FOSS United 2.0 : The Community, the Organization, and the next two years

Over the past four years, the FOSS United Community has grown by leaps and bounds. @wisharya nurtured the Bengaluru city chapter and handed it over to @Aakansha_Doshi and the Bengaluru team. He helped set up city chapters across the country, traveling to the first meetups to communicate the values of the FOSS United Community to the new city chapters. He spent all of his waking hours talking to people from the Community and identifying the future leaders within the Community. With a lot of help, he meticulously put together a small team to execute the grand vision for the FOSS United Community that @rushabh and @knadh charted. The FOSS United Community now has city chapters in 15 cities, 10 student clubs, organizes the annual IndiaFOSS conference and the FOSS Hack Hackathon, has distributed grants worth 2+ Crore Rupees for FOSS projects in India, and more.

The FOSS United Organization lives within the FOSS United Community and drives it. @mriya11, @mangesh_x0, and @Harsh_Tandiya have been doing great work for the new FOSS United platform and other tech initiatives at FOSS United. @Ruchika has been helping us improve the diversity of the speakers across city chapters. @KaranGandhi, @Varshita_Suresh, @Ajzal, @JESWIN_JOSE, and Jessica Joseph have been blowing our minds with their design and social media work. @ansh grew the Chennai chapter and is now managing FOSS United Communities across the country. Until recently, @Athira_Girish helped us figure out how to do Industry Partnerships.

If the FOSS United Community and the Organization, are already doing all of these things, why am I here? Before I talk about why I am here, let me spend a little bit of time talking about who I am.

I’m Rahul. I have a B.S. & M.S. in Physics from IIT Madras, Chennai. I failed CS 101, the mandatory introductory CS course for first-year students at IITM, and stayed away from programming until the summer after my fourth year. Prof. Anand Narayanan @ IIST, Trivandrum asked me to analyze astronomical data using Python. I loved Astronomy so I picked up just enough of the Python programming language to get the results I needed. I continued to learn just enough Python to solve Computational Physics problems for another year. After that, I got hooked on programming. After graduating one-and-a-half years late, I interned and got a full-time role at Enthought as a Scientific Software Developer in May 2016. I was with Enthought for eight long and interesting years until March 2024. At Enthought, I wrote Python daily and maintained a few FOSS projects. Two of the packages I maintain were used for the Ingenuity helicopter mission that NASA put on Mars in 2020. I was part of the first batch of FOSS United scholars who pursued the Tech & Policy Takshashila program and I’ve been a volunteer with FOSS United ever since (Dec 2022). I’ve given talks at a few city chapters, helped review CFPs for city chapter meetups, been involved in discussions to improve the diversity of speakers at city chapters, reviewed CFPs (Call For Proposals), and helped raise sponsorships for IndiaFOSS 3.0.

Now that I’ve introduced myself, let me talk about why I am here.

A 2.0 version, in the software world, is supposed to be dramatically different from the 1.0 version. Losing @rushabh and @knadh as full-time Directors and @Venkatesh_Hariharan as the Public Policy Director (after May 2024) means that FOSS United going forward will be dramatically different from what it has been these past four years. I’m here because Rushabh and Kailash feel that I can help improve FOSS United the Organization and FOSS United the Community. Specifically, I am here to

  • Put together structures and processes in place within the Organization for long-term sustainability and
  • Get the Community involved in the Governance of the Organization

Whether or not we accept it, all of us follow processes in our day-to-day lives be it in our personal lives, and/or at work. The processes are either implicit i.e. unwritten and not communicated or explicit i.e. documented and communicated. I will attempt to discover the implicit processes and make them explicit. We have an incredibly energetic team that owns the work they are tasked with. However, the communication overhead within the Organization has grown with the size of the Organization and the number of Projects we pursue, which has started becoming a bottleneck within the Organization. I have been tasked with introducing dreaded “bureaucracy” into the org, as little as is necessary, that can help us continue doing our best for the Community. “Bureaucracy” involves defining roles, designing career ladders, setting up processes for yearly reviews, raises, & promotions, and discovering processes for teams to work together effectively. Vishal and the FOSS United Organization have already done most of this work. I’m going to try refining and improving upon it.

As the Community and the Organization have grown, there were bound to be instances where decisions made by the Organization aren’t aligned with what the Community expects from us. The Public Policy work that the Organization has been doing is one such example. We could have been better at communicating our decisions to the Community and we could have gathered more feedback from the Community. The Organization and the Community need to get better at setting expectations for each other and one way to do that is to set up processes for the Community to be involved in the Governance of the Organization. My job is to talk to the FOSS United Community members, look around to understand existing mechanisms for Community involvement in Governance, and establish the processes over the coming two years.

Getting the Community involved in the Governance of the Organization is extremely important to me, the Organization, and the Founders of FOSS United. Over the coming two years, I will have conversations with the FOSS United Community members and we will collectively put the relevant Governance mechanisms in place. I won’t have a job two years from now if I don’t. Period. The option to extend my tenure at FOSS United is explicitly dependent on setting up the relevant Community Governance mechanisms.

FOSS United has come a long way over the past four years and we still have a long way to go. The Organization and the Community have lofty goals and I hope all of you will join me on this journey as we figure out the future of the Organization and the Community together.

Live long and prosper.