Today, Alan Clark hands the reins over to special guest host, Katie Gamanji, Ecosystem Advocate for the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). Katie’s mission is to ensure that end users are successful while also bridging the gap between practitioners and projects within the ecosystem. With Linux and SUSE recently celebrating their 30-year and 29-year anniversaries, Katie is joined by two remarkable women in the open source space, who share their contributions to Linux, the challenges they have faced in their careers, and the inspiring stories of how they overcame those challenges to get where they are today. In this episode, you’ll hear from Lynne Chamberlain, President of Regulated Industries at SUSE Rancher Government Solutions, an industry veteran in the federal space with more than 20 years of executive experience. Lynne plays a critical role in enabling open source adoption with a specialization in enterprise Linux, Kubernetes management, and edge solutions to accelerate the pace of innovation within the U.S. government. We are also joined by Denise Schannon, Director of Engineering for the Cloud Platform team and responsible for delivering the SUSE Rancher product. While at Rancher, she has spanned multiple roles, including QA, technical writing, training, and project management, before settling into engineering management. Tune in today to gain some valuable insights and actionable advice from Lynne and Denise!
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[00:00:03] ANNOUNCER: 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 in open source, from building communities to diversity and inclusion, to keeping the open in open source.
[00:00:36] AC: Hey, everyone. Alan here. Today, I’m handing the reins over to guest host, Katie Gamanji from the CNCF. This is going to be a special edition of The OCTOPod. That’s right. I finally get a week off. Here’s Katie.
[00:00:50] KG: Hello, everyone. Welcome to OCTOPod. My name is Katie Gamanji, and currently, I am the Ecosystem Advocate for CNCF or Cloud Native Computing Foundation. I am leading and working with the end user community and my mission is to make end users successful but, at the same time, to bridge the gap between the practitioners and the projects within the ecosystem.
I’ll be taking over your usual host today, Alan Clark. We have an exciting discussion planned for today and we’ll be joined by some remarkable women that have made incredible accomplishments in the open source space. With the recent 30-year anniversary of Linux and SUSE celebrating 29 years, they will talk about their contributions to Linux, challenges they faced, and inspiring stories on how they’ve overcome those challenges to get where they are today.
I’m excited to introduce Lynne Chamberlain, President of SUSE RGS, who is an industry veteran in the federal space with more than 20 years of executive experience. Lynne plays a critical role in enabling open source adoption with a specialization in enterprise Linux, Kubernetes management, and edge solutions to accelerate the pace of innovation within the U.S. government. She’s also an executive board member of AFCEA International and a member of the SUSE RGS Customer Advisory Board, as well as past winner of FedScoop’s top 50 women of Washington and a Women in Technology award recipient.
As well, I’m excited to introduce Denise Schannon who is a Director of Engineering for the Container platform team and responsible for delivering the SUSE Rancher product. While at Rancher, she has spanned multiple roles, such as QA, technical writing, training, and project management, before settling into the engineering management. Prior to SUSE/Rancher, she had worked at Citrix Systems in the finance department before joining engineering as a project manager.
Now, Denise, Lynne, thank you very much for joining us today.
[00:02:52] LC: Thank you for having us.
[00:02:53] DS: Yeah, thank you.
[00:02:54] KG: Now, the main theme of today’s podcast is going to be around Linux 30th year anniversary. Open source now is adopted by organizations across different sectors and industries, from financial services to gaming, automotive, and media companies. Linux had a wide impact not only on the operating system community but on the overall open source ecosystem by laying the foundations of how to commit upstream and collaborate openly. With Linux recently turning 30 and SUSE celebrating 29 years, can you share some of your experiences of working with Linux and in open source?
[00:03:32] LC: I can start with that, Katie. I started my career in open source at a company, a very small company at the time, it was Red Hat. I joined them about 17 years ago. We only had 300 people in the company and the open source was still struggling for commercial legitimacy in the enterprise market. I actually had worked at a company called Silicon Graphics where open-source was strong because Sun was using, what we – if you remember, Unix. Ultimately, everything turned to Linux.
The one thing about open source and, I think, with SUSE, it’s true to the principles of open-source community. Over the years, we have been able to prove that there was a viable commercial market and we created products to monetize that market. I would say it didn’t become a commercially legitimate company until after Steve Ballmer left Microsoft. If you remember, Mr. Ballmer always said, “Open source was not secure.” He just felt that it was not the way the industry should go.
Well, we saw what happened to Microsoft back then, and it wasn’t until Satya Nadella came in and they really said, he legitimized open source by saying that’s the way Microsoft was going. I think with that, with what Red Hat did, and the community at large, that’s where we see SUSE today.
[00:04:57] KG: That’s actually an incredible resume just over there. Seventeen years at Red Hat. My goodness! That’s a lot. Denise, would you like maybe to share your experience of working with Linux and open source?
[00:05:11] DS: Yeah. Mine mostly started when I joined actually Rancher. I graduated with a computer science degree, but then I tried a lot of other career industries before I kind of came back into technology. At Rancher, that was the first time I worked on an open source project and it was enlightening to see how far technology have come in terms of being able to work in GitHub and seeing the participation. For the first couple of years, I was the one also maintaining and reviewing all the comments of our product, and seeing how it was adopted, and seeing the growth just from open source community. That’s really been a lot of my experience there, of first-hand almost, delivering a product and then being able to see how it grows in adoption and how you have to listen to the community to make it successful.
[00:06:00] KG: Amazing. Now, I presume both from your experience so far, you had a lot of contribution to open source. I would like maybe to question what is the contribution that you are most proud of, be at Linux or open source? Lynne, would you like to start first at this one?
[00:06:15] LC: I would say, my biggest contribution is, when I got into selling into the government market space, open source was just getting started. It was very important to me, to the mission criticality, to the war fighter, and open source proved itself as a highly secure, mission-critical environment for the war fighter. I went to college on the G.I. Bill. For me, it was to return back and sell into the marketplace of the organization that paid for my schooling. With that, the better way is the architectural design of open source and now Kubernetes because a lot of our projects that we’re working on are out to the edge, to the war fighter.
In all areas within the federal government, they’re using open source. I don’t even know an area that they’re not. Anywhere, from when you think of CDC, where a lot of the operations, Warp Speed, is all on Rancher Kubernetes and its open source. If you think of the postal service, when you’re delivering mail and the sorting of that mail, it’s all on open source. I would just say, by choosing that field, giving back to the community, and having the community that participates with you to build the open source projects, that’s the area that I’ve been spending a lot of my time.
[00:07:38] KG: That was a great answer, Lynne, and I absolutely love it because contribution is not just about writing code and being terminal 24/7, it’s about being able to provide this reference architectures or provide guidance and may be some reference models or resources that the organizations or end users will be able to use. I have a similar question for Denise as well. Denise, as an engineer, I imagined you’ve had the opportunities to contribute to some cool Linux projects. Can you share some of your favorite contributions so far?
[00:08:11] DS: Yeah, it’s interesting. This question, I’ve been thinking about it and it’s funny because I haven’t actually written code in many, many years. When I was thinking about it, one of the things that I’m most excited about contributing is actually documentation. It’s something that we all reference, and need, and use. But the fact that I was the first person who wrote all the documentation for Rancher for our original product, and just seeing how critical it was to have people be able to understand how to use the project or product, how to adopt to it, how to be able to understand these concepts that were bleeding edge that no one really knew and just being able to contribute that way in terms of taking what is new technology and making it understandable to layman’s terms to someone who doesn’t know what a container is. That’s what it was many years ago, and trying to be able to convey what that message is or how to do that is probably one of my favorite contributions.
The other one is, at first, I was asked to do a bunch of trainings of how to use our product itself and that – initially, it was really intimidating to me because I didn’t realize – I think I had a lot of fear of even trying to train someone on something that was brand new to them. But it gave me a lot of insight into – the community is actually adopting it. They want to learn how to use it and being able to kind of teach someone how to use the project and get them more involved in getting that live feedback was something that was really interesting to me.
[00:09:43] KG: Now, I couldn’t agree more on the documentation. It’s so underrated. I think this is one of the best ways to grow the next generation of cloud native practitioners. Well, I’m taking from a cloud native perspective, because one of my purpose is, is to make cloud native ubiquitous. This includes making it easier for students for example to pick it up and actually contribute. Documentation is such an important step to any projects out there, any special open source when everything is about open collaboration transparency.
Now, I presume both of you had encountered many challenges while working with open source or while trying to contribute to open source. Could you outline some of these challenges and how did you overcome those?
[00:10:27] DS: I can go first on this one. I think the challenge I’ve faced the most is probably actually more internal than external of just – as that first doc writer of trying to write about something, how do you teach someone and not realizing – when I first started writing documentation, I didn’t – in my mind, I thought everyone knew what we were talking about. When I was writing, I had a lot of fear of like, am I writing what makes sense? And trying to overcome that – your natural, almost insecurity of, am I doing the right thing or is this what someone is going to understand and kind of realizing that, oh, this is – I’m actually the expert in this, not whoever is trying to consume it. I know what I’m writing about, and being able to be proud of what I’ve written instead of being worried about how people are going to consume it.
I think that’s like one of the big challenges. Especially with open source, because there’s so many users and you don’t know how much they do or don’t know. But I think, realizing that the open source community is people who are just there to learn and they want to learn and pick up new and different thing is definitely the exciting part about it.
[00:11:35] LC: I would say that, my challenges were way back 16, 17 years ago when customers, especially in the government, because that’s where I’ve always sold or managed, didn’t even know what open source was. To try to get them to understand that it was a viable product and it was a technology that was going to be a technology of the future and that it was secure. I mean, I remember my first sales while trying to explain open source and nobody even understood it.
I mean, I’m dating myself now, but I used the analogy at the time and this was the analogy we all used over at Red Hat in open source was, if you were to go to a restaurant, you could order a glass of water, but you didn’t know what was in that water, how purified it was. You didn’t know where the water came from. Where if you ordered a bottled water, you can ensure the integrity of what was in that water and that you knew that it was purified.
We always sold open source that way, that we, as an enterprise company, ensured the security and the functionality of open source. Just getting it across in the beginning and having people think that there was a viable product was very difficult as we started.
[00:12:53] KG: This is fantastic. Honestly, I’ve never heard an analogy between open source and water, like a bottle of water. But here we go, this is how we actually can sell security within open source. I think like everyone should use that in their sales pitches in the future, honestly. Now, I would like to focus more on your current roles at SUSE, and more specifically, how is it different for you to work for SUSE, but at the same time to collaborate and participate in open source? Do you feel like it differs from other industries or organizations?
[00:13:26] DS: I think it’s an interesting challenge, especially starting at Rancher when it first started to where we are today, in the beginning, the open source community is always important but, as you adopt to more customers, it becomes a bigger challenge to how do you listen to the community as well as balance with what the enterprise or your enterprise customers want as well. I think it’s an interesting almost balancing act of how much do you do for your customers versus the community itself and how do you find that correct medium between the two, so that you’re supporting both? Because almost the success of your product wouldn’t exist without the success or adoption in the open-source community.
I think that is what makes it different from other probably companies of how to be able to do that and the fact that, for me, it’s exciting to be to at least say that, no one has to pay for our product. You can just always use it whenever and being able to stand by that I think is really great.
[00:14:28] LC: I think for me that I’m excited about being here at SUSE. When I say SUSE, because we sell to the government, we are in the midst of creating our own separate organization. We just went through a branding. We’re called SUSE Rancher Government Solutions or SUSE RGS. We’re providing a rock-solid commitment to the open-source paradigm, and the foundation and the business model around open source. It’s almost like looking back on the early days. We believe here at SUSE; open source is a zero-sum game in collaboration with the participants of a broader build of an organization.
We’re working with the community and the government agencies to ensure that they understand what open source means to them, to build the security around the products, to understand all the applications that they can run in a mission-critical environment built on open-source. And to ensure that when they’re working across functions, across different organizations within the Federal Government, that they all have a baseline and understand what open source is all about. It’s just building those applications with the community and understanding that those applications are built for the war fighter, for the mission that we’re working here at SUSE RGS.
[00:15:44] KG: Amazing. Now, so far, I can actually hear some of the challenges, and some of your proudest contributions to open source. I would like to maybe take a step back and ask you, why do you enjoy working in open source and maybe why did you pursue a career in open source?
[00:16:02] LC: I can start there. My decision to go into open source did not start when I went to school. When I went to college and graduate school, well, especially college, I wanted to be an archaeologist. My dad at the time said, “I am not paying to have you dig graves.” He goes, “I’ll tell you what. If you go out and take a business course as your first year in school, I will go ahead and fund your desire to be an archaeologist.” I took business courses and one of the courses that I took was an intro to computers. When I took that class, I realized I really, really enjoyed that. My first job out of school was working for NCR Corporation, where I programmed basic cash registers for the officers’ clubs around the world.
That got me into a little bit of understanding programming. From there, I got really involved in it. When I went to companies like Digital Equipment Corporation that were very heavily going from – for those listeners that remember VMS into Unix environment, and then into Linux. They were trying to call it Ultrix, but it’s now called Linux and then SGI. A lot of the companies that I – because they were leading-edge companies went the Linux route. I was indoctrinated really early on in the Linux open source environment, just because of the companies and their direction.
[00:17:35] KG: Well, I must ask now, because I’m curious. Are you pursuing archeology as a hobby at the moment or you completely stepped away from that?
[00:17:42] LC: I still do. I still read a lot. I love a lot about archaeology. It’s still my passion too. Thank you for asking.
[00:17:51] KG: That’s truly inspirational, I must say. Now, Denise, how about you? Why did you pursue a career in open source?
[00:17:58] DS: Yeah. I don’t think I pursued a career in open source. Actually, after school, I did a little bit of computer science and then I went away, and then I kind of came back. Then when I came back, that was almost the opportunity in front of me and something that made it easier for me to come back into engineering, I think. It was more fate that brought me into it, not necessarily me pursuing it. But it was a happy balance because, I think, when I left doing engineering, it was a little bit of discomfort of myself being a woman in tech, and kind of not knowing and how to fit in the fields.
I think the open source world made me realize it’s really available to anyone. I think it’s just a different, not to date my – it’s a different time in terms of how people perceive and having women in tech and just how much they’re appreciated or at least not, I would say – I don’t know what the right words are going to be, but it’s just a different environment now that makes me feel more comfortable being here.
[00:19:02] KG: I can maybe back that up with my experience when I joined open source. I joined straight away like within the Cloud Native community and it’s been one of the most welcoming so far. I definitely enjoy to collaborate with people all across the world in different organizations. There’s an identity, which is attached to me, but it’s not gender bias if that makes sense. I enjoy that thoroughly, I would say. Open source has really brought that kind of environment up.
You were speaking about women in technology and my next question is going to be related to that. Now, it’s no secret that many women in the tech industry have felt their gender has affected the way they are perceived or treated. Now, have you ever been in a situation like that and if so, how did you handle it?
[00:19:50] DS: Well, I’ve had a couple incidents, so it’s hard to pin point one. I was just trying to think of what is – A lot of times, there’s a lot of doubt of your abilities. I think the first one, I’ve been at KubeCon multiple times and a lot of times, someone comes up to the booth and they just – because I’m a woman, they assume automatically like I’m the marketing person, or I’m the salesperson, I don’t know what I’m talking about. Part of it is, I love the fact of being able to prove to them that actually I’m the one who knows what I’m talking about. I’m the one who’s going to do the demo and I’m going to explain it to you of what you’re asking or your in-depth question.
Seeing it as a challenge of how to disprove their stereotype or their belief and putting it back to them of, I can be just as great as anyone else and there’s no reason why you should be assuming what I can or can’t do.
[00:20:43] LC: Yeah. Along the same lines of what Denise just said, being in this industry for a long time, I can tell you when I thought of projects, or the way, the direction that I thought an organization should go, the men in the organization would say – and in so many years, I was the only female across the board in a lot of these organization. They would say, “Oh, no and they would discount what I had to say.” But then, two weeks later, I find out they were instituting my thought process. It happened so many years. A lot of that’s changed.
I was blessed early on to have a mentor with Dr. Grace Hopper or Admiral Hopper. Looking at what she did in her life and how she was successful, she really helped me in a number of ways. I was very blessed to have a mentor because, in this industry, you don’t find a lot of women that came before me that was allowed to do that. There was a quote that I have always lived by, Katie ,and I’ll always live by it. For those who remember Judy Garland, she was Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. But she once said, “Be the first-rate version of yourself than a second rate version of somebody else.” I’ve always lived by that and with all the men we compete with, stay true to yourself.
[00:22:03] KG: I cannot emphasize how inspiring that is. I mean, Grace Hopper as well. This is absolutely insane I must say. Now, of course there are going to be challenges within the industry for females in tech. But I would like to maybe focus on what do you think is the greatest part of being a woman in tech nowadays?
[00:22:20] DS: I think it’s a combination of seeing how far women in tech have come. I think seeing how, back then – even if today, I’m in a room where it’s only say me and a lot of times still, a lot of men. But I think, how I’m treated is very different than it was years ago. I think similar to what Lynne was saying, before, I think people kind of disregarded it or didn’t believe you or you didn’t feel like your voice was necessarily heard. Whereas, today, I feel that our voices are heard just as equally and if not sometimes, even more so because we’re unique and I think that the environment is so opening. I mean, I think you can see it in a lot of different spaces. Just feeling that inspiration that you can be heard and you are treated as an equal, or at least there are people who are advocating for you and there are lot of people behind you, I think that’s what’s great about it today.
[00:23:16] LC: If we look at today, a lot of the challenges have gone away. There’s always going to be some, whatever gender you are or whoever you are, but here you have at SUSE, you have Melissa running as CEO of the company. For me, being a CEO president of Rancher Government Solutions, something I never dreamed of and here I am doing that. After 16 years at Red Hat and I moved myself all the way up into a senior while there. Now, I’m here, I’m doing what I’m doing. It just shows that this field is very open to initiating women in the organization.
[00:23:55] KG: Now, I couldn’t miss this opportunity to kind of give a big shout out to Melissa because I do remember when I saw her on the stage for the first time and I was absolutely awestruck like I was completely amazed. Because she was the first keynote speaker that didn’t had any slides, and she had this very fluent kind of talk around her career, and her challenges and she was so natural at explaining all of those. To some extent, it actually inspired me to maybe do some of the talks and be on the stage as well. I hope I’m going to reach her level at some point as well, but she’s definitely one of the inspirational figures in my career, let’s put it this way.
Now, I know, Lynne, that you’ve mentioned Grace Hopper as well as being one of your mentors. I think having a mentor, especially early in the career, I think at any stage in your career is so important to get like an extra perspective or to really boost your potential and capabilities. Do you think you had a mentor like later on your career or an inspirational figure that really kind of made the best of what you can do in tech?
[00:25:00] DS: It’s funny because I’d say, because I’ve hopped around in a lot of different career paths, I don’t have necessarily a strong mentor because I think I was lost myself. But one of my closest friends who I’ve known through my life, I recently realized that she was probably my inspiration. Because early on, she was the one who did something outside the box, outside of what was expected from her, and what her parents had pigeonholed her of you have to do X and so she – but she didn’t want to. She wanted to pursue – it was years ago. She wanted to pursue graphic design, which at the time, was not a hot industry and her parents were engineers and they thought she needed to be a traditional engineer.
Seeing her push herself outside of the boundaries of what you’re told you have to go do is what has inspired me to be a little bit of pursuing what do I want to do and what is it – if it’s not what either my parents or what society wants, you can still go and pursue it and be successful. She’s been super successful with it and I think talking with her about her challenges of trying to – especially when you’re going against your parents is such a big deal for all of us. Taking that kind of spirit and doing it across the tech industry of people – whether or not they say it, like if you believe that they might not believe in you, being able to believe in yourself I think has been the biggest inspiration for me.
[00:26:29] LC: I think today, there are so many outlets to help you and help with mentorship. Women in technology, we have it here at SUSE. We have it in the government side as well. Those areas, there are so many women that are here to help other women today. I just find that as an individual, just take advantage of those opportunities. If you can reach out and ask somebody for help and hey, can you be my mentor? I guarantee, in most cases, they’ll say yes. I know myself. I mentor a lot and I’ve had mentorships over the years.
To me, it’s an opportunity for both sides because you learn so much from the younger generation coming in, the way they think and the opportunities they want to pursue. It gives you the opportunity to provide some of that guidance and vice versa. I think mentorship is a great way to maneuver yourself through the open source community, as well as whatever aspiring position you’re looking at in your career.
[00:27:28] DS: I couldn’t agree more. I love mentoring people. I love mentoring women on my team or anyone really of – anyone, mentoring anyone to try and give them guidance because so many of us are lost and no one wants to speak up. Just having that opportunity to help them see what they might not be able to see or providing them with almost wise advice or, “This is what I’ve been through, so here, how can I help you so that you don’t have to go through the same challenges I did?” is something I love to do.
[00:28:00] KG: Again, I can only echo these thoughts. Mentoring is such a powerful tool, but at the same time, I would like to maybe emphasize the fact that not many actually take advantage of this particular tool. I cannot even describe how useful it can be to someone who is stuck on a particular problem within an organization or they are facing challenges to go to the next level in a promotion. It just varies across all levels.
Some organization as SUSE already have this in place, but if there is not something a mentorship’s program within your organization, there are so many of them outside. The open-source community has so many of them as well. There is always a way for you to kind of get second opinions on your problem. Most of the time, what you’re facing has been already solved by someone, so just reach out and be open about it and then just find a mentor as well.
Finding the right mentor can take a lot of time, so you don’t necessarily need to kind of force yourself to maybe talk about your career or what you’re facing at the moment [inaudible 00:29:03] if you’re not comfortable. It’s a journey as well, but at the same time, do take advantage of this tool, it’s quite powerful.
To kind of finish our discussion today, I would like to ask you, what kind of advice would you give to a woman looking to jumpstart their career with open source and Linux? If there would be something you wish you’d knew when you started, what would it be?
[00:29:26] LC: I think, Katie, you said it well just a few seconds ago. I think be vigilant, understand your passion, and go for it. Believe in yourself. As I said on the Judy Garland quote, trust that you can do it and you can, and find a mentor, because you just don’t want to go it alone and there’s so many people out there that will help. I would just say, pave your way.
[00:29:50] DS: I can’t echo. Lynne captured it beautifully actually. I think just go for it is really it and find your support system to encourage you to continue doing it so you don’t – I think, with women, it’s a lot of self-doubt. There’s no reason to have that, and just go for it.
[00:30:09] KG: Amazing. Denise, Lynne, thank you very much for joining me today. This has been a truly inspiring and fruitful conversation. For our listeners, I would recommend them to check the community.suse.com for more information and to make sure to subscribe to OCTOpod on your favorite podcast platform. As well, I couldn’t miss this chance to remind you about KubeCon and CloudNativeCon North America, which is going to be held in LA between October 12th to 15th. Now, this is flagship conference that gathers adopters in technologies from leading open source and cloud native communities.
Again, Denise and Lynne, thank you very much for joining me today.
[00:30:47] LC: Thank you.
[00:30:48] DS: Thank you for having us.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:30:50] 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 community.suse.com.