Open source software has revolutionized the tech industry, fostering collaboration, innovation, and community-driven development. However, in our enthusiasm for open source projects, we often overlook a crucial aspect: the needs of the humans behind these projects. To address this oversight, it is essential to adopt a new mindset, one that prioritizes the well-being and sustainability of the individuals who dedicate their time, energy, and expertise to open source. We should be using the phrase “Critical Human Infrastructure” because we spend a great deal of time talking about the needs of open source projects but very little time talking about the needs of open source humans.
The Open Source Revolution
Open source software has transformed the technology landscape, enabling developers worldwide to collaborate, build upon existing code, and freely distribute their creations. This approach has given rise to remarkable achievements, including Linux, Apache, and the numerous projects hosted on platforms like GitHub.
While open source has often been associated with technological advancements, it is ultimately driven by human beings. Behind every line of code, every bug fix, and every feature enhancement, there are individuals dedicating their time and expertise to make it happen. These contributors, whether they are volunteers, hobbyists, or professionals, form the backbone of the open source community.
The Neglected Human Factor
Despite the remarkable success of open source projects, we often overlook the human element within this ecosystem. Discussions frequently revolve around technical issues, software licenses, and project governance, neglecting the vital needs, challenges, and aspirations of the individuals involved.
The phrase “Critical Human Infrastructure” emphasizes the significance of focusing on the humans who power open source software. It reminds us that just as we build and maintain the technical infrastructure of these projects, we must also prioritize the well-being and sustainability of the people who contribute to them.
The Needs of Open Source Humans
- Recognition and Appreciation: Open source contributors invest their time and skills voluntarily, driven by a passion for their craft and a desire to make a positive impact. Acknowledging their efforts and showing gratitude for their contributions is vital for sustaining their motivation and ensuring their continued participation. If this acknowledgement is in the form of monetary sponsorship, it is the best.
- Mental and Emotional Support: Developing and maintaining open source projects can be mentally and emotionally taxing. Contributors may face burnout, imposter syndrome, or even harassment. Providing supportive environments, establishing mentorship programs, and fostering inclusive communities are essential to ensure the well-being of open source humans.
- Sustainable Funding Models: Many open source projects struggle to secure sustainable funding. Without adequate financial resources, contributors may find it challenging to dedicate their time and energy to projects while fulfilling their basic needs. Supporting initiatives that promote financial stability, such as sponsorships, grants, or crowdfunding, is crucial to prevent talented individuals from being forced to abandon their contributions due to financial constraints.
- Professional Growth Opportunities: Open source involvement can significantly enhance an individual’s technical skills and professional portfolio. By recognizing and valuing the skills acquired through open source contributions, we can open doors for career advancement and encourage broader participation.
- Diversity and Inclusion: Open source projects benefit from diverse perspectives and experiences. Promoting diversity and inclusion within the community ensures a more robust and representative ecosystem. By providing equal opportunities and combating bias and discrimination, we can attract a broader range of contributors and foster a more inclusive environment.
Embracing open source is not just about the code; it’s about the people who make it all possible. The concept of Critical Human Infrastructure reminds us that we must prioritize the needs, well-being, and sustainability of open source humans alongside the technical aspects of projects. By recognizing and addressing the challenges faced by contributors, we can build a stronger, more inclusive open source community that thrives on collaboration, innovation, and human well-being. Let us not forget that open source is not solely about the software; it’s about the humans behind the scenes, and their needs should remain at the forefront of our discussions and actions.