Carol Chen

Carol makes FOSS and takes our Twitter mic from August 26 to September 02. Thank you, Carol!

Please tell us about yourself

Hello everyone! My name is Carol Chen, and my pronouns are she/her/hers. You can find me as cybette on Twitter, GitHub, Freenode IRC etc. I’m a seasoned geek (been on IRC with that nick since 1994) and an amateur musician (playing timpani/percussion in a local orchestra). Travelling is a big part of my life, both professionally and personally, and I really enjoy exploring different cultures, music, people, and cuisine! I’ve lived in 4 countries on 3 continents, and the restrictions due to the pandemic have been extra difficult because I’m not able to visit my family in the other 2 continents. However, we are fortunate to have much better ways to communicate and stay in touch than ever before.

What are you working on right now?

Currently I work for Red Hat, and I’m part of the Ansible Community team. My responsibilities include taking care of events related to Ansible community/upstream, such as meetups and the Ansible Contributor Summit, all of which are happening online nowadays. I also help with editing the The Bullhorn, which is our newsletter for the Ansible developer community; as well as engaging in some of the social channels with the community, such as Twitter and Reddit.

What is most interesting about that?

Oh it’s hard to narrow it down to one thing. I love feedback from the community. They will enlighten you about what’s working well and what’s not, ways to improve not just the project but also the processes, and sharing their passion for the project with interesting stories and use cases. Through the interactions and building of trust, I’ve come to regard some of them as part of my extended family. Because I’ve been involved in several open source communities, attending a FOSS event is like a family reunion of sorts, where I spend most of my time in the hallway track catching up with people. The travelling part is a nice bonus which is unavailable in 2020 :)

How did you first discover FOSS?

I learnt about Unix systems in college. Being so different from the mainstream consumer OSes, they intrigued me. However, it wasn’t part of the main curriculum, and remote access via dial-up was painfully slow (and not compatible with family harmony). So when a classmate told me about Linux, which has some similarities, plus it’s free and I can install it on my own PC, I was hooked. My first install was Red Hat Linux 6.x (I wish I remembered the exact version). I did have to pay for the distribution medium (CD-ROMs nicely packaged in a box), but I chose that over downloading the distro over dial-up. Although I’ve been a Linux user ever since, joining LUG (Linux User Groups) and similar communities, my first FOSS contribution wasn’t until later on when I worked for Nokia.

What prompted you to start contributing to FOSS?

My initial FOSS contributions were work related. I was working in the Symbian multimedia team in Nokia, specifically on the video playback engine. The engine was based on the cross-platform, open source Helix DNA Client. Collaborating in the open with other companies in the community scrutinizing my code was scary at first, but I also learnt a lot and began to enjoy it. When Nokia started developing the Linux-based Maemo, I wanted to be a part of it. I couldn’t find an opportunity internally, so I attended events to get to know people with similar interests and soon started organizing these events. Through all these I realized that there are many ways to contribute to FOSS in addition to code, especially when it comes to not just making the project successful, but also be able to sustain its growth.

Why should others get involved with FOSS?

Different people have different reasons for getting involved. Some are looking for an existing solution that solves their problem, and contribute to make that solution even better. Some are interested in the technology and want to learn more about what it can do. Some are trying to get development experience with real-life projects beyond textbooks. Some want to meet up with like-minded people. Whatever your reason is, FOSS involvement can open up many doors of opportunity for you.

How should they get started?

I could write a long blog post about this :) Part of it depends on the project, but in general, you’re probably interested to get involved because you’re using it. As a user, you can start by filing bugs, writing/fixing documentation, and even doing translations. All these help to make the project more usable for yourself and others. Find the main communication channels of the community and join the discussion forums or chat groups to get to know the people and how you can participate. Attend events. Organize events. Talk about the project. Take a class. Teach a class. Ok maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here…. Want to code? Start with attending a developer meeting and ask for low-hanging fruits/easy-fixes. Join Hacktoberfest, which is happening soon. Now that you’re ready to jump in, be sure to familiar yourself with the community’s code of conduct!

What difficulties and limitations do you see with FOSS?

Lack of diversity. I know the problem exists generally in the tech industry and is not isolated to FOSS, however, as many people contribute to FOSS in their own time (i.e. not as a paying job), it favours those who in one way or another, have the privilege of available time and resources to participate. Thus people who are primary caregivers in their household, or who don’t have the economic means to afford working on a project for “free” etc., have more challenges to overcome before they get involved in FOSS. In the FOSS communities I’ve worked with, I think people are inclusive and accepting in general, but that does not automatically translate to increased participants from under-represented groups.

How can they be solved?

I wish I have the answer to that :) In my 20 years in the tech industry (10+ in FOSS), I have seen improvements, but at a pace even more frustrating than dial-up internet. First I have to be aware of my own privileges, then seek to understand the challenges faced by others, followed by finding solutions which target the root of the problem. Open discussions and communication, much like the open source way of doing things, have been paving a path in the right direction. In many major conferences nowadays you’ll find a D&I track dedicated to presentations on Diversity and Inclusion. But the discussions should not end when the conference ends. It should be a continuous process of finding the best ways to provide opportunities for different groups of people. I’m glad to say that this is the case in my team/company and community, and we have a lot more work to do. I’m always eager to reach out and hear from others as well.

What does a perfect day off look like?

Either flying East to see my parents or West to hang out with my sister. But since that process is blocked for the foreseeable future, maybe creating videos with Kdenlive or music with MuseScore. Then think about how I can promote or contribute back to these 2 excellent FOSS projects :)