My Tidelift journey started with a (fairly) random acquaintance's social media post that intrigued me.
This acquaintance was at a local design company whose work—both design artifacts and community engagement—I had long admired. And now he was leaving for a new adventure, and at a startup based in Boston. Was he moving? What would happen to the design company? Why would he leave the greatest design company ever? Was he sure about this???
This new company—Tidelift, a startup with a murky website—had hooked a person who I had great respect for, and I couldn't stop pulling at the thread to unravel the 'why'.
"What are you reading?", my family kept asking me over the holidays as I returned noncommittal sounds while furiously flipping (swiping?) through the report Roads and Bridges and the author's supporting research.
Reading stories of the magnitude of what had been built through open source, the critical role it plays in our society, and the underbelly of maintainer burnout fascinated me. As an amateur researcher, I needed to understand everything about how open source had gotten to this place in the last twenty years. (Which, coincidentally, was pretty close to how long it had been since I’d left the field of computer science for the more subjective pastures of design. Clearly, I had missed a lot.)
"This is a big problem", I declared. At this point, I could not clearly articulate what I meant or understood about the problem. Nonetheless, I saw a mission and a startup with a desire to respond to a problem — who was also looking for a designer. I decided to apply and see what happened.
My first interactions with Tidelift were colored with authenticity, humility, and pragmatism. I was really tightly wound to my Process as a Designer who Builds Product, and my standard set of Questions With Which to Vet a Startup were met with such openness and possibility that it really caught me off guard.
I am used to trying to operate in the design world of over-confidence and projected expertise, that can be, frankly, exhausting. I commented to friends that I felt like my true self in these interviews. There was a joy to discovery and possibility that permeated every conversation.
Congruent to that, design was not an add-on or wheel cog here. At a company built by engineers (or past-life engineers), who were building a product for engineers, you would expect an entirely tech-driven environment where features, not user contexts, rule the backlog.
What I was hearing in these early conversations ran contrary to that though. Tidelift wanted to invest in design, and bring the best of the design thinking experiences of the co-founders into the DNA of this new company. There was an intention from the beginning to approach problem-solving using design methods. Developers wanted to collaborate with designers on understanding users and building solutions. (Also, my developer colleagues are much more talented at visual storytelling than I will ever be.)
"The company will be a function of what everyone brings to it."
As my conversations progressed, the bounds of the job I applied for became even more open, and it was clear that the goal of the organization was to bring people together, to let them do what they do really well and to try things they find interesting, while working toward a common goal.
There would be a lot of fluidity in what my day to day would look like, and opportunities seemed limitless. This role truly synthesized all of my past experiences with code, design, writing, product management, and non-profit hustle.
It felt like the right time for the challenge of building a product and an organization, and learning how to communicate effectively with a remote team. "It's like a startup for grownups," I would tell people as my plans shaped up. I was excited to dive deeply into a new space of open source communities. I was excited to stretch back into my engineering roots. I was excited to be able to run a load of laundry while working*
(*remote work when you're the mom of a very active two-year-old is kind of life-changing.)
I feel so inspired by my colleagues each day. Everyone at Tidelift is not only very smart, but also so genuine and just...kind. I can honestly say there hasn’t been a day yet when I haven’t learned something really insightful or funny. Everyone here has a rich history of experiences (read: memes) to contribute toward the problem we’re seeking to solve.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." —Margaret Mead
The thread that runs through my own work is one of looking for mission-driven opportunities. Leaving a 5-year stint as a designer for K-12 education where Ms. Mead's quote was a central theme was a tough decision to make. Like most people, I like to feel that my work contributes to the wider world, and with such a direct approach (paying the maintainers!) it’s easy to see the impact we can have on open source.
I see my work here as contributing not only to solving the open source sustainability problem, but also the diversity in tech/design problem. The very nature of an unsustainable open source system precludes diverse contributions, because not everyone will have the level of privilege required to make those contributions in the first place. Roads and Bridges also points out that diversity in roles (design, marketing, writing, outreach) is a part of a more functional, sustainable system. So, I’m actually here for selfish reasons :-)
Following the design thinking process, I’ve been heads down in a lot of research over the last 2 months, defining the problem for myself and my team. I can’t wait to meet more developers and open source users out in the wide world and pull more on those threads — what keeps you going? What would a sustainable open source ecosystem look like to you? If you are interested in talking more, I’d love to hear your story, reach out! Also, we’re hiring.