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Executive interview: Lee Porte, chair, Cloud Foundry Foundation TOC

Cloud Foundry wants more non-IT industry code contributions and its technical oversight committee has a new chair who wants to ramp up user focus

As chair of the Cloud Foundry Foundation’s technical oversight committee (TOC), Lee Porte has aspirations to oversee the growth of participation within the developer community.

The core change is the removal of requiring a dojo to be undertaken prior to contributing code to the Cloud Foundry open source project. A dojo, as in the martial arts sense, is where software developers can safely practice and learn new skills.

“This was a great thing in terms of onboarding contributors,” says Porte, “however it created a barrier to entry for individual contributors and for people working for small organisations that could not afford the commitment to the dojo process.”

Porte was selected to chair the committee as a way of closing the gap between end users and full-time open source developers. His day job is as a systems administrator at the Government Digital Service (GDS) and he believes users are the lifeblood of any open source project.

“Without the end users there is no reason for the project to exist,” he says. “Having direct contact with the end user gives a much tighter feedback loop for the developers working on the project. It also gives the developers a real sense of satisfaction to hear directly from the end user how the project is changing things for that user.”

Porte also believes it is critical for the users of open source projects to be engaged with the community as this helps to avoid the problem of a solitary developer maintaining code that users are relying on. In doing so, their participation feeds up the chain to the developers of the open source project.

“When end users engage with open source projects they are able to open dialogue directly with the development teams that are working on the project,” he says. “Critically, the relationship becomes a virtuous one. One of the critical benefits in end users engaging with open source projects is that they are able to influence features and roadmap items to better meet their needs.”

“Without the end users there is no reason for the project to exist. Having direct contact with the end user gives a much tighter feedback loop for the developers working on the project. It also gives the developers a real sense of satisfaction to hear directly from the end user how the project is changing things for that user”

Lee Porte, GDS and Cloud Foundry Foundation

In Porte’s experience, this delivers the features that users are depending on faster and helps the development team better understand their priorities and solicit feedback from them much earlier in the development cycle. This, in turn, enable bugs to be found faster and reduces the time taken to rework features.

“I’d actively encourage all end users of Cloud Foundry to begin by engaging with the CF community on slack,” he says.

A clear message

Open source presentations can often seem like they are developer focused, which can make it difficult for senior IT decision-makers to grasp the significance of nuances in open source projects.

Beyond the Cloud Foundry TOC, Porte has advice for anyone who needs to present complex, technical, open source concepts to people who are not software developers. When asked about how to address an audience wider than the open source developer community, he says: “I’ve attended quite a wide range of events over the years and one of the key ways of helping to bridge the gap that I have seen used to great effect is to tell the big picture about the impact and the results that were achieved through the approach taken by the development or operations team. This enables both audiences to gain from the talk, as each has a slightly different focus on what they find important.

“I’ve tended to adopt this approach in my day-to-day communication with different stakeholders. Understanding whether people are looking for the big picture or the nuanced details helps to ensure that the message is right for the audience, and in some cases you have both audiences present at the same time.”

He also recommends audience interaction. “Encouraging questions is also a great way to help to close that gap. I’d also encourage senior IT leaders to spend a bit of time pairing with development teams to get back to their roots. If you have some time for learning and development, use that to experiment with cutting some code again,” he says.

As more organisations start producing their own software, they are becoming more like software companies. Software directly drives their key performance indicators (KPIs). As such, Porte believes organisations should devote time to open source. He admits this is often hard for small organisations and for those just starting out. However, he says investing small amounts of time improves open source for everyone.

“I’m a really big fan of creating roadmaps and issue logs and tagging them in a way that makes it obvious which are suitable for first-time contributors or smaller features or fixes in order to enable those with less time to contribute,” he says.

Porte believes this is one of the key ways that the open source community can help to gain contributions from users. “Making things open makes them better,” he says. “That goes for communication and collaboration, as well as software.”

Read more about contributing to open source projects

  • Business and ethical pressures give rise to new types of open source licences presenting challenges to enterprises that want to contribute to projects.
  • Software engineers who want to contribute to open source projects must convince conservative corporate legal departments it is worth the potential risk to corporate IP.

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