Welcome to our series of interviews with the people behind the OpenChain Project. While open source is mostly about software, and governance is mostly about licenses, it is also the story of thousands of individuals collaborating. We hope these interviews will inform and inspire our readers, and encourage more people to participate in open source and OpenChain.
Our fourth interview is with Maggie Wang
You have been involved with technology for a while and you now have a leadership position in open source. Can you tell us a little about how you joined your company, why you are involved in technology development, and how you first discovered open source?
I started working on open source compliance when I was still with Huawei. I joined Huawei in 2005. After 5 years with Patent Department I got transferred to SoftIP Department where I started working on various legal issues involving trademark, copyright and domain name. Software compliance was part of my job as well. One of our team’s daily routine work was to review open source licenses the R&D people submitted via the company’s internal e-flow. We managed to build up a license database available to everyone in the company during that time.
Your involvement in open source is very interesting. Software is behind most of our technology and open source is behind most of our software. However, in relative terms there are few coordinators or managers with significant experience of this approach to technology. How did you become a decision-maker in your company’s use of open source?
Indeed open source was and is still a very small part of my job ever since I started. Almost no law firm in China practices in this field. Even in the United States it’s not a regular business in most of the law firms. I would not say I’m a decision-maker but I’m definitely a helper.
OpenChain is all about open source compliance in the supply chain. Our industry standard builds trust and our reference material helps companies build processes to meet the standard. Approaching this discussion for the first time can be a little intimidating. Most people are modest about their understanding of licenses or choosing the “best” approach to solve a business challenge. It may be a strong word to use, but often a certain sense of fear makes people hesitate. How did you learn to approach this issue with a positive and open mind?
I was very lucky to meet Professor Eben Moglen 7 years ago and he answered a lot of my questions which led me to believe in open source. I also helped SFLC to translate the official “Guide to GPL Compliance” into Chinese. With my experience at Huawei and later with my current law firm, I have been asked by many Chinese companies to speak about management of open source compliance. I realised the fear and hesitation around open source was basically due to misunderstanding and lack of information. Open source is governed by licenses but a lot of people hate to read licenses. I try to help people understand open source licenses, legal risks and make good use of open source. I also have a network functioning as a resource in case any company needs help beyond my capabilities.
One thing the OpenChain Project is concerned with is diversity. Our project is developing a long-term industry standard and our strategic perspective is measured in many years or even decades. To access the potential in our community we need to make sure gender or personal choices never make people feel unwelcome or excluded. In some markets like China and Korea around half of the people we work with are female. In other markets, such as Japan and the United States, the percentage of women is far less. Have you faced challenges because of gender and how did you overcome them?
Yes in China men and women are almost equal at workplace. At least I never really felt the difference.
The next question is directly related to the last one. Because the OpenChain Project is concerned with diversity we must acknowledge that every part of our project needs to continually improve. Our social structures, our meeting formats, our processes to create or improve material. Everything needs to be considered to find any challenge to making people welcome and empowered. Can you assist us in this process with some suggestions for improvement?
Open source issues are basically an in-house matter. In China, not many companies encourage employees to share knowledge to other companies. OpenChain Projects are a good opportunity to help Chinese companies understand open source but there are cultural barriers to break. I would suggest hiring local Chinese and build up a trustworthy network dedicated to OpenChain if you want to make big progress in a short time.
All around the developing world age is a topic. Our populations are getting older and the social distance between young and old people seems to be growing. People in their early twenties seem to have very little in common with people in their forties or fifties. Of course this is understandable and of course it has always existed between generations. However, in the context of open source, our population is aging too, with the average age of participants around 30~55. Maybe we have more older people than young people. Do you have any suggestions for how we can make young people interested and welcome in projects like OpenChain?
On the contrary I think in China more young people are interested in open source. If you come visit the hi-tech park in Shenzhen you will be intimidated by so many young engineers. These young engineers need education in open source and they are eager to learn.
There is a big difference between tactical activities that solve day-to-day problems and strategic activities that solve bigger challenges. OpenChain is basically focused on strategy. This means our participants think about the future and it means we also have to think about how many tactical actions can serve a strategic mission. People often ask how to do this and they often mention that it is hard to think strategically when many business metrics are based on quarterly activities. Do you have any suggestions based on your own experience?
This is a hard question. I believe in meeting the right people and reading the right messages and then you can make the right decision. For people who are deeply involved with day-to-day work, they need to make room for self-improvement and communication with people outside their comfort zone.
We have asked many serious questions in this interview. Each of your answers is extremely valuable for our current and our future community. OpenChain is all about sharing knowledge and helping everyone do better. However, we are not only a dry, factual community. We also have many positive social relationships and there is a hope or a goal that OpenChain can be fun too. We are all together collaborating to solve interesting challenges. Do you have any tips for how people can come into a project like OpenChain and find the experience rewarding personally as well as in a business sense?
As I mentioned above, having at least a local Chinese on the ground for OpenChain is probably the most effective way. Chinese people value personal connections so much that we tend to open up only when we are very familiar to someone. It takes time and a lot of meals in order to build up the trust, especially for foreigners.
Finally, you have been so kind to answer these questions in English. However, the future of open source and OpenChain is not in English, but instead in communication from Mandarin to Hindi to German. The future is making sure people in each nation can work together freely. We already hold the local work group meetings in the local language but is there a way we can reduce language barriers even more?
Most of the time it’s not the language itself. It’s WHO speaks the language.
Thank you Maggie for your time and thoughts!