Open Source Community leader, Lori Lorusso, joined the Open at Intel podcast to share some valuable tips on improving communication, getting the word out, and capturing that special sauce that helps open source projects find success.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for brevity and clarity.
Lori, you and I are involved in marketing for open source community foundations and we have both been around a minute or two in the open source world.
I used to be an engineer and I have worn both technical and non-technical hats, but in all of my roles, there has been an element of marketing and I think that's important to keep in mind, especially when you are working on a public-facing open source project out in the community. Maybe it's a fledgling project, a project in the sandbox stage, or maybe it's something you're really trying to build up support for, and in those cases, everybody becomes a marketer. Why is it important for developers, open source project contributors, and maintainers to think about adopting that marketing mindset?
First, marketing is not a four-letter word for developers. I think it gets a bad rap. People say, “I don't want to be marketed to,” but, at the end of the day, marketing is communication and I think the best form of communication is knowing your audience, figuring out what they're looking for, and how you solve that pain point. So, I think everyone needs to adopt sort of a marketing mindset, whether you have a fledgling project or you're trying to sell your boss on letting you start an open source project or start a project in general. You really need to know what the value proposition is, and you need to know your the audience that you're trying to target so that you can make them aware of why something is important.
First, everybody, whether they like it or not, participates in marketing on some level every single day with persuasive communication. For example, if you want to get something through or get to the finish line, you have to get people moving. If there is something that you are looking to do or a goal you are looking to achieve, you need to know the people that you're trying to pitch to. Also, who are your advocates? Who are the people that are going to help you get to the finish line?
If you can't effectively communicate what you're trying to do in your own community, to your own network, then you're really by yourself. And how is that going to get you from sandbox to moving forward or to project completion? How do you get investors, contributors, more community activity, or even getting a talk accepted? So, I think everyone should avoid the stigma that marketing is bad and realize it is one of the tools in our toolset that we need to be successful.
I appreciate that you are a former engineer. I am not. I am a marketing person and I think the reason I've been successful specifically in this landscape is because people are afraid to do things they don't know how to do. Yes, they can write tons of code, but can they effectively tell people what it does? And myMy job with the OpenSSF* (Open Source Security Foundation), CDF (Continuous Delivery Foundation), CNCF* (Cloud Native Computing Foundation), or any of the foundations out there anywhere that will let me have a seat at the table, is to help. Let's create some pathways forward that make things easier.
If you can communicate with me and I can help you effectively communicate with other people, then we're winning and we're all in this mindset of success and marketing is part of that.
Those organizations are lucky to have you because you bring a valuable perspective. Could you tell us a little bit about your movement in things like the CDF and the CNCF?
Sure. Both the CDF and the CNCF are under the Linux Foundation*. The CNCF is the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. Yes, it's a mouthful, but it's pretty awesome. They have over 170 projects right now, and their goal is to make cloud native technologies ubiquitous. They want everyone to know the cloud is not a scary place to be and that there are many benefits to using the cloud. It is creating and supporting projects that make working in the cloud space better, faster, easier, and more productive for developers and companies alike. The CDF was born out of the CNCF and is focused on continuous delivery, pipelines, delivering speed and security, and creating reference architecture and different pathways for companies to move forward with things like pipeline models, adding security to make sure that when you deploy, you're not deploying malicious software, recalling things, and fixing things along the way. CNCF is cloud native and the CDF is specifically focused on continuous delivery.
I was very happy and fortunate to be the chair of CDCon this year and we were talking during our keynote. Christian asked me how I got involved in open source and I said, “It's very simple. I was voluntold.” I was voluntold to go sit in on this marketing committee meeting with the CDF or the CNCF. We're part of these foundations. We don't know what our benefits are or how this is working, so just sit in on a meeting and see what you think.
So I said, “Yeah, I'll do it!” And what I realized is, the most amazing thing about being a marketing person that sits on a committee in a foundation is that in marketing it's cutthroat. There is always somebody younger, faster, better. There's Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok.
So there is all this competition, but when you sit on a committee in a vendor-neutral organization, everybody's goal is to make projects successful. And we're all working together collaboratively and sharing insider secrets. Oh my gosh. Yes, please, give me more of this.
It's amazing. And then the more I learned about what it's like to be an open source developer, the more passionate I became to help. We are all working toward the same sort of goals and objectives in different ways, creating projects, creating the magic and the spice to make people's lives better. Of course I want to be a part of that, and of course I want to lend whatever I can to make that happen for an organization. I enjoy thinking about how we can make things work and how can I help, and finding out what areas people are vested in that they feel like they can win with. For example, if documentation is your thing, let's transition some of your documentation into shorter blog posts that will lead into the documentation.
So, I was voluntold and then I got really excited to work with a bunch of professionals from all walks of life, from all different sized companies, from all different types of projects that are working collaboratively together to see others succeed. It's a pretty positive place to be, and the more the merrier.
That's the great thing about the open source world. I've talked to so many people recently who are involved in the CNCF and working in the cloud native space in projects like Kubernetes. And I every time I like to talk about how absolutely overwhelming the cloud native landscape is, and how demystifying that is a challenge.
It's funny that you mentioned that. I'm very fortunate that I'm working with Jorge Castro at the Linux Foundation. One of his jobs is to clean that up. For those of you who don't know, there's a cloud native landscape web site where you see all of these icons in all different boxes with information about vendors and projects. So, one of the things that he is working on is to clean up the landscape itself to try to categorize things in a way that's more user-friendly, specifically from an outsider's standpoint.
Within the CNCF marketing committee, we created a subcommittee called the Projects Working Group, which helps projects market themselves. I think the hard part is when the CNCF grew, it grew so large, so fast, and people really jumped on cloud native. From the outside looking in, there doesn't seem to be an easy path forward. There seem to be lots of different paths forward, so one of the things the CNCF is trying to do is to create these easy pathways to make sure companies can really drill down into what they need and find what they need within the CNCF and the projects that they support. Is it overwhelming? Yes. Is there a mission to make cloud native ubiquitous? Yes. Is that a very strange and large mission statement? Yes. So the one thing I can recommend is just to know that it's going to take some time to make your way through the website to try to find what you need. Also know that there are so many communication channels out there for you to have an advocate or an ally to help you on your journey. There's the CNCF Slack* channel, mailing lists, listservs you can join as a member. You can join as an individual. You can join the Slack channel without having either one of those. Because it's so large and because there are so many options, I would say the number one thing you can do is jump in that Slack channel and just ask a question.
I love it. That's the first step and getting over the impostor syndrome and the fear of getting out there in the open. When you first get started and want to participate, you must get over the fear of hitting that pull request button or, sending that e-mail, or commenting in Slack. There is a little bit of a fear, but you have to jump in. Everybody started somewhere.
Everybody started somewhere and just to the point about jumping in and not being afraid, I've never felt so welcomed as an outsider as I have in the open source community. Going to a conference, the hallway tracks, going on the Slack channels, posting things on Twitter, and following people commenting on LinkedIn posts and things like that gives the “warm fuzzies.”
When I gave my first talk, I was practicing with my colleague, and I had a line where I was challenging like, “I challenge you to do this,” and my colleague looked at me and she said, “Lori, no, that's wrong.” And this goes back to marketing in a marketing mindset and knowing your audience. I thought I was challenging people to get out there and to do this thing. All they had to do was join the Slack Channel like it was a challenge. I thought it was great. Now, I come from an athletic background, and we were always challenged. “One more mile!” My colleague said, “Lori, this is open source. People want to be encouraged. They want to be collaborative. I understand your meaning and what you want but you need to change the way that you're saying it to not alienate an audience.” And it was the best feedback, and I've shared it so many times with other people who are just trying to get their feet wet into open source as well.
We don't challenge, we encourage. We share.
About the Author
Katherine Druckman, an Intel Open Source Evangelist, is a host of podcasts Open at Intel, Reality 2.0 and FLOSS Weekly. A security and privacy advocate, software engineer, and former digital director of Linux Journal, she's a long-time champion of open source and open standards.