The OCTOpod: Conversations with SUSE's Office of the CTO

Diversity and Inclusion in Open Source with Amy Marrich

August 19, 2021 Alan Clark - Office of the CTO, SUSE Episode 5
The OCTOpod: Conversations with SUSE's Office of the CTO
Diversity and Inclusion in Open Source with Amy Marrich
Show Notes Transcript

The focus of today's discussion is the important conversation and project of diversity and inclusion in the open-source space. Joining us to share her expertise and experience on the topic is Amy Marrich from the CHAOSS Project and someone who has dedicated much time and energy to creating more accessible and comfortable spaces for a wider range of people. In our chat, we get to hear how Amy became curious and got involved in this side of open-source work before she unpacks some of the layers of why these goals are so important. Listeners will get a basic understanding from our guest, as she provides some very helpful definitions and reflections, that are great departure points, no matter your knowledge level. Our guest also weighs in on how she measures the success of the work she does in inclusion and diversity, and to round things out, shares an inspiring anecdote that illustrates the importance of this work!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • A basic definition of diversity and inclusion and how these concepts have evolved. 
  • Why the ideas and practices of diversity and inclusion are important in the open source world. 
  • How larger social issues tie into the tech and software professions. 
  • The coming to light of the relevant issues, and Amy's experiences and discoveries.
  • Best practices and current initiatives that are helping the diversity and inclusion cause.   
  • Determining priorities and the most critical issues to address at any time. 
  • The surveys that Amy and her team use to measure the success of initiatives. 
  • Amy's thoughts on the current state of things and how far we still have to go. 
  • Addressing individual concerns of exclusion and the importance of speaking up  
  • A success story from Amy's work that shows the impact of people feeling welcome and safe. 
  • Why Amy prioritizes comfort and belonging and uses this as the main measure of success.

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

Amy Marrich on Twitter





Starling X


The CentOS Project

Alan Clark

SUSE & Rancher Community

TODO Group



[0:00:03.5]: Welcome to the OCTOPod, hosted by Alan Clark and brought to you by the SUSE & Rancher Community. Alan has spent his software career, focused on open source advocacy and emerging tech. In The OCTOPod season one, Alan talks with experts across technology about trends and challenges and open source. From building communities to diversity and inclusion. To keeping the open, in open source.




[0:00:37.0] AC: Hi everyone, welcome to the OCTOPod. Today, I’m pleased to sit down with Amy Marrich, to talk about diversity and inclusion in open source. Amy and I have worked together on many aspects of open source. She sits on the Open Infrastructure Foundation board of directors and she chairs the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group.


She is also a member of the CHAOSSS project governing board, that’s a community health and analytics open source software project at the Linux foundation. When it comes to D&I and open source, Amy is really on the leading edge. That’s why I wanted to invite her. Thanks to you Amy for joining us today.


[0:01:19.6] AM: Thanks Alan, it’s great to be here with you.


[0:01:22.0] AC: I think we should start by everybody hears a lot about diversity and inclusion these days and we thought it would be good to start by perhaps defining those two words, what is diversity, what does inclusion mean, what does that mean to different people and other people?


[0:01:38.3] AM: Well, a lot of diversity revolved around basically at one point, gender diversity, so men and women. Now, it’s the different people. Whether it’s different race, different religions, different ethnicities, even where people live, the more diverse a group you have, the more variety in what you’re hearing and seeing. Inclusion of course is that everyone feels like they belong, they all have a chance to participate, their voices are heard. That’s where inclusion comes in.


[0:02:10.7] AC: Okay, the two definitely overlaps, the two words definitely overlap, I can see that. How did you get involved in this? How did you get started with this type of effort?


[0:02:21.8] AM: Most of the time, on a lot of teams, I was the only female on the team. Having the chance to make sure doors were open for others was important to me and as things grew in open source, you had things like the Women of Open Stack. There was a group totally focusing on women and making sure they belonged and they felt safe. Now, we have since grown to realize that it’s just not gender diversity that’s important. It’s everyone’s voices. Some of the more gender-related diversity efforts have become larger diversity efforts.


[0:02:59.4] AC: Okay, why is diversity and inclusion important for open source for these communities?


[0:03:07.0] AM: I think it’s important because not everyone is a white male and they don’t all go to the same type of schools, do the same sports and everything else. I ride horses, what I might bring in is training aspects in conversations. You actually think about things, making sure there’s rewards and not just you’re doing your work, you’ve got your team goal but you bring in everything that’s a part of your life into what you do.


With open source, what someone’s experience, say in London isn’t the same as in Edinburgh if you’re just staying in the British Isles even. Mainly being in the south, you know, the things I see and bring are totally different than someone who lives in New York City. It’s all different things and how you ask your questions and ultimately, you could actually be saying the same thing but you say it and ask a question in one direction and someone else asks it another and there’s a third person who finally gets it because they’ve heard it asked both ways.


[0:04:11.1] AC: Okay, I get that. Part of it here then is that, how do those concerns in open source parallel the larger social landscape? We hear a lot about equality in all the different movements, how does that tie in to open source and these open source communities?


[0:04:32.2] AM: As I said, everyone brings something different to the table and their view point is different. One of the newer ones is indigenous. If you think of everything that they have gone through in their lives, they bring something that’s different and also seeing more lately is Asian rights, because people are being basically attacked on the streets, they shouldn’t be. Everything you bring in from your experience and how the world treats you, affects your open source and how you contribute.


For example, we’re doing something right now in CHAOSS where we’re addressing metrics for color blindness because you look at a lot of different systems like even GitHub where you’ve got additions to your code showing in green and deletions from your code showing in red. Someone who has color blindness or visual impairments may not be able to read that. You won’t think of an issue like that because it’s not in your wheelhouse, you don’t have that issue there, you didn’t ever think about it. Once someone brings it out, points it out, then it’s like, “Yeah, that’s important.” If you don’t have all those voices within your community, you’re not going to see all those aspects.


[0:05:54.5] AC: Okay. I’m really curious to understand a little better, how these types of issues come to light, right? So color blindness. You said so this movement, this inclusion kind of started with women in tech type communities and has grown to be geographical, very diverse, now to even including color blindness. How are you finding that these issues are coming to light? How are you discovering them?


[0:06:26.2] AM: I think as the society has recognized these different groups and given them a voice, they’re more likely to stand up and say, “I have an issue with this,” because before, it was, “I just want to belong and I’m going to do as little as possible to stand out.” Now, it is okay to stand out and your voice to be heard. I think that’s where D&I has really done the most good.


[0:06:50.6] AC: Sounds like an environment where people are feeling safe is key to this. Is there a playbook or is there a best practices guide or something that you’re discovering on how to build diversity and inclusion in communities?


[0:07:07.9] AM: The to-do group has done some work on this as has the Linux Foundation itself. CHAOSS does metric-ing, so you can look at things and determine whether you’re touching on these and how successful you are. Something like we might ask you, how accessible is your webpage? Then we’ll ask other questions. Can someone with a visual impairment find things on your site? 


Just those type of things and just making sure that also, things are worded to be as inclusive as possible. One thing that has been out there historically is that when women look at a job description, they look to see how many things they feel they couldn’t do successfully and they will apply based on the fact that they could do most of them or all of them.


Whereas a man will look at the same thing and go, “I can do two, let me go ahead and apply.” How you even write your job descriptions can be inclusive or not. If you look at your website, you might have wording and just worded in such a way that if somebody doesn’t feel included and they don’t’ go any further than looking at their website.


[0:08:17.5] AC: How do you determine, what’s the most critical issues? There’s a thousand things I’m sure you could work on and bring to light, how do you determine which of those are the most important to tackle first?


[0:08:31.7] AM: I think it changes with time, making sure people are included and stick around because it doesn’t matter how good your efforts are on bringing them in if two months down the road they’re gone. That’s where inclusion is important and not just diversity, because if you have a high turnover rate because someone put a patch up and no one ever replied to it or gave them positive comments or anything to work with, they’re not going to stick around. If you make sure that everyone is treated the same, you’re going to get better results.


[0:09:05.5] AC: Okay, it’s long-time inclusion or long-time contributions are a measure of success? How are you measuring success at this program?


[0:09:15.2] AM: We do a lot of surveys within the different organizations and different groups. Making sure that people feel welcome, checking to see what level of diversity is out there. The more we do and do those surveys over time, they show us progress.


One of the biggest one is to walk into a conference the first time and seeing people who are like, you are noticing that there is no one, and then going back to that same conference over time and noticing there’s more women, there’s more people of color, those are important. 


In Open Stack, we have been very good about being open and inclusive. One of the best things ever was we were at a hotel in Denver for a PTG and we had someone who had some physical disabilities and even the staff at the hotel was helping them. That makes you want to go back there and hold your events there because they were inclusive as well, so no one necessarily felt like they had to hide or ask for help. It was just offered to them and I think that is very important.


[0:10:20.8] AC: Yeah, so is it similar with CHAOSS, similar findings? 


[0:10:25.1] AM: Yeah, CHAOSS what we did recently is we have a badging program for events and we’ve done a lot of them with the Linux Foundation and over time, they’re realized what we’re going to ask for, which isn’t a bad thing because they are going to make sure that they check everything off and they were going to pass and they’re going to get a gold standard because when we go back to them the next year, we’re going to have improved metrics. 


We’re going to go back to them and make sure they actually did some of the stuff, how are you dispersing your gender diversity information. 


[0:10:55.7] AC: Badging program is for the organizers of event. It is kind of a checklist for things that they should do to – 


[0:11:02.9] AM: It is a checklist, it is a check against metrics. We ask, “You know, are you collecting information? Are you dispensing that information after the fact?” Because most of the time, they can’t do it at the event. They don’t have the numbers yet. Making sure the code of conduct is visible that it checks all the boxes that there is a process if someone does have an issue with the code of conduct.


[0:11:25.1] AC: Okay, so it’s a help list. That’s good. Okay, so how are we doing? How are these communities doing? How are these events doing? Are they being successful? 


[0:11:37.4] AM: I think in the years I’ve been involved in open source, we are getting there. There are still some issues and there are code of conduct complaints and I think our real measure at events will be when there are no code of conduct complaints, that everyone is welcome and everyone has a good time and felt included.


[0:11:56.8] AC: Okay, that’s a good checkmark. We’ve talked a lot about it from the organizational perspective. What about the people that are just coming and joining these communities? What’s the feedback loop for them from an individual’s perspective, particularly those that come and join a community but all of a sudden don’t feel like they are being included? 


[0:12:18.7] AM: I think it would depend on how they feel like they’re not included. Most of the groups do have D&I groups and they should always feel welcome and supported to go to that group and give their concerns. If it‘s a member of the community, speak to a leader in the community. If it is the leader of the community, then I think they need to either go to a foundation that’s in charge of that community, go to others that they do feel comfortable with to say something, but never keep it to yourself. 


I mean, if you are putting in reviews and they’re never seeing any feedback or it’s always negative feedback, you want to go up to hopefully the next level and feel safe enough to say, “I’ve put this in. I don’t understand what’s going on. Can you help me?” And I think that’s the most important thing is to ask for help. 


[0:13:08.6] AC: Let's talk about a different aspect of inclusion. So, there's a big deal about naming. What about inclusive naming?


[0:13:16.2] AM: One thing that came out of Black Lives Matter movement is that we do not have the best naming. Case in point, master slave for databases. The inclusive naming project we are going through and looking at names that are troublesome black hat, white hat, as I've already mentioned, master slave and how we can find alternative words that serve the same purpose. So, allow list, denial list is a great blacklist, whitelist replacement. But we've also found that in certain instances, master as a word isn't necessarily tied to a master slave. You have a master's degree, it means you've mastered something, some knowledge.


Some words are going to change. But they're not going to change in every context. The Triple O Project, they were finding that replacing things was different for depending on where in their code base, they were using the words. Just saying you will replace this with this doesn't always work. The more groups that are participating in these efforts, gives us more options to use.


In some instances, we're reliant on other projects. Git for example, the open dev group is waiting to find out what Git is going to use before changing everything. Yes, we can change our master branch to something like main. But if the Git command is going to be focused on something besides main, we would rather change once and use what our upstream provider is going to be using. So sometimes you don't want to necessarily jump the gun to get on the bandwagon, so to speak, but to choose what your upstreams are going to use, so that you're proper going forward.


[0:14:59.7] AC: That makes sense. All right Amy, so a couple of other questions here for you. Let’s talk about again, about the success of this program. Do you have any stories or personal incidences that you found you’ve been able to reach out to others or others have reached out to you? 


[0:15:22.0] AM: Yeah, at Open Stack Summit in Barcelona, I was there on travel support as was someone from Africa and he came and attended the Git and Gerrit session, which I do for onboarding people into the community. The next day, he came over to my table at breakfast and said, “I went to your session and I saw you in the picture and I just wanted to talk to you for a moment” and we had a good conversation about including people and definitely share my information. 


I put the Git and Gerrit stuff on GitHub so anyone can use it and I heard back a couple of months later that he had actually held a Git and Gerrit session at a university in Africa and it was so nice to just get the positive feedback that something I had did reached others and you know, hopefully we get more contributors and that’s how you have to do it. You know, little steps grow and include more people. 


[0:16:19.8] AC: Yep, that’s perfect. Thank you. Amy, are there ever times where over specifying inclusion gets in the way of intersectionality? 


[0:16:30.2] AM: As I mentioned earlier, we were the Women of Open Stack originally and we would have a lunch at summit and some of our biggest allies weren’t coming to the lunch because they felt like it was a safe place only for women and that was one of the driving forces behind us changing from the Women of Open Stack to the diversity and inclusion working group, versus having two different efforts, well, if so that we were more inclusive of even our allies, who thought they didn’t belong. 


[0:16:58.4] AC: Interesting. Amy, what’s a personal measure success for you? 


[0:17:04.3] AM: I think a personal measure of success for me is when everyone feels comfortable and they feel like they belong. 


[0:17:09.8] AC: Perfect. I know you’ve had a lot of success. I’ve been very impressed with the degree of success that you’ve been involved with in this area. I guess, my final question is around, how can people get involved with these types of initiatives? I know you've been involved with servo. Any advice for how somebody that's listening could get involved? Whether it be an Open Source or at their companies, where do they get started?

[0:17:41.6] AM: Yeah, I mean, if there isn't anything already, start one yourself, talk to your HR group. If it's your work, talk to your foundation, talk to your leaders in your community that, “Hey, I see we need this. How can I help?” And that's one thing I've done with CentOS is they were coming up with a code of conduct, but I was attending as part of a working group. At the board meeting just said, “I am a resource, how can I help you?” A lot of times, either people don't realize that they need something like this, or they know that they are not the best person to do it, so they're just waiting for someone to step up.


Now, if there already is a group, introduce yourself, ask them, “How can I help you? These are my areas that I'm really good at. I'm really good at onboarding new contributors. How can I help you?” That's the way of doing it. Don't necessarily wait for someone to come to you because they don't know you're there. But step up and offer to help.


[0:18:41.9] AC: True Open Source. I love that. Thank you, Amy. So, Amy, this has been an eye-opening conversation and I look forward to continuing this. I'm very impressed with the progress that's been made over the last few years and it's very exciting. Thank you so much for being here today.




[0:19:02.5] ANNOUNCER: Thank you for tuning in to this episode of The OCTOpod. Subscribe to the show wherever you listen to podcast, so you’ll never miss an episode. While you’re at it, if you find value in the show, we’d appreciate a rating on iTunes or if you simply tell a friend about the show, that’ll help us out too. You can connect with us at SUSE & Rancher Community at