Episode 51

Working in Public: Nadia Eghbal and her new book about Making and Sustaining Open Source Software


August 28th, 2020

43 mins 49 secs

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Special Guest

About this Episode

Sponsored by:


Allen "Gunner" Gunn | Eric Berry | Justin Dorfman | Richard Littauer


Nadia Eghbal

Show Notes

Hello and welcome to Sustain! Today, we have special guest. Nadia Eghbal, a writer and researcher, works for Substack, and has a new book out which we will be talking about today! We discuss Nadia’s book, what it’s all about, why she wrote it, and why Eric refers to it as the “Open Source Bible.” She also talks about the report she did called, “Roads and Bridges,” published by the Ford Foundation. Find out why she has been called the “Open Source Archaeologist.” Download this episode now!

[00:01:43] Nadia tells us all about her book, what it’s about, and why she wrote it.

[00:02:56] Justin asks Nadia what her expectations were of writing her report, Roads and Bridges.

[00:05:01] Eric mentions a talk Nadia gave a few years back, and she used a “lobster” reference throughout it, so he wonders what her motivation was behind going so deep into creating a legacy of documentation and knowledge that very few people in the world have.

[00:09:16] Richard brings up Mike McQuaid’s sticker funds and Nadia brings up an example of this.

[00:11:40] Eric talks about Nadia’s book which he refers to as the “Open Source Bible,” and Gunner adds his viewpoint as well.

[00:13:24] Gunner asks Nadia if this book leads to actions and does she have any thoughts about what actions she would like it to lead to on the part of readers.

[00:15:36] Gunner has an archaeology question for Nadia and is curious to know if she has reflected on the idea that when you’re not downloading, when you’re not installing the idea of a license or the idea of a piece of technology, being more community created, as a more abstract or removed concept.

[00:17:52] Justin brings up a previous podcast guest, Matt Asay from AWS, talking about Amazon working hand in hand with Redis and all these other open source companies, and he asks Nadia what she thinks about this.

[00:22:03] Richard is curious to know what to do with projects that don’t have a charismatic leader where it hasn’t focused on who they are, which may have really good documentation. Is there any hope for any of those projects or they doomed to just continually wither and run out of steam? Nadia gives us the run down.

[00:27:28] Richard wants to know what Nadia is doing at Sub Stack that is so interesting to her and following the research that you’ve learned from this book, why there? She tells us why she wrote the book.

[00:32:37] Justin mentions a book he read called, Hate Inc. by Matt Taibbi, who has a Sub Stack thing. This is a great read! ☺

[00:35:08] Richard wants to know how Nadia can help people who write low-level software projects, who don’t have the power or the means or they are shy. What can we do to help those people?

[00:38:22] Nadia tells us where you can find her on the internet, where you can find her book, and work.


  • [00:39:02] Gunner’s spotlight is Gosh science.
  • [00:37:27] Justin’s spotlight is Nadia’s book, Working in Public (real world version).
  • [00:39:30] Eric’s spotlight is also Nadia’s book, Working in Public and a quote from the book.
  • [00:41:32] Richard’s spotlight is the concept of Antilibraries.
  • [00:42:25] Nadia’s spotlight is Brendon Schlagel’s anti-library.


[00:11:39] “I think what we’re seeing happen in all of this is we’re working toward building a shared vocabulary of the universe of this ecosystem, where each project is going to have its own arcane vocabulary over time.”

[00:17:49] “Depending on who you talk to, the term open source just means so many things to different people.”



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