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 with inform and inspire our readers, and encourage more people to participate in open source and OpenChain.
Our fifth interview is with Ayumi Watanabe from Hitachi
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 am an OSS management consultant in an IT company and help client companies to manage OSS compliance and OSS-related security issues. What pushed me work in the industry was my father, who worked as a software security consultant. His activities, such as making frequent business trips abroad or giving many lectures in big conferences, were very fascinating to me. So, when I was finding a job to work for after university graduation, I was interested in working as a consultant in the industry.
I started working as a software code inspector in the company, analyzing source codes and finding bugs or security vulnerabilities. Thanks to this experience, I am still good at reading and understanding source codes that other persons wrote.
Now I am working at consulting department that deals OSS consulting business, transferred from the code inspecting department a few years later. My current job matches me, though it is very demanding and needs concurrently study new technologies and issues. I have chances to go business trips abroad and to offer OSS-related trainings and lectures for my clients, just like my father did, and I am really having a very fulfilling experience.
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?
Though I am still not a decision-maker in my company, I had chances to make professional advices to decision-makers in my client companies. I think it is very important to have good knowledge and experience if you get involved in decision-making of any organizations or companies.
When I started current job of OSS consulting, I first studied OSS licenses by making researches and asking advices from lawyers or experts, which helped me to understand specialists’ points of view.
The most effective experience for understanding OSS related issues was that I worked as a member for drafting OSS guideline in Hitachi group. Thorough the guideline drafting, I felt it is difficult and important to make an OSS policy with many people who is involved in many different departments in big companies like Hitachi. This experience also helps me to make good advices to my clients that makes OSS policies.
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?
In order to make my clients think OSS licenses related issues simply, I always tell them “The idea of OSS was created for developers, and therefore accompanying OSS license were also created for developers.” The phrase helps them to share notion that OSS license would never be treated as giving disadvantages to users or restricting developers’ activities and the phrase also helps them to make their own policy that defines acceptable / unacceptable OSS licenses.
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?
For my work experience, I rarely felt disadvantageous as being a woman. And even though there are little gender challenges for me, there are still big specific issues for women between their careers and life events, especially choosing “good” timing to marry and to have babies. For example, though both-working couples have become very common in Japan, idea of sharing child caring is not yet common. This is a difficult question that do not have clear and convincing answer, I also want to know how to continue good work experience, not making career interval, and to have and raise children simultaneously.
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?
OpenChain Japan Workgroup have valued face-to-face communications and it resulted in good discussions and cooperation beyond companies. Ironically, that success leads to more participants and distant participants from Tokyo area and it is now a bit difficult to find rooms of adequate size and good location, especially for participants outside Tokyo.
To solve the issue, I think we are now in a phase to think about to utilizing online meetings or small sub-groups. I think there’s still a problem to balance both benefits of good accessibility by online meetings, invitation of members abroad or remote location would be possible, and good communication by face-to face meeting.
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?
OpenChain Japan Working Group happily welcomed a first university student to the all-member meeting held recently. He advised us that utilizing SNS is the best way to outreach younger generations. Accordingly, we have just started discussing what we can do on SNS and made some activities, in the promotion sub working group under Japan WG.
I think it is also important to promote newly coming people’s involvement in our activity, by frankly speaking or asking about them, for example, and make them think about coming to the next meeting. In recent all-member meetings, we had a “newbies session” and JPWG’s active members take care of new participants in the session.
I think it is the crucial to keep a good community that members act productively and enjoyable, and it is not limited only for younger generations but also for everyone!
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?
For the current item, I totally agree with Ms. Ouchi’s suggestion in her interview that OSS developers should not be forced to spend a lot of effort and time on compliance even though OSS compliance is important and that sharing OSS compliance information definitely utilizing SPDX as a first step.
Additionally, as a next step, I propose that companies in a software supply chain have common OSS management system and share OSS information, by exchanging OSS compliance information stored in each company with systems like SW360, or by sharing OSS managing system. It would be better to share results of OSS license analysis as well.
It would also be a good start to learn good use cases from companies in OpenChain JPWG with progressive approach on OSS compliance. I would like to try this by asking how they actually solved their problems on OSS compliance.
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?
For me, OpenChain Project is the only and precious place where you can discuss niche and maniac OSS-related issues. Through the project activities with members from various companies, I can have very important knowledge and perspective for my work. Making many friends to share the maniac issues is also fascinating for me!
So, I am joining OpenChain Promotion sub-WG activities and introducing many people of the unique and interesting OpenChain community for joining. OpenChain Japan WG has many energetic female members, some of them being introduced in the interview series, and they can be good role models for young women.
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?
I think a good way to reduce language barriers is, that may sound contradictory, promoting activities of non-English WGs and making more collaborations and output resources from such non-English WGs. Those collaborations and output resources would eventually spill out to English WGs or other language WGs, by English-speaking participants or via translations.
OpenChain Japan WG is a very significant place for every participant because it is where people can collaborate using Japanese. We can discuss on OSS issues and topics occurring in Japan, and members can share international OSS news and issues each other in Japanese. As people who are not good at English also feel free to join OpenChain JPWG meetings, more people join us and activities and output resources grow. If you feel or want to overcome language barriers, I strongly recommend you creating a place and chances to discuss issues in your mother language.
Now OpenChain Japan WG translate our output resources into English and share them with overseas actively. Currently those translations are limited to English, I hope we will translate them in other languages and share with more people in the future.
I hope technology advancement, such as smart translation tools or on-line meeting tools with simultaneous interpretation function, will reduce language barrier. In addition, it would be also rejoicing to challenge those language barriers, by myself.
Thank you Ayumi Watanabe for your time and thoughts!