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 seventh interview is with Samantha Elliott from Cisco

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 with Cisco Systems, Inc (Cisco) in 2007 working within our IT organization and within the first 90 days took mandatory on-boarding training which described Open Source policy compliance.  After learning more about the policy compliance, my role expanded to work with Third Party Suppliers and Open Source code directly and has continued for the past 12 years evolving within our company and with industry knowledge.

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?

Cisco has had an Open Source Programs office for well over a decade.  Our Open Source lawyers and subject matter experts have helped contribute to the establishment of PNDA, Open Daylight, Open Platform and others over the years.  My role began with the inclusion of Third Party Suppliers and then I became one of the early change champions, addressing questions and standard for all of our software engineering teams.  Today, my role has expanded, as one would expect over the years of engagement.  Presently, I lead the Open Source Program office driving governance, policy, technology tooling, measurements and metrics; while balancing that as a change champion for all our software engineering teams globally.   

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?

Our goal is to remove the fear of the unknown, while networking, bridging the gap and ultimately being a strong partnering software engineering team(s).  We strive to simplify the approach, while answering the “Why.”  Many resources now understand the “Why;” these teams are the present-day change champions.  This journey started over a decade ago; however, our programs office is always looking at was to automate and reduce the burden on the engineering teams.  We always consider each person as an extension of the programs office and we take a partnership, collaborative and DMAIC approach to continue our compliance journey.

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?

Professionally I have never felt gender played any role with my career.  If you are prepared, confident, strong, capable, trustworthy and honest, you will be an equal in every engagement at Cisco.  Usually, I am one of a few women in our technical level meetings; however, our company embraces all cultures and genders, therefore I have never thought twice about being women in these meetings.  To me it is all about what each person offers, their perspective and the full solution that drives our decisions.

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?

The organization of OpenChain Project is inclusive and empowering.  Every person has an opportunity to prepare for each meeting, vote and ask questions.  Out of all the governing committees, this one has the most empowering approach both holistically and individually.

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?

I see software spanning all generations.  Addressing the “Why” in the messaging to the younger people, takes a different approach than the “older” generation. How does this help them in their career path, what do they get for engaging and will this help them achieve their long-term goals?  
These individuals are green in the industry, wanting to make their mark and usually career path oriented.  Incorporating OpenChain discussions as lecture/learning series or continuing of education credits are some of the incentive programs we can use to build and bridge the knowledge gap.  

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 one of those hard balances within any organization.  How to be successfully daily, show the business value, measure the importance metrics with the right outcome; then strategically drive change.  We balance this shifting based upon the week of the month and proximity to end of quarter.  Automation has alleviated many of our tactical spend, but it has been at a cost of balance within our organization. 

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?

Personally, our collaboration is fantastic, innovative and problem solving.  Professionally, we need a better method to set up meetings on the calendar and communicate.  Given the global time zones and passionate responses to threads, I find it challenging to read and response, after thinking about some of the questions presented.  Is there any way to set up a blog on items, so we can consolidate the feedback?   Additionally, an organizational calendar would enable us to copy meeting invites down that we would like to participate in, also keep a better finger on the pulse activities that we may want to engage.

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?

This is the problem of the world we work within getting smaller and more connected.  Every person and global corporations feel this language barrier.  We just need to remain diverse with our options and keep everyone engaged, with local and global translations with our communications.

Thank you Samantha for your time and thoughts!