"Good software is built by happy, well-supported people", Rust Foundations, an independent non-profit organization dedicated to stewarding the Rust programming language. Most open-source software developers are paid professionals, usually working in corporations or enterprises, but they may be working anywhere. And it may or may not be the hobby project that they're working on. It's often their main line. What is the Rust Foundation in terms of also supporting open source? We've invited Rebecca Rumbul, Rust Foundation's CEO, to learn more.
Rebecca (00:05): We can do better products and much, much better with a rich diversity of opinion and collaboration behind them, I think.
Marc (00:18): This season, Andy and Marc are back with a fanatastic group of guests.
Andy (00:23): I bet the depths remain classified. And Marc keeps his head in the clouds. With our combined experience in the industry, we can go from the bare metal to the boardroom. Enjoy your time in the DevOps Sauna.
Marc (00:45): Okay, we are back in the sauna and I have to do this, Rebecca. Let's get ready for Rebecca Rumbul. Nice to have you, Rebecca, CEO of the Rust Foundation, on the podcast with us today.
Rebecca (00:59): Thank you for inviting me.
Marc (01:00): You've never heard that before, have you? And as usual, my cohort in arms Andy Allred is with us.
Andy (01:10): Yes. Hello.
Marc (01:11): Rebecca, I'd like to ask an interesting question first, which is that I've seen a lot of open-source foundations. And like Andy and I were talking before that, we often remind our listeners and remind others that most open-source software developers are paid professionals, usually working in corporations or enterprises, but they may be working anywhere. And it may or may not be the hobby project that they're working on. It's oftentimes their kind of main line. What is the Rust Foundation in terms of also supporting open source?
Rebecca (01:44): Okay, yeah, you're completely right, an awful lot of open-source maintainers contributed developers, yeah, they have day jobs, which may or may not include some of that maintenance or contributed work that they're interested in. Or it may be that actually, the day job is quite far from the interest they have in terms of open source. And so, there are weekend and evening projects for them, we at the Rust Foundation are here to support anyone that is interested in being a contributor or a maintainer to language projects, we can do that in different ways, dependent upon people's circumstances. But not everyone is in a position where they do have a full-time job, doing something that they love in open-source Rust, some people are in other countries all around the world contributing, some people have different personal circumstances where they're studying, or they're changing careers. We have a real wonderful diversity of maintainers and contributors in the projects. And they all need support in slightly different ways. And the foundation endeavors to provide that support to them.
Marc (02:56): I was absolutely delighted when I went to the Rust Foundations website and saw "good software is built by happy well supported people". It's like that's so on point. And it's so relevant now more than ever. And you also mentioned in the approach to sustaining and growing a large, open-source ecosystem. How do you do that, or what makes it different?
Rebecca (03:22): The Rust Foundation is very young; we've only been around a couple of years. We've been in development, build organization and culture building stage up till now. The one thing that we were able to do is actually look at other open-source ecosystems, other open-source foundations, and look at how other projects in the open-source world have developed, built over time, how their cultures have affected the individuals contributing. And I don't think it's a surprise to you if I say that there's been some pretty toxic experiences for people who have been left with huge burdens of maintenance, people have burned out, people have developed severe mental health problems, cultures that have become toxic, and that haven't been regulated, who've affected people meaningfully in their lives, not just that GitHub comment annoyed me. There's an awful lot, I think of bad examples of how culture hasn't been properly supported, and it's genuinely affected people. Rust, there's quite a big commitment in the community. And it's reflected in the foundation to make sure that good software is built, but it's much, much better for that software to be built by people that aren't facing huge amounts of stress or toxicity in what they do. We're very, very committed to that mission and to making sure that our maintainers, who a lot of the time do this for free. They're not being paid to do it, that they're being supported to do it rather than punished for being an expert and excellent at their roles.
Marc (05:14): Okay, thank you. I was poking Andy a little bit to move a little. But I'll ask another question, which is that I'm always interested in how people get on the path that you're on, nature and nurture, and lots of different things. And sometimes things happen accidentally, and then we end up in a place that we look back, and we're like, how did we get here? But I'm so glad this happened. How did you get into open source, Rebecca?
Rebecca (05:40): I fell into it. I don't think I'm the only person in the open-source world, probably that would say that. I'm getting to the point where open sources of revenue are very, very niche thing that normal people didn't really know about 20 years ago. I was actually a politics lecturer at Cardiff University about 10 years ago, and I was really interested in how digital democracy was playing out and how governments and parliaments in the development of open data and all that kind of thing was either supporting or thwarting sort of engaged democratic action. I started doing a lot of research in those areas. And I ended up working for an open-source software charity in the UK. We were international, we worked with people all over the world, we worked with the UN, we worked with lots of individual parliament, but we developed open-source software that were platforms that could be used anywhere in the world to empower people through digital. That was my first introduction to open source. And I did that for a few years, it was wonderful to work with lots of different cultures around the world and look at how openness and collaborative working really maximized and amplified really good outcomes. When the job came up with the Rust Foundation, that was that was really attractive because it was working even more closely in this open, democratic, very collaborative environment with people who are super excited, committed, talented individuals on this new language that had so much potential. Rust is still pretty young, compared to a lot of other programming languages. But there was this groundswell of excitement behind it that this was actually a bit of a game changer. And the foundation needed someone actually to come along and be responsible for the boring stuff, not do any of the really cool, like mud skills, programming stuff because all of these people are already here, they need you to and to come along and worry about budgets and legal frameworks and all of the paperwork so that all of the awesome volunteers could continue being awesome without having to worry about all of the boring stuff that goes along with supporting and nurturing the open source community. Yeah, it was a weird way in and I'm not a developer. I'm a little bit on the outside sometimes, but I'm here for the people that are really, really talented. It's a great supportive role to be in.
Marc (08:19): We were speaking with Amanda Brock, was it yesterday already? Time flies and go slowly all at the same time. But about Richard Stallman’s book, Free Software Free Society, and that there's elections going on, and when you mentioned the political aspect of this, is this something that you are lobbying? Or are you approaching politicians in terms of open-source software, and how important this is going to be? Everybody's talking about the co-pilot and Chat GPT and all this stuff. But software is going to be really be controlling our lives very, very soon. And if it's all proprietary, I think we're going to be in deep trouble.
Rebecca (09:05): Yeah, you were right there. But open-source touches pretty much everything. There's not going to be a world without open source anytime soon. Quite the opposite, I've been growing rather than contracting. I wouldn't say we are doing a lot of lobbying, we are doing a lot of talking to governments and trying to inform their policymaking, making sure that they actually understand if they're regulating, for instance, or legislating, they understand what the ripple effects will be of, for instance, something that was poorly worded, it can have unintended consequences, or it can have a chilling effect, which I'm sure is not what anyone wants. The other thing is there's an awful lot of very well-meaning people in government that simply because they don't understand the mechanics of open source, they forget about the one guy in Utah I don't know and it's mom's bedroom. There's this bus factor. And there's all of this stuff that might be proprietary, but it builds on other stuff. And there's an element of okay, you can't be expecting those people, those maintainers to be liable or responsible or responsive, even if something goes wrong. We're trying to just do a lot of informing, and making sure that decision makers are basing their decisions on complete and high-quality information. And that, obviously, with the Rust Foundation, so I'm focused specifically on the Rust language, but the features that come around with the Rust language we're looking at as well. Obviously, we're having conversations about security, supply chain security, those kinds of things. But we're also having conversations about energy efficiency, and those kinds of things because we're aware that different programming languages actually command different levels of energy, which can be quite substantial. And again, governments are looking at net zero or reducing emissions and all of these kinds of things. We're having quite diverse conversations with different governments. Just make sure that they're informed. We're not demanding one thing over another, necessarily, but we are demanding that especially if there's going to be regulation that needs to come with financial support as well.
Andy (11:22): Interesting. You used Utah in your example. I think the meme is that it's one guy in Nebraska. But it really caught my attention because I'm a developer or a developer-ish kind of guy, technical guy. And I grew up in Utah. When you said that I started, what am I responsible for? What'd she say? But no [inaudible], it's somebody else.
Rebecca (11:47): Sorry, yes, you are right. The me was Nebraska. I panicked. I don't know all the US states like on the top of my head.
Andy (11:55): No, but it was perfect. Because it totally got my attention. One thing with these government regulations and whatnot is and you mentioned unintended consequences. The EU said we have to have cookies everywhere and now everybody's so tired of these stupid cookie block up click. We have to be careful what we did, or what unintended consequences we introduce and make informed decisions and whatnot. At state of open-con I happened to be sitting there and the White House was saying one way to make all this open-source infrastructure better and make infrastructure in general better by basing it on open sources to use safer languages, like Rust, they specifically called it out. And then we're talking in the security track and they're saying, well, if you have these good memory safe languages, like Rust, and then then the sustainability track, it was like, okay, and Rust is one of the most performant languages. It feels like Rust is hitting on all cylinders. And it even got notice from the White House. Was that something that you influenced and brought up? Or was that just a happy coincidence was such a perfect on spot message?
Rebecca (13:05): I would dearly love to sit here and say I have the weight that means that I can get the White House to say this. I would dearly love to say I have that kind of influence. Alas not, I'm very lucky to be supporting a programming language where the virtues are self-evident and the amazing features of Rust speak for itself. It barely needs me to actually go to people and have to knock them over the head with this with this information. I'm very lucky that the people that know what they're doing in the White House regard to open source, they know that Rust is a good choice here. No, I'm very lucky that the White House does a lot of my promotion for me.
Marc (13:52): You have the power now, Rebecca.
Rebecca (13:56): I know it's really fantastic to have people from the White House advocating for the use of Rust because it does have great features. And this is a very small tiny violin, but going to drive adoption that and that's what we want. But with adoption, comes increased costs to support the infrastructure, right? People forget that stuff on the Internet is a pre you're just not paying for it yourself. Yeah, things like posting crates.io which is our library that someone paid. I have to find people willing to donate credits or whatever to pay for those things. Well, it's wonderful having a cheerleader such as the White House, it brings other brings other issues.
Andy (14:45): And then it brings these issues up and you need to have people to manage the hosting and people to manage things and whatnot and you need to organize a bit. And in your talk, you were talking about this. You had a beautiful picture of a house. It was so disjointed it looked like something I would build. And like the windows didn't match. And the colors were wrong on different sides and the door was in really bizarre place and all kinds of disjointed stuff. And you need a common vision and a common understanding of this is what we're trying to build. And you were laying out that that's what you're trying to get, but you need funding for it. And you need this, and you need that. And I think it was a really interesting story, and really opened my eyes to a lot of what goes on behind the scenes. It's not just like somebody types of clicks commit and things are available. There's somebody else behind making all this work. And what operation is it really to sustain something on the scale of Rust?
Rebecca (15:51): It's a really big operation. And the foundation, I need to say immediately the foundation doesn't do it all. We support where we can, but an awful lot of that operation is supported by the maintainers. The Rust project teams from the libraries team, the language team, creates team, there are all of these teams of people that as we said when we started out some of them are in professional positions, where they are able to devote a lot of their working time to doing these things. A lot of them aren't, though, a lot of them are just doing it for the love of Rust and a sense of responsibility to the rest of the ecosystem and the rest of the users. But yeah, in terms of what we at the foundation specifically look at. And one of the things that I wanted to get out with the example of the house is that, especially in maintainers that are doing this out of their own interests, they turn up and they do the specific things that they are specifically interested in. And that's mostly what people turn up and do. They turn up with a bit of expertise and a bit of interest. And they focus on these areas, but you will find them that there are gaps that not everything necessarily hangs together really, really easily or really strategically. And that's fair enough because these people are using their own time and energy and expertise to do most of this stuff for free. The foundation is really here. And again, the principle of supporting happy, well supported people to do this kind of thing. We look at where are the key critical safety areas that really an organization, a legal entity should be responsible, let's make sure that we've got those things covered. Where are the critical things that if something happens, someone need to be on call 24 hours a day or whatever. Let's get that service in place so that we're not relying on a volunteer, or an unpaid person to do that. Where are the places where there simply aren't enough volunteers and they're getting overwhelmed or burnt out or whatever. Can we support resources in those areas to make sure that those people aren't so frazzled, that an entire team burns out and leaves? So, it was a lot of assessment of where are the pain points talking to all of the maintainers themselves? And sort of saying, well, you know better than I do, where are your pain points? Where are your blockages? Where are the barriers? Where can we help? And is this a we can throw money at this problem? Or is it actually, no, we need people. And it doesn't matter how much money we have because you can't magic experience maintainers out of there. Again, trying to figure out where all these pain points are. We don't have the Higgledy Piggledy house with only one side painted, and no windows on another side, we actually have something that is robust, that is well supported. And it's sustainable into the future. That's what the foundation is here for. We're here to make sure that Rust delivers on all of its promises that's safe, they're secure, that it's sustainable for the future. And yeah, like I said earlier, all of the other boring stuff that legal entities just need to be there to take care of so that people can write the language and everything compiles and is wonderfully useful for all users downstream.
Marc (19:17): Are you in Scandinavia this autumn? Well, if you're not, you ought to be because the world's greatest DevOps conference is coming to Stockholm in Copenhagen. I'll leave a link for you in the show notes. Now back to the show. It's interesting when there's sustainability as defined by the United Nations and has to do primarily with energy and climate types of issues. But Rebecca, you've said the word burnout twice in this conversation and when I think of sustainable software development, I think about the human toil and the human impact. And I'd love to hear a little bit more about how you can approach this from the human side because we see so many companies, they focus on the numbers, or they focus on the schedule, or they focus on the, you promised to do this, and now you're late. And it's like, well, yes, it's software. There's so much there. And then we talked with Emily Freeman a couple of weeks ago at the DevOps conference and talking about you don't just recover from burnout by taking a week or two of holiday. It can take years to get through, and people don't necessarily recognize the symptoms, and then they get into a place where there's a huge impact in their life and the people around them, and the community that may depend on them and everything else. I'd love to hear a little more about this area of sustainability.
Rebecca (20:57): You're very right. And I'm genuinely horrified by just how big a problem this has been very much in the tank and the open-source sector. And it is a little bit difficult sometimes because an awful lot of the time that people that that are involved in this, they're so excited and interested. And they love, like puzzling things out. And they can have a tendency to just not take advice to switch the computer off and go and binge Netflix or whatever for a while. They're striking the balance between making sure that people feel empowered to put their work down and actually achieve a work life balance. And making sure you're not being prescriptive or babying people or anything. But we're very much trying to create a culture where that obsessive behavior is not acceptable. And it's called out. Certainly, within the foundation, I've tried to create a culture of work where people take the time off that they are due. If we see people logging on at all times of the day or night, or worrying about things that they are very much told and supported to take a step back. It's harder, obviously, when you're talking about a very big global community of people. Because you have no doubt what time zone people are in so it could be a perfectly reasonable time for people to be commenting on something on Discord or GitHub. But yeah, we really do try and promote this idea that you're going to do your best work if you're well rested. You're going to do your best work if you're not stressing about, like you say some of these human relationships or presenteeism or anything like that. The great thing about the foundation is that we're a nonprofit. There are no metrics to do with how much we earn, and whether the people that work here therefore get like an increase in shares, or whatever. There is none of that work. The sole reason for our existence is to support the people that develop the language and support the people that use the language. And yeah, none of our software engineers, for instance, have to be diverted from doing something really important that's just maintenance. And it's just making sure things don't fall over to new product development, that's where everything is, that's what we can monetize. We're lucky that we don't have that incentive, our incentive is just to make sure that Rust is as good as it can be. And then it's as well supported as it can be. It's one of the things I actually am a little bit fascinated by some big corporates. The best maintainers and then they direct them towards something else. And the corporate culture means that they're incentivized to not do the stuff they really cannot and maintain the world. They're actually incentivized to do something completely different. I think it can be poor behavior on the part of corporates to monopolize those people and then divert them away from what they're really, really, really good at and what we rely on them for that. I'm sure people incorporate some of them wrong. That's a completely reasonable explanation.
Marc (24:00): No, you're absolutely correct. And it sucks. It doesn't happen all the time, but yeah.
Andy (24:06): People in corporations probably would say you're wrong, but you're right. Absolutely.
Rebecca (24:14): Well, I got here that enough, so thank you.
Marc (24:16): And if you're listening, and you've hired an open-source developer, and they're not working in the thing any longer and you've provided them an incentive program that's going to pay them a bonus, you're not going to see them after you pay that bonus because they're going to find somebody that will support them in the thing that they're deeply talented and passionate about. Just in case there's any management who's listening who have worked with open-source developers. We've seen this too many times. I was looking through your grants program on the Rust Foundation website. I think it's really cool. It's beautifully described, it even includes things like lightness of touch, which is really cool. Is there anything that you'd like to talk about, about the work the foundation is doing through its grants program?
Rebecca (25:01): The grants program is in a way it's trying to solve, and it hasn't really solved it, but it's just trying to chip away at the problem of the maintainer pipeline. We're hyper aware that maintainers will come and go depending on their personal circumstances, or whatever, and making sure that there's a really good pipeline of new maintainers coming through that can pick up the slack, or that can actually increase capacity, that's really, really important. But I don't believe anyone has really solved that problem. The grants program is just a little way of trying to chip away at that. We know that the amounts that we're talking about, there are a drop in the ocean for very experienced open-source people in North America and Europe, who are working at Microsoft or whatever and getting paid extremely well. These are actually targeted at either very early career, young people students who are looking to boot into find a way in to open source and becoming a maintainer or contributing, and support them to do something quite specific, formalizing it in a small way, so that they know, they have financial support to take the time to do this. And potentially, as well as part of that having sort of mentoring relationships with existing people in the project, so that they have somewhere to turn for advice or guidance or to help solving problems. And so that hopefully, that normalizes relationships, so that they are able to join teams and build their careers, it's also aimed at broadening the diversity of the people that we have contributing and maintaining as well, everything. And then most open source has a bit of a North America, Western Europe IS. Again, having these especially the fellowships that are a yearlong, having these available for people, in some places it's quite a lot of money, it means that these people can put some real effort into developing their skills and developing their relationships and knowledge abreast so that we actually have global actors that are contributing and are helping the diversity of the project because I think we all working in tech know that if your tech is built by a very small homogenous group of people, that it may not necessarily work through everyone. It may have like real unconscious biases in it that you don't know about because you look the same and talk same. We're very invested in trying to make sure that there's decent representation from different cultures, different people, people of different ages, and people with different financial circumstances. Rust is not just the preserve of the elite few.
Marc (27:58): I've been searching for the word for this, like the increasing the digital accessibility for those in developing countries is kind of like the phrase, but the accessibility, I'm not sure it's quite the right word. But I think that's a really fantastic thing. If someone in a more developing country is able to get a fellowship with a monthly stipend in order to help maintain Rust, that's absolutely fantastic. And that you get an ambassador for life, I think if you're able to help the right person at the right time, or maybe most of those people at that time, I think that's really fantastic work.
Rebecca (28:36): We started it last year, not really knowing how it was going to go. We just knew that we needed to do something to try and get the ball rolling. We learned a lot, but it's been really heartening actually reading some of the spotlights on the felons and that we've put out on the website, some of these people have been massively benefited. And they're in a very different position to be able to go forward. And once that fellowship ends, and we've had several fellows get jobs off of the back of the fact that they've had this fellowship, they can't have time to develop their skills, and companies hiring them have recognized that the fact that they've had a fellowship authenticate the work that they'd be doing and the value of it to the project. It's been really great. We'd love to do more. But we're relying on the generosity of people putting money into the pot.
Marc (29:33): It's like we're always approached by young people or people that are looking to get into the IT industry for one reason or another. I think, especially with open source, there's this Pay It Forward mentality, where it's like, I recommend to anybody, I don't care if you're flipping hamburgers or you're developing software for mission critical applications. If you do more than what expected in your current role, then not only will you grow as a human, but also the recognition will either take you forward where you are or take you somewhere else. And looking at this even without the grant model, I think that it's a really fantastic thing that you have at Rust. Do you have anything further, Andy?
Andy (30:18): One of the comments that caught my attention was when you said that you're getting diverse herbs, software often has a North American and European bias. And being an American who lives in Finland, I see American bias all the time now that I never did before. It's just like, well, that's normal. But then, now I live outside that culture. And I'm looking back in. And when we had our DevOps conference, I could tell just by the way they talked, and I don't mean accent, who was the Americans and who was the Brits, and who was from this area, who was from that area. And I never ever thought about it before. Now, of course, that also influences how you develop software, how you run an open-source software package? Of course, it does. Obviously, it does. How did I never see that before? But it was just interesting the way you said it that it keyed me in if you were to set a North American bias, it wouldn't have keyed in me. But it since you said North American and Western European, it's like, oh, yeah, it's more than I thought it was.
Rebecca (31:28): Yeah, I know. You're very right. And it's not the worst thing in the world, but yeah, we can do better that products are much, much better with a rich diversity of opinion and collaboration behind them, I think.
Marc (31:42): Cool. Well, this has been really fantastic, Rebecca. I've got two more questions before we let you go that we've been asking all of our podcast participants, and the first one is when's the last time you tried something new, and what was it?
Rebecca (32:02): Something new? I'm not sure, actually. That's a really interesting question. I'm not sure how big you're expecting the answer to be. I had a different cocktail last night. I've never had a salty toffee apple martini before.
Marc (32:22): Is there still in all [inaudible]?
Rebecca (32:24): No, it was about a week's worth of sugar intake in it though. It was quite exciting for [inaudible]?
Marc (32:31): We do not discriminate on race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, gender identity, marital status, sexual preference, technology choices, or cocktail Martini selections.
Rebecca (32:53): Terrible tasting drink.
Marc (32:57): Okay, I'll accept that. And then you have one.
Andy (33:02): And then our last question is, what's the last thing that really excited you?
Rebecca (33:06): I didn't get really excited about Chat GPT. It was the first time that that technology has actually really done what we were expecting it to do for a long time. Yeah, just actually seeing it working quite so well, actually. It was really exciting and a little bit terrifying because that we actually had an open recruitment round going on. And yeah, we had a few applications that were clearly worth leaving from that platform. It was it was exciting. And like, wow, okay, it hadn't even occurred to me just how much of life this was going to attach. I'm actually really excited to see where that goes in the future. Whether it is horrifying or not. It's still exciting.
Andy (33:54): It could go either way there.
Marc (33:58): Cool. Well, Rebecca, I'd like to thank you again, for being on the podcast. I think it's been really nice to have you in the sauna today. I think I've been looking for a new language and Rust is all people have been talking about everywhere I go, now it's like, so maybe I need to also put my toes in the water of Rust.
Rebecca (34:21): I think she definitely should.
Marc (34:23): All right. Thank you. And once again, my cohort Andy Allred.
Andy (34:27): Yes. Thanks for doing this, Rebecca. It's been great to talk again.
Marc (34:31): All right. Thank you, Rebecca.
Rebecca (34:32): Great. Well, thank you very much for having me. This was great.
Marc (34:40): Before we go, let's give our guests an opportunity to introduce themselves and tell you a little bit about who we are.
Rebecca (34:47): I'm Rebecca Rumbul. I'm Executive Director and CEO of the Rust Foundation.
Marc (34:53): My name is Marc Dillon. I'm a lead consultant in the transformation business at Eficode.
Andy (34:57): My name is Andy Allred and I'm doing platform engineering at Eficode.
Marc (35:02): Thank you for listening. If you enjoyed what you heard, please like and subscribe it means the world to us. Also check out our other interesting talks and tune in for our next episode. Take care of yourself and remember what really matters is everything we do with machines is to help humans.