Episode 11

Diversity in Open Source with Laura Gaetano


September 24th, 2019

49 mins 53 secs

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About this Episode

In this week’s episode of Sustain Our Software the panel interviews Laura Gaetano. Laura is a developer and designer, whose main job was running was running Rails Girls Summer of Code. The panel considers how great Rails Girls is and all that they are doing. The panel also expresses their love for the Rails framework. 

Laura explains the difference between Rails Girls and Rails Girls Summer of Code. The panel asks about the challenges that the Rails Girls Summer of code experience. Laura tells the panel how open source and the Ruby community has changed since they started. When they first started Rails Girls Summer of Code there was a lot less support for open source and diversity in programming. Now their main challenges are lack of resources, such as money and people who are invested in Rails Girls Summer of Code for the long term. 

Other challenges in the organization stem from the nature of the organization. They are just trying to get everything done, that things like documentation and long term management solutions get forgotten. They want to get all their experience for the last six years documented so that knowledge can help in the future of Rails Girls Summer of Code. 

The panel considers what a great feeling it is when people use or contribute to their open source and ask Laura what it’s like to actually help someone become a developer through her open source efforts. Laura explains how amazing it is to see women from past Rails Girls Summer of Code and their success. Laura shares her love of open source and the collaboration that happens in the community. Doing Rails Girls Summer of Code she gets a lot more human contact than in typical open source projects, she explains how that has made a difference in the way that she sees open source. 

The panel asks Laura about the state of diversity in open source. Laura explains that there are initiatives out there to support diversity in opensource. She invites everyone to visit opensourcediversity.org. They provide resources to learn about diversity. They even have an open forum where people have a safe space to learn about diversity. She explains that diversity is now a common talking point at conferences to help improve diversity by educating developers about it. The panel discusses making projects more inclusive and explains how Github added s social impact feature that helps make your project more inclusive. 

The topic turns to a talk Laura gave in 2017. Her talk explains that open source needs more than code. She explains that she would like to see more crowdsourcing of knowledge and design in open source. Programming is a major part of open source and she is so impressed the how willing programmers are to volunteer their time. However, she would love to see that desire from other people in the technology industry. Open source would be more maintainable if they had people marketing, networking, documenting. Having open source maintainers who focus on these things would help generate more funding and make it more sustainable. 

The panel considers why there is such an emphasis on the code contributions, even more so than managing or other roles in open source. Code is a very visible contribution, easy to hold up and say look what they did. Other roles aren’t so easy to hold up, how can someone hold up the hours they spent finding sponsors or perfecting documentation.

The discussion turns to mental health in open source. Laura talks about her own state of mind and how hard it can be to get herself to do anything when she is feeling burnt out. She explains that she needs to change the way she approaches work.  The panel discusses ways that we can help those experiencing mental health problems in open source. They suggest talking to each other more about their experiences, about what depression, anxiety, and burn out look like and how they affect different people. The panel discusses what processes can be put in place to help developers to avoid burn out. 

The panel wonders if developers are susceptible to mental health problems. Do the large workloads and high amounts of stress contribute to these issues. Laura explains that in her opinion, we as humans tend to think that our experience is unique, so other industries probably feel the same way. The reality is that this is a worldwide problem, especially for those that Laura calls knowledge workers.  

The panel considers other ways we can help open source maintainers not get burnt out. The power of gratitude is one way they think might help. Laura thinks that getting a thank you from supports is very important. She relates how she feels when she talks with participants of Rails Girls Summer of Code and how it makes all her hard work worth it.

The panel discusses the power of money in open source, explaining why they started codefund. They explain the benefits of open source getting some money for their contributions. They consider the effect it plays on burn out. While Laura agrees to receive funds for open source contributions can be helpful, she warns that it could be a double-edged sword.

She warns that the receiving fund could be adding more stress to open source because of the responsibility it adds. Laura explains that she has already started to see entitlement from open source users, getting upset when the maintainer doesn't fix something right away. The panel considers how these benefits and costs when the funding is anonymous compared to when it is a direct sponsorship.



  • Eric Berry

  • Nate Hopkins


  • Laura Gaetano




Eric Berry:

Nate Hopkins:

Laura Gaetano:

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