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For years, I lived in a world of proprietary software. "Linux" and "open source" didn't even exist in my vocabulary, and my vision of the world was so narrow. It felt like I was living at the bottom of a well.
Fast forward five years: that's when things started to change.
My open organization story didn't involve talking to Red Hatters or FOSS evangelists. It was just a typical weekday, and I was bored. So I decided to do some research on Red Hat, and I found Jim Whitehurst's Twitter profile. I clicked on a URL there, and found myself reading Jim's "first impressions of an open organization." Jim's job interview instantly caught my eye. Everything seemed different, from how he had to pay for drinks and food, to how he had an unusually casual job interview that attempted to truly understand him. It was fascinating. I knew I needed to read this book, from which I could learn a great deal.
Reading about Red Hat's culture and contributions to FOSS inspired me to do something great for open source. Wanting to experience the open source culture that Red Hat celebrates and, recalling that the Fedora Project was a project Red Hat sponsors, I decided to contribute to Fedora.
As I was in IT marketing studies, the best way I could contribute to Fedora was to be a Fedora Ambassador. The main task of a Fedora Ambassador is to connect with others in order to plan and host Fedora-related events. When I joined the Fedora Ambassadors, I found meaning in software.
We spent so much time discussing ideas that, in the end, we didn't even have sufficient time to materialize our ideas. Nevertheless, what was written in The Open Organization held true: By collaborating, we developed a much better idea.
Just after I bought my copy of The Open Organization, I tweeted a photo of the book and tagged Jim. Surprisingly (and, really, not-so-surprisingly) he replied to my tweet a few days later.
Why do I say "not-so-surprisingly?" Well, in The Open Organization, Jim mentions that he gave his email address to Delta employees while he was working for that company, and this just wasn't something people came to expect from a COO. Jim always replied to his employees and engaged them—just as he did with me.
I've always imagined CEOs as people who delegate everything—people full of hot air. I think that leaders (no matter how much they earn, or how reputable they are, or how busy they are) should always try their best to listen, understand, and resolve issues amongst employees. Jim Whitehurst is certainly a CEO I look up to and admire because he listens to his employees.
So when I formed a team to enter an app devleopment competition, I tried implementing some ideas from The Open Organization as I tried to lead it—ideas like "letting the sparks fly" and practicing honesty, for example. After discussing things with my group, I would always try to ask: "What do you think of this?" We all tried to view our ideas in the most objective way possible, and we we're shy about criticizing ideas—both our own and each other's (honesty is a great habit to develop and practice when leading a a team the open way). When someone opens themselves up, others will be influenced to do so in return. I got to see this ripple effect happening on my own team, after I opened myself to them.
Once, I raised the idea of building a voice-controlled application, but the team felt that it was not good enough. We went through several minutes of discussions and came up with a better idea, a "smart search" system, which is based on IBM Bluemix Watson—and that was actually controlled by voice.
A belief in open source can change people. While in the program, for example, I met Sirko Kemter during an APAC Ambassadors FAD in December of 2015. Sirko believes strongly in one of Fedora's core values, freedom, and he debated it passionately. In those debates, I saw "the sparks fly," as Sirko argued that supporting freedom involved supporting users' freedom to choose whatever operating system they wished—even if they didn't choose Fedora.
The debates took time. But they helped engage everyone who heard them (even if they disagreed on some points). In The Open Organization, Jim stresses inclusive decision making, and I saw that at work in discussions about Fedora. It is really important to have everyone's concerns and thoughts addressed (or at least listened to), otherwise, people start to feel that they aren't involved in something important. Other ambassadors and I found opportunities to voice our opinions, and that got the ball rolling. We resolved so many issues, even those which were not part of the primary agenda. It was just as The Open Organization says: if we all listen carefully to others, we will discover things that we might not have known.
The Journey Continues
My open source journey has just began. Along the way, however, I've learned that while not everyone will agree with every idea floating around open source communities, at the end of the day, we all know we are fighting, arguing, and contributing because we all believe in the same idea: open source.
The Open Organization really is a fantastic book, and it has inspired me to contribute to Fedora. Give it a read. It might inspire you as well.