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Interview about JavascriptLandia, the Openjs New Individual Contributor Program

Key Takeaways

  • The OpenJS foundation is a vendor-neutral organization that supports open-source projects
  • Contributing to open-source projects can mean more than just writing code
  • There are more challenges to open source contribution than is often discussed
  • JavaScriptLandia is a new initiative that encourages individuals to participate in the OpenJS foundation

We’ve invited Sara Chipps from the OpenJS foundation to tell us about the OpenJS foundation new JavaScriptLandia initiative, and some of the open-source challenges contributors face these days.

InfoQ: Thanks for joining us. The OpenJS Foundation hosts some of the largest open-source JavaScript projects yet developers don't often interact with it directly. Could you tell our readers a little more about the organization?

Sara Chipps: Of course. The OpenJS foundation houses a growing number of open-source projects. It provides a vendor-neutral place for contributors to work, collaborate, and innovate in a neutral environment that is not directed by a single company or interest group.

In addition, we aim to fill some of the gaps that open source contributors often face when managing large projects.

InfoQ: There’s a lot of discussion about funding open source projects, but from my understanding, the challenges are much bigger than just money. Could you share with us some of those challenges and perhaps how the OpenJS foundation helps to address them?

Chipps:  Sure. I think that open-source contributors are often unaware of the many challenges that they may face when they start a new project or even just contribute to an existing one  - take legal liability as an example. 

Someone once shared with me that their startup failed because of an update to an open-source JavaScript framework they used. That’s not something you think about when you contribute to a project right?

Whenever we release a new update, I'm always thinking, yeah, this is great -  I'm so glad we're doing it. Yet, making large code changes can often lead to unforeseen results and hidden bugs that can have a huge impact on companies and individuals. Contributors often fail to take these and other risks into account, and the OpenJS Foundation offers the legal support needed to alleviate many of these risks. 

I think it’s also fair for me to say as a developer that generally speaking we do not make for good marketers and I think a lot of this is simply due to the fact that we live in a very different world that has very different expectations from us. 

In his book "Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future," Peter Thiel talks about how developers spend a large portion of their job trying to find things that are broken or trying to break things or just finding flaws in things. 

If half your job is figuring out what could go wrong and how to communicate it in a clear way to your managers - you are going to struggle with marketing because, as it turns out, a good marketer wants to sell the future with a vision of something amazing and perfect and beautiful. Not the five things that can go wrong in the next three hours with this project. 

The foundation offers marketing resources, networking opportunities, and of course, legal resources that I think make for a great support framework. I'm biased, but the foundation doesn't pay me, so I guess I'm not super biased.

InfoQ: I understand the OpenJS Foundation is starting a new project for individual supporters called JavaScriptLandia. Can you tell us about it? 

Chipps:  Of course. Our goal is to create a healthy ecosystem of people interested in open-source projects within the JavaScript community and help them get involved within the open-source community - because many people don’t realize it's a much broader field than just fixing bugs and adding new features.

People don't always realize this, but there are many different flavors of open-source contributions; for example, I'm a cross-project council member. I like to joke that we volunteer here because we love the bureaucracy of open source and the fact that we don’t write any code doesn’t make it any less valuable.

Most of what we do in the cross-project council is setting new policies, talking through governance, and identifying needs throughout the foundation. So we meet every other week now, and we talk about policy, and we discuss things we think are missing and how to get them started and write down initiatives. And that's that. That's our open source contribution. 

On the other side of the spectrum are the people who enjoy fixing bugs or introducing new features to an open-source project. There are so many different ways to get involved. So I think it's really important to showcase the different ways you can contribute to open source projects and that’s really the goal of JavaScriptLandia. 

We want to showcase the different ways people can contribute and participate in the OpenJS Foundation and open source projects and help to onboard them for whatever type of open source work they'd like to do.

InfoQ: And what about the name? There has to be a story behind JavaScriptLandia.

Chipps: It is. The idea actually came from  Myles Borins, but I'll try to tell the story in his stead. 

It all started when Myles was at a JavaScript conference two years ago. They were trying to figure out how to get the top-level .js domain to attract more members. They learned that the designation for those two-letter domains was limited to countries. 

So, of course, they ended up doing a lot of work with some other individuals to determine exactly what constitutes a country and how you can create one. They went as far as to find someone who owned an island with independent governance and wasn't part of any country and talked with them about getting the JavaScript top-level domain. 

The idea obviously never came to fruition, but the concept of a country where JavaScript developers could come together, discuss ideas, and of course, contribute to open source projects remained.

Of course, we didn't want to make it nationalistic or anything like that. We just took a liking to the idea behind the name. Because JavaScript is used for so many different things and has so many different libraries, a JavaScript developer can mean many different things. 

We wanted a place to bring all those different people together to form a united cause, and JavaScriptLandia seemed like a great way to describe it.

InfoQ: We talked about how open source contributors benefit from being part of the OpenJS Foundation - but what about the developers who use these libraries? Should developers prefer to use library X that is part of the OpenJS foundation, over libraries that are not?

Chipps: I think one of the flaws of open source projects is that someone starts a project, it gets very popular, but their life changes somehow and, you know, either they don't want to code anymore, or move off the map, or they find something more interesting to work on. It's their life, and sometimes they want to move on.

I think that's where the foundation comes in and offers a sustainable path for maintaining these projects. As a company, you're looking for a library that will be around for a long time and continue to be maintainable and sustainable. So I think the OpenJS Foundation provides sustainability for projects because we will help the contributions to find help and ensure developers know about your project through marketing and, of course, supply a legal framework and things like that. And all of those things contribute to the sustainability of a project. 

The foundation could help make sure that an event like that isn't going to kill a project, that it has the resources and the contributors that it needs to keep moving, with or without the founder. 

Also, the mentorship of the technical steering committees can help ensure that the right infrastructure is in place to make sure that the project will be sustainable over time.

About the Interviewee

Sara Chipps is a JavaScript developer based in NYC. She has been working on Software and the Open Source Community since 2001. She's an engineering manager at Stack Overflow, a member of the OpenJS cross-project council, and one of the driving forces behind JavaScriptLandia

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