Moving on From GitHub

Last year I joined GitHub as Director Of Community. My role has been to champion and manage GitHub’s global, scalable community development initiatives. Friday was my last day as a hubber and I wanted to share a few words about why I have decided to move on.

My passion has always been about building productive, engaging communities, particularly focused on open source and technology. I have devoted my career to understanding the nuances of this work and which workflow, technical, psychological, and leadership ingredients can deliver the most effective and rewarding results.

As part of this body of work I wrote The Art of Community, founded the annual Community Leadership Summit, and I have led the development of community at Canonical, XPRIZE, OpenAdvantage, and for a range of organizations as a consultant and advisor.

I was attracted to GitHub because I was already a fan and was excited by the potential within such a large ecosystem. GitHub’s story has been a remarkable one and it is such a core component in modern software development. I also love the creativity and elegance at the core of GitHub and the spirit and tone in which the company operates.

Like any growing organization though, GitHub will from time to time need to make adjustments in strategy and organization. One component in some recent adjustments sadly resulted in the Director of Community role going away.

The company was enthusiastic about my contributions and encouraged me to explore some other roles that included positions in product marketing, professional services, and elsewhere. So, I met with these different teams to explore some new and existing positions and see what might be a good fit. Thanks to everyone in those conversations for your time and energy.

Unfortunately, I ultimately didn’t feel they matched my passion and skills for building powerful, productive, engaging communities, as I mentioned above. As such, I decided it was time to part ways with GitHub.

Of course, I am sad to leave. Working at GitHub was a blast. GitHub is a great company and is working on some valuable and important areas that strike right at the center of how we build great software. I worked with some wonderful people and I have many fond memories. I am looking forward to staying in touch with my former colleagues and executives and I will continue to be an ardent supporter, fan, and user of both GitHub and Atom.

So, what is next? Well, I have a few things in the pipeline that I am not quite ready to share yet, so stay tuned and I will share this soon. In the meantime, to my fellow hubbers, live long and prosper!

Kindness and Community

On Friday last week I flew out to Austin to run the Community Leadership Summit and join OSCON. When I arrived in Austin, I called home and our son, Jack, was rather upset. It was clear he wasn’t just missing daddy, he also wasn’t feeling very well.

As the week unfolded he developed strep throat. While a fairly benign issue in the scheme of things, it is clearly uncomfortable for him and pretty scary for a 3 year-old. With my wife, Erica, flying out today to also join OSCON and perform one of the keynotes, it was clear that I needed to head home to take care of him. So, I packed my bag, wrestled to keep the OSCON FOMO at bay, and headed to the airport.

Coordinating the logistics was no simple feat, and stressful. We both feel awful when Jack is sick, and we had to coordinate new flights, reschedule meetings, notify colleagues and handover work, coordinate coverage for the few hours in-between her leaving and me landing, and other things. As I write this I am on the flight heading home and at some point she will zoom past me on another flight heading to Austin.

Now, none of this is unusual. Shit happens. People face challenges every day, and many far worse than this. What struck me so notably today though was the sheer level of kindness from our friends, family, and colleagues.

People wrapped around us like a glove. Countless people offered to take care of responsibilities, help us with travel and airport runs, share tips for helping Jack feel better, provide sympathy and support, and more.

This was all after a weekend of running the Community Leadership Summit, an event that solicited similar levels of kindness. There were volunteers who got out of bed at 5am to help us set up, people who offered to prepare and deliver keynotes and sessions, coordinate evening events, equipment, sponsorship contributions, and help run the event itself. Then, to top things off, there were remarkably generous words and appreciation for the event as a whole when it drew to a close.

This is the core of what makes community so special, and so important. While at times it can seem the world has been overrun with cynicism, narcissism, negativity, and selfishness, we are instead surrounded by an abundance of kindness. What helps this kindness bubble to the surface are great relationships, trust, respect, and clear ways in which people can play a participatory role and support each other. Whether it is something small like helping Erica and I to take care of our little man or something more involved such as an open source project, it never ceases to inspire and amaze me how innately kind and collaborative we are.

This is another example of why I have devoted my life to understanding every nuance I can of how we can tap into and foster these fundamental human instincts. This is how we innovate, how we make the world a better place, and how we build opportunity for everyone, no matter what their background is.

When we harness these instincts, understand the subtleties of how we think and operate, and wrap them in effective collaborative workflows and environments, we create the ability to build and disrupt things more effectively than ever.

It is an exciting journey, and I am thankful every day to be joined on it by so many remarkable people. We are going build an exciting future together and have a rocking great time doing so.

Dan Ariely on Building More Human Technology, Data, Artificial Intelligence, and More

Behavioral economics is an exciting skeleton on which to build human systems such as technology and communities.

One of the leading minds in behavioral economics is Dan Ariely, New York Times best-selling author of Predictably Irrational, The Upside Of Irrationality, and frequent TED speaker.

I recently interviewed Dan for my Forbes column to explore how behavioral economics is playing a role in technology, data, artificial intelligence, and preventing online abuse. Predictably, his insight was irrationally interesting. OK, that was a stretch.

Read the piece here

Mycroft and Building a Future of Open Artificial Intelligence

Last year a new project hit Kickstarter called Mycroft that promises to build an artificial intelligence assistant. The campaign set out to raise $99,000 and raised just shy of $128,000.

Now, artificial intelligence assistants are nothing particularly new. There are talking phones and tablets such as Apple’s Siri and Google Now, and of course the talking trash can, the Amazon Echo. Mycroft is different though and I have been pretty supportive of the project, so much so that I serve as an advisor to the team. Let me tell you why.

Here is a recent build in action, demoed by Ryan Sipes, Mycroft CTO and all round nice chap:

Mycroft is interesting both for the product it is designed to be and the way the team are building it.

For the former, artificial intelligence assistants are going to be a prevalent part of our future. Where these devices will be judged though is in the sheer scope of the functions, information, and data they can interact with. They won’t be judged by what they can do, but instead what they can’t do.

This is where the latter piece, how Mycroft is being built, really interests me.

Firstly, Mycroft is open source in not just the software, but also the hardware and service it connects to. You can buy a Mycroft, open it up, and peek into every facet of what it is, how it works, and how information is shared and communicated. Now, for most consumers this might not be very interesting, but from a product development perspective it offers some distinctive benefits:

  • A community can be formed that can play a role in the future development and success of the product. This means that developers, data scientists, advocates, and more can play a part in Mycroft.
  • Capabilities can be crowdsourced to radically expand what Mycroft can do. In much the same way OpenStreetmap has been able to map the world, developers can scratch their own itch and create capabilities to extend Mycroft.
  • The technology can be integrated far beyond the white box sitting on your kitchen counter and into Operating Systems, devices, connected home units, and beyond.
  • The hardware can be iterated by people building support for Mycroft on additional boards. This could potentially lower costs for future units with the integration work reduced.
  • Improved security for users with a wider developer community wrapped around the project.
  • A partner ecosystem can be developed where companies can use and invest in the core Mycroft open source projects to reduce their costs and expand the technology.

There is though a far wider set of implications with Mycroft too. Much has been been written about the concerns from people such as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking about the risks of artificial intelligence, primarily if it is owned by a single company, or a small set of companies.

While I don’t think skynet is taking over anytime soon, these concerns are valid and this raises the importance that artificial intelligence is something that is open, not proprietary. I think Mycroft can play a credible role in building a core set of services around AI that are part of an open commons that companies can invest in. Think of this as the OpenStack of AI, if you will.

Hacking on Mycroft

So, it would be remiss if I didn’t share a few details of how the curious among you can get involved. Mycroft currently has three core projects:

  • The Adapt Intent Parser converts natural language into machine readable data structures.
  • Mimic takes in text and reads it out loud to create a high quality voice.
  • OpenSTT is aimed at creating an open source speech-to-text model that can be used by individuals and company to allow for high accuracy, low-latency conversion of speech into text.

You can also find the various projects here on GitHub and find a thriving user and developer community here.

Mycroft are also participating in the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE where the goal is to create an artificial intelligence platform that interacts with people so naturally that when people speak to it they’ll be unable to tell of they’re talking to a machine or to a person. You can find out more about how Mycroft is participating here.

I know the team are very interested in attracting developers, docs writers, translators, advocates, and more to play a role across these different parts of the project. If this all sounds very exciting to you, be sure to get started by posting to the forum.

Upcoming Speaking at Interop and Abstractions

I just wanted to share a couple of upcoming speaking engagements going on:

  • Interop in Las Vegas – 5th May 2016 – I will be participating in the keynote panel at Interop this year. The panel is called How Open-Source Changes the IT Equation and I am looking forward to participating with Colin McNamara, Greg Ferro, and Sean Roberts.
  • Abstractions in Pittsburgh – 18-20 Aug 2016 – I will be delivering one of the headlining talks at Abstractions. This looks like an exciting new conference and my first time in Pittsburgh. Looking forward to getting out there!

Some more speaking gigs are in the works. More details soon.

Community Leadership Summit 2016

On 14th – 15th May 2016 in Austin, Texas the Community Leadership Summit 2016 will be taking place. For the 8th year now, community leaders and managers from a range of different industries, professions, and backgrounds will meet together to share ideas and best practice. See our incredible registered attendee list that is shaping up for this year’s event.

This year we also have many incredible keynotes that will cover topics such as building developer communities, tackling imposter syndrome, gamification, governance, and more. Of course CLS will incorporate the popular unconference format where the audience determine the sessions in the schedule.

We are also delighted to host the FLOSS Community Metrics event as part of CLS this year too!

The event is entirely free and everyone is welcome! CLS takes place the weekend before OSCON in the same venue in Austin. Be sure to go and register to join us and we hope to see you in Austin in May!

Many thanks to O’Reilly, Autodesk, and the Linux Foundation for their sponsorship of the event!

Suggestions for Donating a Speaker fee

In August I am speaking at Abstractions and the conference organizers very kindly offered to provide a speaker fee.

Thing is, I have a job and so I don’t need the fee as much as some other folks in the world. As such, I would like to donate the speaker fee to an open source / free software / social good organization and would love suggestions in the comments.

I probably won’t donate to the Free Software Foundations, EFF, or Software Freedom Conservancy as I have already financially contributed to them this year.

Let me know your suggestions in the comments!

Supporting Beep Beep Yarr!

Some of you may be familiar with LinuxVoice magazine. They put an enormous amount of effort in creating a high quality, feature-packed magazine with a small team. They are led by Graham Morrison who I have known for many years and who is one of the most thoughtful, passionate, and decent human beings I have ever met.

Well, the same team are starting an important new project called Beep Beep Yarr!. It is essentially a Kickstarter crowd-funded children’s book that is designed to teach core principles of programming to kids. The project not just involves the creation of the book, but also a parent’s guide and an interactive app to help kids engage with the principles in the book.

They are not looking to raise a tremendous amount of money ($28,684 is the goal converted to mad dollar) and they have already raised $15,952 at the time of writing. I just went and added my support – I can’t wait to read this to our 3 year-old, Jack.

I think this campaign is important for a few reasons. Firstly, I am convinced that learning to program and all the associated pieces (logic flow, breaking problems down into smaller pieces, maths, collaboration) is going to be a critical skill in the future. Programming is not just important for teaching people how to control computers but it also helps people to fundamentally understand and synthesize logic which has knock-on benefits in other types of thinking and problem-solving too.

Beep Beep Yarr! is setting out to provide an important first introduction to these principles for kids. It could conceivably play an essential role in jumpstarting this journey for lots of kids, our own included.

So, go and support the campaign, not just because it is a valuable project, but also because the team behind it are good people who do great work.

The Hybrid Desktop

OK, folks, I want to share a random idea that cropped up after a long conversation with Langridge a few weeks back. This is merely food for thought and designed to trigger some discussion.

Today my computing experience is comprised of Ubuntu and Mac OS X. On Ubuntu I am still playing with GNOME Shell and on Mac I am using the standard desktop experience.

I like both. Both have benefits and disadvantages. My Mac has beautiful hardware and anything I plug into it just works out the box (or has drivers). While I spend most of my life in Chrome and Atom, I use some apps that are not available on Ubuntu (e.g. Bluejeans and Evernote clients). I also find multimedia is just easier and more reliable on my Mac.

My heart will always be with Linux though. I love how slick and simple Shell is and I depend on the huge developer toolchain available to me in Ubuntu. I like how customizable my desktop is and that I can be part of a community that makes the software I use. There is something hugely fulfilling about hanging out with the people who make the tools you use.

So, I have two platforms and use the best of both. The problem is, they feel like two different boxes of things sat on the same shelf. I want to jumble the contents of those boxes together and spread them across the very same shelf.

The Idea

So, imagine this (this is total fantasy, I have no idea if this would be technically feasible.)

You want the very best computing experience, so you first go out and buy a Mac. They have arguably the nicest overall hardware combo (looks, usability, battery etc) out there.

You then download a distribution from the Internet. This is shipped as a .dmg and you install it. It then proceeds to install a bunch of software on your computer. This includes things such as:

  • GNOME Shell
  • All the GNOME 3 apps
  • Various command line tools commonly used on Linux
  • An ability to install Linux packages (e.g. Debian packages, RPMs, snaps) natively

When you fire up the distribution, GNOME Shell appears (or Unity, KDE, Elementary etc) and it is running natively on the Mac, full screen like you would see on Linux. For all intents and purposes it looks and feels like a Linux box, but it is running on top of Mac OS X. This means hardware issues (particularly hardware that needs specific drivers) go away.

Because shell is native it integrates with the Mac side of the fence. All the Mac applications can be browsed and started from Shell. Nautilus shows your Mac filesystem.

If you want to install more software you can use something such as apt-get, snappy, or another service. Everything is pulled in and available natively.

Of course, there will be some integration points where this may not work (e.g. alt-tab might not be able to display Shell apps as well as Mac apps), but importantly you can use your favorite Linux desktop as your main desktop yet still use your favorite Mac apps and features.

I think this could bring a number of benefits:

  • It would open up a huge userbase as a potential audience. Switching to Linux is a big deal for most people. Why not bring the goodness to the Mac userbase?
  • It could be a great opportunity for smaller desktops to differentiate (e.g. Elementary).
  • It could be a great way to introduce people to open source in a more accessible way (it doesn’t require a new OS).
  • It could potentially bring lots of new developers to projects such as GNOME, Unity, KDE, or Elementary.
  • It could significantly increase the level of testing, translations and other supplemental services due to more people being able to play with it.

Of course, from a purely Free Software perspective it could be seen as a step back. Then again, with Darwin being open source and the desktop and apps you install in the distribution being open source, it would be a mostly free platform. It wouldn’t be free in the eyes of the FSF, but then again, neither is Ubuntu. 😉

So, again, just wanted to throw the idea out there to spur some discussion. I think it could be a great project to see. It wouldn’t replace any of the existing Linux distros, but I think it could bring an influx of additional folks over to the open source desktops.

So, two questions for you all to respond to:

  1. What do you think? Could it be an interesting project?
  2. If so, technically how do you think this could be accomplished?

About The Author

Jono Bacon is Director of Community at Github and formerly led community at Canonical and XPRIZE. He wrote The Art of Community, founded the Community Leadership Summit, and writes columns for Forbes and opensource.com.

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