Episode 79

Leah Silen on how NumFocus helps makes scientific code more sustainable


June 4th, 2021

35 mins 44 secs

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Special Guest

About this Episode


Leah Silen


Eric Berry | Justin Dorfman | Alyssa Wright | Richard Littauer

Show Notes

Hello and welcome to Sustain! Today, our special guest is Leah Silen, who is the Executive Director of NumFOCUS. She has been the primary driver behind the organization and execution of its programs including fiscal sponsorship, the PyData event series, and DEI initiatives.

We learn what NumFOCUS does, how it works in terms of scientific research, who provides the funding, and the diversity, equity, and inclusion support that NumFOCUS provides projects. Leah talks about the importance of Grant Management and Community Management needed to help projects in the future, and a “Sustain Exclusive” announcement is made by Leah on something NumFOCUS is in the early stages of building. Go ahead and download this episode now to find out what it is!

[00:01:16] Leah explains what NumFOCUS does, how it works, and what scientific open source means.

[00:03:22] Since NASA researchers use NumFOCUS for sponsored projects, Justin asks if there are any sponsored projects on Mars right now.

[00:05:18] Leah tells us about NumFOCUS being a project foundational to scientific research.

[00:05:54] We learn about Leah’s art background and becoming one of the founding members of NumFOCUS.

[00:07:21] There are maintainers of forty-two projects and Leah explains who the typical maintainer is of the NumFOCUS ecosystem.

[00:08:14] Find out what a typical week looks like for Leah at NumFOCUS.

[00:10:37] Richard is curious how Leah sees the future of this sort of organization as we’re seeing more of them, and if she’s just going to keep growing until there’s hundreds of projects under her or will there be more or less.

[00:13:12] We learn who provides funding at NumFOCUS since they have nine staff members. Justin wonders how NumFOCUS is diversifying their income and Leah makes an announcement about something NumFOCUS is building and it’s a “Sustain Exclusive!”

[00:16:11] Justin asks if NumFOCUS ever joins forces with the PSF.

[00:16:55] Leah mentioned the diversity, equity, and inclusion support that NumFOCUS provides projects, she describes how it’s important for project sustainability, and the conversations there have been.

[00:19:59] Richard wonders about the process of taking on a new project.

[00:23:25] Leah tells us how they deal with the maintenance of scientific projects.

[00:25:24] We learn the moon-shot idea of NumFOCUS, besides just making sure all these projects run smoothly, and what the goal is.

[00:26:42] Leah tells us what she’s most excited about in terms of providing better stuff to projects in the near future.

[00:29:20] Community Manager and Developer Advocate is discussed.

[00:31:20] Find out where you can follow Leah and NumFOCUS on the internet.


[00:04:00] “Many of the leaders in that project work for a division of NASA that have been directly involved in Mars Roemer images and things like that, as well as Astro Pi, another one of the projects that’s widely used by the astronomy community.”

[00:05:18] “We many times speak of NumFOCUS projects as being very foundational to scientific research.”

[00:10:59] “We have to make sure that as the number of projects that we’re sponsoring are affiliated with NumFOCUS grows, that the organization is able to scale with that.”

[00:12:20] “And there’s so many areas that we don’t address that we could address for our projects, you know just handling the legal aspect, grant management, helping them with we have a contributor diversification and research program.”

[00:12:35] “So working on DEI initiatives that’s woven through everything we do and helping our projects with that.”

[00:23:58] “But that’s one reason we really want to work and focus on diversifying the contributor base. Also, with contributors who are across different domains and in different areas.”

[00:24:08] “So, if a project comes and applies to NumFOCUS and everyone is at one university, we don’t consider that open, so there has to be contributors spread out no more than two employed, whether that’s a university or whether that’s a for-profit entity.”

[00:26:50] “So, I think projects, a lot of the things that NumFOCUS does can be related to Community Management but definitely when you’re talking about more of an internal project community.”

[00:27:20] “I think that is probably one of the things that is most needed across projects is every project having a Community Manager to really look at their internal communities as well as interactions with their user base.”


  • [00:32:05] Alyssa’s spotlight is Community Managers.
  • [00:32:44] Eric’s spotlight is Doom Emacs.
  • [00:33:21] Justin’s spotlight is Lipgloss by Charm.
  • [00:33:42] Richard’s spotlight is IDLE.
  • [00:34:09] Leah’s spotlight is Sustain Diversity Working Group.



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