Red Hat: Moving from a proprietary to an open source culture

Creative, exciting applications of open source software can be found worldwide, and who better to share the details of new use cases than the practitioners themselves. In this blog series we’ll feature guests who told their open source stories during Practical Open Source Information (POSI) 2021, an online conference hosted by OSI. Check this channel for more practical open source stories.

Joining and contributing to an open source community is a great way to use your skills in creative ways while getting exposure to interesting projects that will expand your skill set. This video shared one person’s experience transitioning from a proprietary environment to open source. The path to get started, the challenges along the way, and key lessons learned help viewers anticipate what moving from proprietary to open source culture could be like.

Petra Sargent was a software engineer for Nortel Networks after earning her degree in Computer Science 20 years ago. She had learned Pascal in college, but once she signed on with Nortel she was trained in their proprietary programming language, operating system, and version control software, complete with a confidential system architecture book that she kept locked in her desk when she wasn’t using it.

A question from a middle schooler at a STEM career panel Petra spoke at led her to begin to question her career path. Although she enjoyed her job, Petra began to wonder if she was able to learn different types of technology, if her skills were marketable, and if she was really being challenged creatively in this proprietary environment. Petra ended up leaving Nortel to focus on her family, but when it came time to join the workforce again, these questions lingered in her mind.

Prospective employers were looking for candidates with experience in Java or Python, and she found the proprietary technology she was so well versed in had become obsolete. She took it upon herself to learn Python and noticed a shift in the industry to open source when she was looking for a project to apply her learning. It was a bit intimidating to step into open source communities, but while attending a conference Petra was introduced to the perfect bridge.

She learned of an internship program called Outreachy that offered mentoring to those traditionally underrepresented in tech to help them make their first contributions to Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) communities. In order to be accepted into Outreachy, Petra had to make a contribution to an open source community. With many options to choose from, she selected OpenStack as the community to make her first contribution to. She felt her skillset matched the areas of contribution available in OpenStack and it was a great way to get her feet wet in the world of open source. Her contribution was accepted and she was welcomed into the Outreachy internship program.

Having the support of her mentor helped ease her entry into the open source environment. Working on that first project she began to embrace the open source culture, including the principles of “fail faster,” and “release early, release often.” The collaboration and feedback loop in open source was very different from the proprietary environment, and although it took some getting used to, she found it very empowering.

Petra ultimately gained the skills needed to become a technical writer at Red Hat and really found her home in the open source community. Transitioning from a proprietary environment to open source isn’t always easy, but there are an abundance of resources available to help make that shift.

You can watch Petra’s video from the POSI event below:

The previous blog in this series features OSI members from the Rochester Institute of Technology in “Beyond Code and Licenses: Co-developing Community Strategies Within Academia.” Come back to catch our next featured member from the Practical Open Source Information (POSI) 2021 in the coming weeks.