Molly de Blanc

Strategic Initiatives Manager of the Gnome Foundation

July 2020

Molly makes FOSS and takes our Twitter mic from July 08 to 15. Thank you, Molly!

Tell us about yourself

I work for the GNOME Foundation, and have several other past and present FOSS affiliations, which I’ll talk a bit about later. I live in the US and quarantine has been going on for quite a while here, so most of my non-work habits seem so far away. I’m trying to drink less coffee, which is hard. I play bassoon and guitar in a very twee indie pop band. I ride a bike a lot. Later today, in fact, I am biking to the beach.

What are you working on right now?

For GNOME, we have GUADEC coming up July 22 - 28. It’s a whole lot of fun, and a lot of our energy is preparing for that in various ways. I’ll be giving two talks, one with Melissa Wu on Foundation activities over the past year and one with Karen Sandler. You should watch both (and other talks as well), especially since registration is free and it’s all online!

We’re working on building out the Advisory Board and sponsorships for events like GNOME.Asia, Linux App Summit, and the Pan African GNOME Summit. I’ve been working on some partnerships and initiatives that we’re not quite ready to share yet, but I am very excited to tell you more soon.

I’ve also been doing a lot of writing with Karen Sandler, analyzing the ethics of computing technologies. I’ve also been working with Dr. Kit Heintzman on writing about digital rights in the classroom, thinking about how technology choice affects students and instructors.

What is most interesting about that?

I really love my job at GNOME. It’s interesting, challenging, I get to meet a lot of really cool people, and I learn so much every day. I like seeing things come together and sharing enthusiasm with others. As for GUADEC, I love events! Kristi Progri, the Programs Coordinator at GNOME, has been working incredibly hard on trying to capture the magic of GUADEC and bring it online. I’m amazed at what she’s been doing, so working with her has been great. I’m also really proud that we’ve launched a big accessibility push at GNOME. With so many users – and with tools like WebKitGTK being so widely used – greater accessibility is really important.

My academic background is in History and Philosophy of Science, so a lot of my undergraduate career was spent thinking about the philosophy behind science, both in terms of what it is and in terms of what it means. Applying those skills to technology feels very natural. I like talking about the impact technology has on us and our lives, and what the ethical and philosophical implications of technology are. I’m pretty focused on marginalized populations and their interactions with technology.

I would sum this up by saying I think both my job in FOSS and my hobbies in FOSS really are important and have the potential to make people’s lives better. That excites me.

How did you first discover FOSS?

A family friend took me to Penguicon, where I was first introduced to FOSS. When I was at university, I learned about Creative Commons and something clicked about the important of building a Commons of content, code, media, and experiences. I took classes on things like Bioethics and Causality as a student, and that helped draw the connections between rights and technology.

What prompted you to start contributing to FOSS?

I’m addicted to volunteering, so I started to help out at Penguicon. A few years later I took on a leadership role. When I attended my first DebConf in 2010, I wanted to become more involved because the people were so great. Ten years later I’ve worked on a few big projects there and am a Debian Developer – an official member of the project.

Why should others get involved with FOSS?

I think everyone should be using technology that is designed, built, and functions ethically – and in order for that to be true they need to be using FOSS.

How should they get started?

I think the first step is to acknowledge that you’re already using FOSS, whether you know it or not. Do you use Android? Do you use Signal? Do you have a car, or television, or oven? After that, it’s good to look at the software you’re using and ask yourself what do you have the time to get to know. LibreOffice is a great replacement for other office suites, for example. Try jitsi instead of Zoom.

What difficulties and limitations do you see with FOSS?

With the technology itself, there’s design and usability issues. FOSS can just be hard, or not work. The FOSS community has a lot of problems, and talking about them would become quite long (and this is already quite long :)). I’ll say that becoming a contributor and continuing to be one is hard for many, many reasons.

How can they be solved?

Deb Nicholson talks about the free software utopia, which is a concept we must all understand in order to make a better FOSS community, which in turn will allow us to make better free and open technology. One of the first steps we must take is to understand that we cannot build technology that works for everyone without everyone being involved.

Where do you see difficulties in contributing?

I see this divided between “social” and “technical.” Social difficulties include things like unwelcoming communities and language barriers; technical difficulties include things like technical issues and poor documentation. I think these are all things we can work on as long as we’re thoughtful and dedicated to making it happen.

What does a perfect day off look like?

Biking somewhere far away, eating ice cream, and taking the ferry back home, preferably at sunset.

Do you want to tell us something else we didn’t ask?

What’s your superpower? Remembering strange keywords from articles that make it possible to find them again with a search engine.