Episode 89

Leslie Hawthorn, OSPOs, Digital Sovereignty, and Cultivating Open Source Communities


August 27th, 2021

40 mins 10 secs

Your Hosts
Special Guest

About this Episode


Leslie Hawthorn


Allen "Gunner" Gunn | Eric Berry | Eriol Fox | Richard Littauer

Show Notes

Hello and welcome to Sustain! The podcast where we talk about sustaining open source for the long haul. We have an excellent guest on today and she is here to talk about real stuff! Our guest is Leslie Hawthorn, who is the Manager for the Vertical Community Strategy in Red Hat’s Open Source Programs Office in the Office of the CTO. She has spent her career creating, cultivating, and enabling open source communities and we are so fortunate to have her with us today to speak her eloquent words of wisdom. We learn more about what Leslie does in her position, the Open Source Program Office and how she sees it growing and changing, and a deep conversation of European digital sovereignty and how it is both a threat and opportunity for open source and open standards. Also, Leslie keeps it real and shares awesome advice on what it takes to be the best kind of corporate open source program officer. Go ahead and download this episode now to learn much more!

[00:02:37] We learn what Leslie she does in her position.

[00:05:13] Richard is curious about what Leslie thinks about the OSPO concept in general and how does she see it growing and changing in the past five years.

[00:07:43] Leslie talks about digital sovereignty and the movement towards open source program offices focusing on that.

[00:13:13] Eriol brings up a design phrase “human-centered” and asks Leslie to talk more about examples she has seen where humans, users, and citizens have been centered at the creation of various open source software projects. Leslie mentions a really great panel discussion to check out with Claudia Barrosa and Pia Karter where they talked about Open Source and Open Standards, Supporting European Innovation.

[00:18:21] Leslie tells us what made her move to Germany and how that’s reflected in the work she’s doing at Red Hat.

[00:23:16] Richard wonders why Leslie feels that the OSPO at Red Hat is the place where you can affect the most change, how is she doing ecosystem level change in her current position, and where does she think it will lead her over the next few years.

[00:27:42] Gunner is curious to know if Leslie has a taxonomy of how she thinks about different types of open source program offices and their motivations or contributions to open source communities, and any guiding principles that she thinks any accountable open source program office or officer might want to be following or guided by.

[00:33:02] Find out where you can follow Leslie online.


[00:02:49] “And when we think about traditional community management, quote on quote, there’s typically a community focused human who is looking at the universe from the perspective of, how does my singular community engage with other entities?”

[00:07:45] “Those who are not familiar with this concept of digital sovereignty, just the really quick rundown is this idea that folks in Europe are, I would say for some good reasons and for some bad reasons, deeply concerned about making sure that there is control of IT infrastructure and data and everything associated with just having a technological life, which turns out is now true of every citizen.”

[00:08:14] “And there is, I will say, especially given my past employer, there is legitimate concern for what does it mean if your IT infrastructure is outsourced to someone far, far away from you who is not necessarily beholden to the same laws or to the same values system of the place in which you reside.”

[00:09:31] “Pia Karger, who is the head of the Open Source Program Office in Germany, you know, pointed out that one of the reasons why there was this change in the name of the office that she shares was because this notion of digital sovereignty and being, let’s create open source that is exclusively to be contributed to by Europeans, that is explicitly to be used by Europeans, was not in keeping with the value system that folks in her office wanted to enact nor with Germany in general.”

[00:10:04] “So instead, you know, she pointed out digital sovereignty is not about excluding people from contribution or excluding people from participation, it’s about ensuring that that there is freedom of choice.”

[00:10:22] “You don’t want to do any single sourcing of any particular vendor or any particular, you know, one place where you’re going to get all your technology if you’re any organization.”

[00:11:10] “The ability to collaborate amongst one another and share best practices, and this moniker of the OSPO is this critical anchor because turns out, if you described your work using common language, it’s very easy for folks to connect to one another and be able to do that knowledge sharing and best practice and collaboration because they can actually find each other.”

[00:11:43] “Yes, OSPO is a locus of collaboration, my friends.”

[00:14:45] “And then not only did she take us through their entire evolution, but then pointed out the different ways in which their agency also accounted for the fact that this digital first future that they were envisioning was going to leave a lot of citizens behind.”

[00:15:50] “If you do not talk to your actual users, you have absolutely no idea what they need and whatever you produce is going to not actually meet the needs of anyone.”

[00:29:38] “And I think that my charge to folks who are working in open source offices is to think back to the words that Richard said earlier, projects come and go, your employer is going to come and go.”

[00:30:11] “And, if you’re going to be looking at your investment strategy as a corporate open source officer, don’t just be looking at whether or not you think that your open source strategy is going to provide you with developer acquisition that’s going to provide you with specific ROI, or allow you to hit some vague milestone.”

[00:31:47] “And that’s the kind of corporate open source program officer that you want to be. You want to be somebody that is genuinely respected because you show genuine respect for other people regardless of what the dollar Euro pound won value is that interaction.”


  • [00:34:52] Richard’s spotlight is the legendary, Cat Allman at Google.
  • [00:35:10] Eric's spotlight is a show he highly recommends called, Ted Lasso.
  • [00:35:36] Eriol’s spotlight is a project she’s been following by Daniel Burka called, Resolve to Save Lives, on GitHub.
  • [00:36:04] Gunner’s spotlight is a community he’s been working with called, Gathering for Open Science Hardware.
  • [00:36:45] Leslie’s spotlight is a project in Sweden called “Smarta Byar.”



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