law, medicine, software development- where long hours are put in by people looking to contribute to high profile, high pressure projects. Software development isn't an exception in the range of high paying careers. Where software engineering is an exception relative to law and medicine is in the percentage of women who stay in the field post-degree. You make an interesting point in suggesting that working in a company is demanding; having people, men and women, contribute their skills to open source projects while on breaks, sabbaticals, or lighter professional cycles gives people an opportunity to step out of the confines of working in a professional development role and still keep their skills sharp.

Taking part in software development by contributing to open source projects can offer flexibility that generally can't be matched by companies who are developing projects under tight deadlines and clear remits using conventional software development practices. Large software companies and projects are different beasts, and require alignment against everything from sales forecasts to marketing deadlines, leaving less room for flexibility in who contributes what code and documentation when. Open source projects have more latitude in when/whether to accept contributions, and can accept code from contributors without the requirement of being employeed by and committed to workign 40 hrs/week on the project.

Even these large companies though create time and room for employees to make contributions to open source projects. The level of engagement from large software companies against open source projects is quite high, and it's a misunderstanding to view companies as binary OSS or non-OSS companies. Companies develop products, and products are built with code, and I'm hard pressed to think of even one tech company that uses no open source code today.

Looking for ways to encourage people to engage on open source projects broadens the health of the overall industry; one health indicator of any open source project is the number of people involved in making commits and contributions, and if the efforts to engage more contributors on any project are successful in bringing in more people overall, bringing more women to the table is a good ancillary benefit. At the very least it makes it more fun to go to a conference or show up at a hack and see more women there to hang out with. That in and of itself is a problem worth tackling and solving for.