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Better together: cultivating an open source ecosystem that works for everyone

Josh Simmons
by Josh Simmons
on February 18, 2021

Updated on February 19, 2021

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A photo of Josh working from home: he's bundled in a thick hoodie, wearing headphones, and staring intently at his laptop. FlightRadar24 can be seen on a display in the background, and in the foreground? Pico-cat, a floofy tuxedo cat, sits facing the camera atop his cat tree.Hello, world! My name is Josh, and I’m pleased to introduce myself as one of the newest members of the Tidelift team.

After eight years spent working in institutions, I’m getting back to my roots and helping to build a new one: one that empowers—and pays!—open source maintainers, cultivates healthy projects and communities, and makes navigating and managing the open source software supply chain a breeze.

Tidelift, founded in 2017, is already paying hundreds of maintainers and helping organizations better manage the open source components they use for application development. Paying the maintainers is central to how Tidelift works, it gives maintainers some much needed support for keeping their projects in good shape. 

There’s so much potential here. Let me tell you a little about who I am and what I hope we can accomplish together.

The first-ever Tidelift maintainer survey: Complete our survey and we'll send you some sweet swag for your time!These days I serve as volunteer President of the Open Source Initiative (OSI), currently rounding out the last of six years on its Board of Directors. I have most recently worked as a Senior Strategist, an Outreach Program Manager, and a Community Manager–all focused on open source.

But, well, I don’t know how else to put this: I built my career on open source without realizing it for the first 10 years! I was a fish in water, what can I say? I got my start in web development 20 years ago, variously working freelance, running a small agency, and making an attempt at building a SaaS business. All the while, I was doing one form of community organizing or another.

In those communities, in that work, the novelty of open source licensing never dawned on us, nor did the novelty of the development methodologies, nor the vast stores of free-to-use code. As someone who grew up alongside the advent of file sharing and user-generated content, all that I saw of open source felt like a natural extension of those things. Mostly, we concerned ourselves with the work, laboring in ‘blissful’ ignorance of the giants whose shoulders we were standing on. In a way, I think that’s a feature, a sign of success for open source, but still I wish the realization came earlier for me!

When I finally stumbled into open source as a knowing participant, I fell in love: it was at the intersection of community, technology, and philosophy–all things I’m passionate about. Through a combination of privilege, luck, character, hard work, and lots of help, I fell rapidly into the heart of open source.

Diving into open source has been the most rewarding journey of my career, if not my life. And the speed with which I’ve gone from outsider to insider, while always serving in an outreach capacity that exposes me to different views, has afforded some unique perspectives...

Today, open source is a wildly successful approach to collaboration and copyright, yet it’s plain to see there are deep systemic issues to be addressed.

Many issues, such as underrepresentation or toxic behavior, are artifacts of existing in this world with humans. We must take steps to address those issues in our communities, and continue to build a more perfect world more broadly.

But some issues are all ours! Maintainers that produce untold value, but can’t keep the lights on? Projects that still lack quality documentation and still sideline accessibility? Poorly defined and understood governance? Critical infrastructure, including projects and foundations, going severely underfunded while a few players grow ceaselessly? The breathless rediscovery of proprietary licensing parading as more open than open source? 

Yeah, we’ve got a lot of work to do. And that’s why I’m joining Tidelift as the Ecosystem Strategy Lead: because I think they’ve got the right idea, and this is a role in which I can work with all of you to address these things. Because, to be frank, Tidelift can only ever be as healthy and successful as open source itself.

I look forward to the adventure ahead, and I can’t wait to find ways to partner with you to make open source, our spectacular commons, better for every last one of us.

If you’re itching to get started down this road with me, I’m easy to find: you can’t go wrong with Twitter (@joshsimmons) or IRC Freenode (bluesomewhere).

Before you go, I do have one request. I’m going to need help on this journey… Going further will require me to upgrade from anecdotes to data. 

Tidelift, starting today, has launched its first-ever maintainer survey, an all-encompassing deep dive into the reality of life as a maintainer. It’s a longer than average survey, so there are rewards for those who take it. If you could take the survey, and share it with any maintainers you may know, that would be extremely helpful!

Ad astra per aspera 🚀

The first-ever Tidelift maintainer survey: Complete our survey and we'll send you some sweet swag for your time!