Supportive Open Source Projects

Data Generation Toolkit Logo features Loinheart Astro with bits falling on him above the project label.

For a little over two years I’ve had the privilege of helping lead the Data Generation Toolkit Project for Salesforce. In general, Open Source projects are not known for their inclusive and supportive communities. I believe it is fair to say our project demonstrates that building a supportive community can yield great results.

Started by a question I wrote on a piece of paper in 2019 and posted to a wall, the project grows more every time I look around. That first meeting inspired the creation of Snowfakery and the recent training for Snowfakery has attracted more than 300 registrants. Contributors created documentation and presentations to help Salesforce admins learn to seed sandboxes. We are building a recipe library to help people starting out on Snowfakery. We launched two faker data providers. This year we reviewing and documenting other tools to generate and move Salesforce data.

More importantly we’ve built a project that is useful to the community, and supports new contributors to open source projects.

We did not get here accidentally. The project leadership wants to support the community members as much as create new tools. From the beginning we chose to encourage people unfamiliar with open source projects, contributions, and technologies.

Leading an Supportive Open Source Project

To be a supportive project starts with the leaders.

The project currently has seven identified leaders: Alisa Edwards, Allison Letts, Jung Mun, Paul Prescod, Samantha Shain, Cassie Supilowski, and myself. For those who like diversity statistics: that can be seen as 5 women, 2 men, 3 countries of residence, 3 counties of origin (not the same 3), 3 developers, 4 Salesforce admins, and at least 3 racial identities. No sub-group perfectly reflects its community, but that’s not a bad start in my opinion.

We have agreed that some of us lead specific sub-projects, while others tend to the health of the community. Everyone has a role.

When we started out with just 4 leaders either Paul (as creator and maintainer of Snowfakery) or I (as the person who started the project) could have dominated the project claiming founder status. Certainly men leading other open source projects have used that status to control the project direction. But Salesforce Open Source Commons projects are designed to discourage that behavior, and Paul and I embraced that design. Cori O’Brien created a wonderful space for our project to grow within.

Any open source project should focus on supporting its users. Our goal as a project is to support the Salesforce community – particularly nonprofit and education users. To do that we need the insights that only come from being open to outside ideas.

Our project’s leadership also established a pattern of self-review and reflection. Each year we will gather to discuss if the leadership group is the right size, and if anyone needs to step down. That creates a space for us to routinely reflect on what we’re doing and if we’re doing it well. The invitation to leave frees people from responsibilities they have to the project without frustration or burn out.

Recipes for Open Source Projects

Beyond our leadership team structure we also are intentional about how we encourage all contributors.

The project as a whole has space for all kinds of contributions. If someone wants to write documentation we will support them. When someone wants to learn to write recipes, we will work in pairs to get through the first one. People who want to write Python code for our faker providers get the chance to do that too.

We try to be kind to all contributors. We thank everyone when they open pull-requests or issues. Even I get thanked when I open a PR. Even if someone needs to make significant changes to a contribution before we commit it, we make sure to praise their effort.

These aren’t shit sandwiches. We genuinely appreciate all contributions and divorce that from any corrections that we request. As a long time open source contributor I am surprised at how much I appreciate the messages.

Maintaining Supportive Discussion Channels

Most open source maintainers know we have to maintain good ways for contributors to ask questions. Over time projects have used a wide variety of tools: IRC, News Groups, Email, issue trackers, and now Slack. In most projects those are the spaces that tend to become ugly. You see RTFM-style answers, personal criticisms, identity-based attacks, and other ugliness. The Slack channels for our project are a key piece of how we engage with each other, and support new contributors. We work hard to make sure people get timely answers, clear directions, and steady encouragement.

Our work falls within a community where our reputations matter and so there is a level of decorum absent in some open source projects. But no group is perfect and we will address issues when they arise. The open source common’s DEI Framework project will hopefully help us continue to deepen our understanding of the community. The kinds of attacks open source community spaces frequently allow in the name of good code, are simply unacceptable.

Come Join Us

The next community sprint for our project is coming up May 4th & 5th.

Protests in America – Black Lives Matter

Over the last few weeks the US has been moved to action about policing and racial justice in response to the murder of George Floyd. As someone who is deeply concerned about these issues I always struggle to find words I feel do the topic justice; they seem too important to stay silent, too critical to speak about poorly, and too complex for me to write about well. For my limitations in what follows, I’m sorry.

As a society we are still working to understand that the violence and murders by police we see played out regularly in the new is not just the fault of the individual officers or their by-stander colleagues, but also the fault of our society as a whole. This has not happened in a vacuum. Our communities have voted too often for people and policies that brought us here instead of doing something better.

But all those are things you can read about in detail from more skilled writers than me. And if you haven’t you should.

I want to talk here more about the fact that we all know we cannot trust the police to handle complex situations, in particular protests. It is why we all set our expectations that it is simply someone else’s job to maintain calm when large crowds are involved with police.

The most basic sign of this lack of trust is that no one doubts the importance of the long-standing understanding among families raising children of color that they must teach very young kids how to de-escalate with police because they cannot trust officers not to shoot a child playing alone in the park. If that’s not something you’ve known was happening for a long time, I recommend Clint Smith’s letter to his then-future son, and more broadly his recent interview on TED Radio Hour. If you are a person of color, a woman, or mentally ill it’s long been clear that society expects you to protect yourself against police officers.

Beyond those seemly obvious, but still debated reasons, we have all long shown we don’t trust police in how we talk about protests. Until the videos of police violence from protests caused a shift in how we talk about these events in the last few weeks we had a very standard story around any riot, protest, or civil unrest which assumed police could not handle angry expressions of the first amendment.

The story starts with a nonviolent march or gathering, and then degrades into a violent riot because of a few bad people in the crowd. The police are be cast as innocent bystanders until the violence broke out, then they became heroes working to regain control for the rest of us. We see these stories on the news and wring our hands about a good message being marred by violence – too bad they didn’t learn Dr. King’s message.

If you have been to a large protest you probably know in your gut that’s not how it works in real life. In practice throughout the day the police are making decisions about how to interact with the crowd. Often this starts with little or no containment during the initial events, then the police start to restrict the group’s movement. They use increasingly aggressive tactics to try to control the physical direction of protesters putting pressure on the crowd they say they want to keep calm. Sometimes they say this is to enforce a permit, sometimes they claim to be protecting businesses, and sometimes they don’t give any reason. When things finally turn angry and violent, the police have made themselves the front line and often starting the actual fighting. There is no actual reason to make this shift in most cases, just things like a sense that protests after dark are more dangerous and the cost of policing.

An anti-Trump march in Philadelphia in 2017, well after their permit expired and out of bounds for the march, but being guided by police not confronted for another hour or two.

We have long criticized marchers for damaging small businesses, burning their own neighborhoods, while ignoring that police and politicians tried to control where protests were held and used force to keep people in their neighborhoods.

A wet older man standing in front of the water cannon truck with lots of younger people on the ground around him.

Reporters, politicians, and police would ignore all the research of large crowd dynamics, and blame the crowd for doing what large groups of angry people do when pressed – fight back.

In the US we started to assume it was the protester’s job to stay nonviolent in the face of extreme police response during the 1960’s and 1970’s when the civil rights and antiwar movements showed it was possible. It is also important to remember that while there were amazing peaceful protests in that period, there were also large riots, rebellions, and general civil unrest. We remember the great example set an inspired few, not the larger contexts of events that unfolded.

Riot police, and other officers in the shade talking with protesters.
The protesters at this event invited the police into the shade and offered them water and fresh fruit. It was meant to help keep the officers calm on a hot day, because we could not trust them to remain calm without our help.

Just because we want large protests expressing anger at our government to be nonviolent that does not mean we can reasonably expect every group to manage the needed level of organization and training to make that possible. We have a paid, trained, group of people we already expect to show up for these events – why don’t we assume they are going to help make sure these events are empowering expressions of our first amendment rights? Why do we assume that the unpaid citizens exercising their rights need to be able to handle situations that police cannot?

Currently our police are badly trained at de-escalation, even though it’s been shown to keep them safer. That training will cost money, but we could cover that by cutting funding of unneeded weapons like armored personnel carriers. I know some people who can run that kind of training – trust me they would do a lot of training for the annual maintenance budget on one of those things.

People at the side of the road with signs that read: No Human Being is Illegal. Families belong together. My Family Came as Refugees. No Heat No Ice. Keep Families together. And other slogans.

Yes, being a police officer is hard. I agree with the many officers complaining that we expect them to do all kinds of things they shouldn’t be asked to do because yes they need better solutions around them. And of course they should expect they will come home safely at the end of their shifts. But just because a job is hard, and can be dangerous, does not make it okay to do the job badly – in fact that seems like an argument to do the job well.

The flaws in our system are not the fault of individual officers – no one officer can reform the system (although any one of four police officers could have saved George Floyd’s life by stopping his murder). No one mayor, police chief, nor any one person has the power to make the kind of change we need to make our communities safer for everyone in them. Everyone is responsible for their own personal behavior, but dismissing gross misconduct including murders as the acts of a few “bad apples” instead of recognizing that they are part of a system that our society built is an injustice in itself.

The system is well past needing simple reforms being debated in Washington and many state legislatures. Maybe if we’d really reformed things after the police riots of the 1960’s, when departments were smaller and officers less protected from consequences, we could have used incremental measures. Now we need drastic sweeping changes. We need to understand that Camden, NJ’s choice to disband and rebuild their department was a first step that shows you’re serious but doesn’t mean you’ve made enough progress. After you totally reboot you still have to be ready to totally rebuild.

Handmade sign reading Are you going bkwds? or are you going fwds?
We are going forwards, we don’t have a choice, the question is where will that take us?

Arts in the Heart 2019

This year’s Arts in the Heart of Augusta was not hurricane plagued the way last year’s was, and was a great weekend of good food, performances, and generally great chances to take pictures.

Each year opens with a parade to celebrate the diverse set of communities that have settled in and around Augusta.

The whole event is built around artists selling their work. They manage to pull in people from a fairly large area, but also make space for young local artists to try to get started selling their work.

For us, and for many others, the variety of ethic foods available for purchase is a large part of the draw.

It’s also a great event for just plain people watching. Between watching the various performances, enjoying the vendors, and the many activities, there are lots of chances to watch people having a good time with their friends and family.

Mixed in with the vendors, food, family activities, stages, and other goes on are always a mix of street performers.

There are several stages setup throughout the event, spanning several city blocks. The performances range from local signers to dance troops, street performers

Until next year…

Two people walking away from the camera as the sun is setting. A few other people milling about.  The woman is wearing a traditional Mexican dress and hat.

SC DUG August 2019

After a couple months off, SC DUG met this month with a presentation on super cheap Drupal hosting.

Chris Zietlow from Mindgrub, Will Jackson from Kanopi Studios, and I all gave short talks very cheap ways to host Drupal 8.

Chris opened by talking about using AWS Micro servers. Will shared a solution using a Raspberry Pi for a fully wireless server. I closed the discussion with a review of using Drupal Tome on Netlify.

We all worked from a loose set of rules to help keep us honest and prevent overlapping:

Rules for Cheap D8 Hosting Challenge

The goal is to figure out the cheapest D8 hosting that would actually function for a project, even if it is deeply irresponsible to actually use.

Rules

  1. It has to actually work for D8 (so modern PHP version, working database, etc),
  2. You do not actually have to spend the money, but you do need to know all the steps required to make it work.
  3. It needs to honor the TOS for any networks and services you use (no illegal network taps – legal hidden taps are fair game).
  4. You have to share your idea with the other players so we don’t have two people propose the same solution (first-come-first-serve on ideas).

Reporting

Be prepared to talk for about 5 minutes on how your solution would work.  Your talk needs to include:

  1. Estimated Monthly cost for the first year.
  2. Steps required to make it work.
  3. Known weaknesses.

If you have a super cheap hosting solution for Drupal 8 we’d love to hear about it.

SC DUG May 2019

For this month’s SC DUG, Mauricio Orozco from the South Carolina Commission for Minority Affairs shared his notes and lessons learned during his first DrupalCon North America.

We frequently use these presentations to practice new presentations, try out heavily revised versions, and test out new ideas with a friendly audience. If you want to see a polished version checkout our group members’ talks at camps and cons. So if some of the content of these videos seems a bit rough please understand we are all learning all the time and we are open to constructive feedback.

If you would like to join us please check out our up coming events on Meetup for meeting times, locations, and connection information.

On Being An Activist

When someone tries to insult you with what you often see as a compliment it is worth stopping to reflect. Am I an activist? If I’m not, should I be?

On Valentines Day this year my wife and I spent a few hours at DSS for a meeting related to some of the children we work with in the Guardian ad Litem program. In the course of a rather tense conversation a caseworker tossed out “Well, I am not an activist.” with the clear intention of implying that I am, and that activists are a problem.

It is the first time I can recall being called an Activist as an insult, and I’ve been a bit hung up on the topic ever since.

Between my personal and professional life I have a very high standard for what it means to be an activist. I have friends, including a former boss, who were arrested the recently protesting the conditions asylum seekers face coming to the US. Among them my friend Lucy who is willing to do this for more than just one cause. I was around when AFSC started to help restore the legacy of Bayard Rustin and his work planning the March on Washington and making the phrase “Speak truth to power” commonly known. My friend Tom Fox traveled around the middle east participating in peace movements until he was kidnapped and murdered in Iraq.

Those are activists.

At AFSC I had colleagues who would argue if you haven’t been arrested for a cause you aren’t really an activist. We had critics who argued that because AFSC staff were paid they couldn’t be true activists. I didn’t then, nor now, fully agree with those arguments, but my point is that when someone calls me an “activist” those are the comparisons they are drawing in my mind.

My credentials as an activist on that scale are weak at best. The first time I spent a lot of time with activists was in 1999 during the Hague Appeal for Peace and a peace walk that followed. The group walked from the Peace Palace – home of the international criminal court – in The Hague, Netherlands to Nato Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. That picture of the water cannon firing on a crowd at the top of the page is mine, although I wasn’t willing to risk arrest that day (my sister was getting married the next week and my mother would have killed me if I’d missed it because I had been arrested in Europe – would a true activist be deterred by such things?).

It was a great experience, but didn’t do a thing toward our goal of nuclear disarmament – I now live in a town supported by nuclear weapons maintenance (and soon pit production too).

After college I took a job at AFSC which consisted of largely back office functions of one type or another – while defining for my career and personally gratifying work there is an important difference between building the tools activists need to communicate and being the activist. In 2008 I was part of planning a peace conference in Philadelphia as part of the Peace and Concerns standing committee, but it is important to note that I objected to the civil disobedience that was part of that event (being a consensus driven process people feared I would block it entirely – but I stood aside so they could move forward).

I’ve been to other events and protests, although sometimes as much accidentally as purposefully. So while the account is not empty, it’s not exactly the kinda stuff that gets you into history books, or even an FBI file worth reading.

Having spent much of my professional life supporting back office functions on nonprofits, and now interacting with DSS as a volunteer who has to be careful about what I share since I have to maintain the privacy of the kids we work with, I struggle to envision myself as an activist.  I support activists sure, but I don’t see myself as one.

But when someone tries to insult you with what you often see as a compliment it is worth stopping to reflect.  Am I an activist? If I’m not, should I be?

It occurred to me this case worker has a much lower standard of what it means to be an activist than I do – anyone who simply speaks against the status quo in favor of well established laws and precedents are activists in his book. To be fair he’s not far off the suggestion Bayard Rustin, and the committee who helped him write Speak Truth to Power, were making. And as much as I am sure they would deny it, the caseworkers are the most powerful people in the lives of children in foster care: they dictate where the children live, who they can talk to, if/when they see siblings, when they buy clothes, where they go to school, what doctors they see, and without an active advocate they shape how the courts see the children. And right now in South Carolina their power is being tested and reigned in because a group of Guardians ad Litem stood up a few years ago to the rampant systemic abuses.

The ramifications of that class action are still being determined, and no one really knows what the lasting effect will be. But this case worker has inspired me to make sure we honor the sacrifices they made (all were forced to stop fighting for the named children because they were “distractions”).

I’m not sure I am an activist, but I promised those kids I would stay with them until the judge ordered me to stop. No matter what taunting I get from the case workers, their bosses, and others within the power structure I can speak truth to power as long as I must.

Thoughts on Hacktoberfest 2018

This year I took part in Hacktoberfest. Partially to see what all the fuss is about, partially to get myself involved in projects I didn’t know about, and partially for the free t-shirt (which do come in men’s and women’s cuts).  If you haven’t run into this project before it’s an effort by Digital Ocean to get people to participate in open source projects. Once you sign up they count all public pull requests you make on Github toward a goal of 5. I participated both as a developer, and by tagging a few issues on my own projects so people would find them.

As a developer:

It was a great excuse to go find new projects and look at ways I can contribute.  While I’d have plenty of experience on open source projects, often they have been outside Github or are repos I have commit access to – so I don’t open a lot of pull requests on Github. That meant that Hacktoberfest was a chance to find new projects and practice a basic process for contributing code to teams.

In that regard it was a pretty good success. I opened six PRs on four different projects. Mostly they were small stuff like linting code, updating packages, or tweaking a README file.  

In terms of drawing me into projects we’ll see. I did keep up with one after I finished the 5 required (hence having six PRs), but I didn’t dive into anything truly hard on that project.  

In terms of getting me to provide truly useful code think that was limited. The largest piece of code I wrote was initially rejected so I re-wrote in a different style, and then re-written by the project maintainer the day after he accepted the PR. He was really nice about it, and it helped him get something done that had been on the to-do list for a long time, but even that was example code to be used in classrooms (which was why he was so concerned about style – he didn’t want it to be idiomatically correct for Python he wanted to clear to beginners).

It did give me a chance to play around in other people’s code bases and I did resolve some issues for people that would have otherwise lingered longer than they already had.  It also forced me to meet other people’s standards, lint to their specifications, and pass their automated tests – all good things for everyone to do now and again to see if there are solutions you like better than the ones you use every day.

As a project owner:

Once I got through the contributions I needed to get a shirt, I figured I’d look over my own projects to see if there were issues I could label for beginners to help them find ways to get started. I listed several issues are both Hacktoberfest and good first issues. Almost all the ones I flagged as good first issues got PRs opened – sometimes more than one.

I got two problems solved that I wouldn’t have known how to solve without a bit of research, and those were great. But most of the PRs were simple things that took me longer to solve collaboratively than it would have taken me to solve myself. That’s okay, in part because some of my PRs caused the same problem for their project maintainers, and because it forced me to final learn how to setup CircleCI so the code gets checked and tested automatically when PRs are opened in the future.

What I don’t expect it caused was anyone to be truly interested in the project and helping it move forward over time. So while I solved a couple small problems, I did not get new help that going to keep engaging. That made it useful as a sprint, but not useful to helping build great projects.

But even if there is room for improvement my shirt is ordered and on the way.

Aiken’s Makin’ 2018

This weekend was the annual Aiken’s Makin’ Arts and Craft show. I took a few hours earlier today to enjoy show, eat some terribly unhealthy food, and take some pictures

Families Belong Together: Augusta, GA

This afternoon my wife and I went to the Families Belong Together protest at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta, and organized by a few of their members, Progressives for Democratic Reform, along with a few other like minded groups that think tearing families apart is repugnant (at best).

Making the invisible visible.

This is a guest post from my wife, and co-Guardian ad Litem, Elizabeth Georgian. You can read more about our Guardian ad Litem work in this previous post.

In a world that at times seems to grow increasingly uncaring, chaotic, and impossible to change, two sets of teenagers, a century apart, living remarkably different lives, may offer us a path forward.

On March 25, 1911, 145 textile workers perished in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. They died of smoke inhalation, flames, or from injuries sustained as they leapt down the elevator shaft or out of the ninth story windows.  The factory owners had locked these young, largely immigrant women in their building so they could inspect their bags as they left and on that day no one remembered to free them.

Two years earlier, the Triangle Shirtwaist factory workers had gone on strike, as part of a larger effort on the part of textile workers across New York city.  As these young women picketed, marched, and struck, police beat them, with the approval of many bystanders. The media paid little attention, except when a small number of wealthy women joined them in their protests.

Few non-working class New Yorkers cared that the children spent their days in factories not schools, immigrants lived in dire poverty, and working conditions were hazardous.  It was only in death that they became human.

From the American Experience documentary about the fire:

Newspapers, public officials, the wider world had begun to attach names to these Triangle workers by then: Rosie Bassino and her sister Irene; Max Lehrer and his brother Sam; Mary Goldstein; the Saracino sisters; Michela Marciano, who had survived an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius before emigrating to America; Rose Manofsky, whose little sister had lost her sole source of support; and Salvatore Maltese, who had buried every female in his household: his wife Catherine, his 20-year old daughter Lucia and his daughter Rosaria, who was – at 14 – the fire’s youngest victim.

Apathy and even hostility towards the labor movement finally changed to outrage, support, and eventually significant reform as these invisible women suddenly became visible.

One hundred years later, the official charge from the family court to Guardian ad Litems charges us with conducting an independent investigation so we can make recommendations to the court.  To conduct those investigations, guardians have a right to sit in on all meetings about the teenagers we advocate for, visit their schools, talk to their teachers and doctors, and see where they live and meet with their caregivers. In doing so, I discovered to my amazement, that I have the power to make an invisible child–often poor, neglected or abused, afraid to open-up, justifiably suspicious of the system, and sometimes openly hostile–appear human. All of a sudden an angry school principle stops seeing a defiant, scary teenager in need of expulsion and instead sees a child afraid of the world and in need of help rebuilding trust.

Recently, while working with the staff in for-profit group homes, I have stumbled on the power of the language of motherhood. While I don’t actually consider the teenagers we work with children, I use that language, I describe them as my children and myself as their mother, at least figuratively.  The effect is polarizing. For a few adults, the reminder that the person they are intent on punishing is a human being and someone’s child makes them angry. But more often than not, that language de-escalates tense situations, helps me refocus conversations around the children’s strengths rather than their perceived failings, and leads us out of confrontation into negotiation or even creative problem solving.

Increasingly I see part of my role as showing the teenagers that they don’t have to be invisible.  That they have rights that deserve to be respected, needs that deserve to be met, feelings that deserve to be honored.  And seeing me stick up for them helps them see themselves as more valuable and also more powerful. Sometimes I am rewarded by watching them learn to successfully advocate for themselves and make a difference in their lives, to see themselves as powerful.

Today, the anonymous victims of textile factory fires are still poor women, still invisible, but this time we ignore them because they live in foreign places that most of us have never seen: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, even while, like New Yorkers, we wear the clothes they make.

So who else am I still leaving invisible? Who are you making visible?