Jason Perlow, Director of Project Insights and Editorial Content, spoke with Stephen Hendrick about Linux Foundation Research and how it will promote a greater understanding of the work being done by open source projects, their communities, and the Linux Foundation.

JP: It’s great to have you here today, and also, welcome to the Linux Foundation. First, can you tell me a bit about yourself, where you are from, and your interests outside work?

SH: I’m from the northeastern US.  I started as a kid in upstate NY and then came to the greater Boston area when I was 8.  I grew up in the Boston area, went to college back in upstate NY, and got a graduate degree in Boston.  I’ve worked in the greater Boston area since I was out of school and have really had two careers.  My first career was as a programmer, which evolved into project and product management doing global cash management for JPMC.  When I was in banking, IT was approached very conservatively, with a tagline like yesterday’s technology, tomorrow.  The best thing about JPMC was that it was where I met my wife.  Yes, I know, you’re never supposed to date anybody from work.  But it was the best decision I ever made.  After JPMC, my second career began as an industry analyst working for IDC, specializing in application development and deployment tools and technologies.  This was a long-lived 25+ year career followed by time with a couple of boutique analyst firms and cut short by my transition to the Linux Foundation.

Until recently, interests outside of work mainly included vertical pursuits — rock climbing during the warm months and ice climbing in the winter.  The day I got engaged, my wife (to be) and I had been climbing in the morning, and she jokes that if she didn’t make it up that last 5.10, I wouldn’t have offered her the ring.  However, having just moved to a house overlooking Mt. Hope bay in Rhode Island, our outdoor pursuits will become more nautically focused.

JP: And from what organization are you joining us?

SH: I was lead analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, a boutique industry analyst firm.  I initially focused my practice area on DevOps, but in reality, since I was the only person with application development and deployment experience, I also covered adjacent markets that included primary research into NoSQL, Software Quality, PaaS, and decisioning.  

JP: Tell me a bit more about your academic and quantitative analysis background; I see you went to Boston University, which was my mom’s alma mater as well. 

SH:  I went to BU for an MBA.  In the process, I concentrated in quantitative methods, including decisioning, Bayesian methods, and mathematical optimization.  This built on my undergraduate math and economics focus and was a kind of predecessor to today’s data science focus.  The regression work that I did served me well as an analyst and was the foundation for much of the forecasting work I did and industry models that I built.  My qualitative and quantitative empirical experience was primarily gained through experience in the more than 100 surveys and in-depth interviews I have fielded.  

JP: What disciplines do you feel most influence your analytic methodology? 

SH: We now live in a data-driven world, and math enables us to gain insight into the data.  So math and statistics are the foundation that analysis is built on.  So, math is most important, but so is the ability to ask the right questions.  Asking the right questions provides you with the data (raw materials) shaped into insights using math.  So analysis ends up being a combination of both art and science.

JP: What are some of the most enlightening research projects you’ve worked on in your career? 

SH:  One of the most exciting projects I cooked up was to figure out how many professional developers there were in the world, by country, with five years of history and a 5-year forecast.  I developed a parameterized logistics curve tuned to each country using the CIA, WHO, UN, and selected country-level data.  It was a landmark project at the time and used by the world’s leading software and hardware manufacturers. I was flattered to find out six years later that another analyst firm had copied it (since I provided the generalized equation in the report).

I was also interested in finding that an up-and-coming SaaS company had used some of my published matrix data on language use, which showed huge growth in Ruby.  This company used my findings and other evidence to help drive its acquisition of a successful Ruby cloud application platform.

JP: I see that you have a lot of experience working at enterprise research firms, such as IDC, covering enterprise software development. What lessons do you think we can learn from the enterprise and how to approach FOSS in organizations adopting open source technologies?

SH: The analyst community has struggled at times to understand the impact of OSS. Part of this stems from the economic foundation of the supply side research that gets done.  However, this has changed radically over the past eight years due to the success of Linux and the availability of a wide variety of curated open source products that have helped transform and accelerate the IT industry.  Enterprises today are less concerned about whether a product/service is open or closed source.  Primarily they want tools that are best able to address their needs. I think of this as a huge win for OSS because it validates the open innovation model that is characteristic of OSS. 

JP: So you are joining the Linux Foundation at a time when we have just gotten our research division off the ground. What are the kind of methodologies and practices that you would like to take from your years at firms like IDC and EMA and see applied to our new LF Research?

SH: LF is in the enviable position of having close relationships with IT luminaries, academics, hundreds of OSS projects, and a significant portion of the IT community.  The LF has an excellent opportunity to develop world-class research that helps the IT community, industry, and governments better understand OSS’s pivotal role in shaping IT going forward.

I anticipate that we will use a combination of quantitative and qualitative research to tell this story.  Quantitative research can deliver statistically significant findings, but qualitative interview-based research can provide examples, sound bites, and perspectives that help communicate a far more nuanced understanding of OSS’s relationship with IT.

JP: How might these approaches contrast with other forms of primary research, specifically human interviews? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the interview process?

SH: Interviews help fill in the gaps around discrete survey questions in ways that can be insightful, personal, entertaining, and unexpected.  Interviews can also provide context for understanding the detailed findings from surveys and provide confirmation or adjustments to models based on underlying data.

JP: What are you most looking forward to learning through the research process into open source ecosystems?

SH: The transformative impact that OSS is having on the digital economy and helping enterprises better understand when to collaborate and when to compete.

JP: What insights do you feel we can uncover with the quantitative analysis we will perform in our upcoming surveys? Are there things that we can learn about the use of FOSS in organizations?

SH: A key capability of empirical research is that it can be structured to highlight how enterprises are leveraging people, policy, processes, and products to address market needs.  Since enterprises are widely distributed in their approach and best/worst practices to a particular market, data can help us build maturity models that provide advice on how enterprises can shape strategy and decision based on the experience and best practices of others.

JP: Trust in technology (and other facets of society) is arguably at an all-time low right now. Do you see a role for LF Research to help improve levels of trust in not only software but in open source as an approach to building secure technologies? What are the opportunities for this department?

SH: I’m reminded by the old saying that there are “lies, damned lies, and then there are statistics.” If trust in technology is at an all-time low, it’s because there are people in this world with a certain moral flexibility, and the IT industry has not yet found effective ways to prevent the few from exploiting the many.  LF Research is in the unique position to help educate and persuade through factual data and analysis on accelerating improvements in IT security.

JP: Thanks, Steve. It’s been great talking to you today!

Jason Perlow, Director of Project Insights and Editorial Content at the Linux Foundation, spoke with Hilary Carter about Linux Foundation Research and how it will create better awareness of the work being done by open source projects and their communities.

JP: It’s great to have you here today, and also, welcome to the Linux Foundation. First, can you tell me a bit about yourself, where do you live, what your interests are outside work?

HC: Thank you! I’m a Toronto native, but I now live in a little suburban town called Aurora, just north of the city. Mike Meyers — a fellow Canadian — chose “Aurora, IL” for his setting of Wayne’s World, but he really named the town after Aurora, ON. I also spend a lot of time about 3 hours north of Aurora in the Haliburton Highlands, a region noted for its beautiful landscape of rocks, trees, and lakes — and it’s here where my husband and I have a log cabin. We ski, hike and paddle, with our kids, depending on the season. It’s an interesting location because we’re just a few kilometers north of the 45th parallel — and at the spring and fall equinox, the sun sets precisely in the west right off of our dock. At the winter and summer solstice, it’s 45 degrees to the south and north, respectively. It’s neat. As much as I have always been a bit obsessed with geolocation, I had never realized we were smack in the middle of the northern hemisphere until our kids’ use of Snapchat location filters brought it to our attention. Thank you, mobile apps! 

JP: And what organization are you joining us from?

HC: My previous role was Managing Director at the Blockchain Research Institute, where I helped launch and administer their research program in 2017. Over nearly four years, we produced more than 100 research projects that explored how blockchain technology — as the so-called Internet of value — was transforming all facets of society — at the government and enterprise-level as well as at the peer-to-peer level. We also explored how blockchain converged with other technologies like IoT, AI, additive manufacturing and how these developments would change traditional business models. It’s a program that is as broad as it is deep into a particular subject matter without being overly technical, and it was an absolutely fascinating and rewarding experience to be part of building that.

JP: Tell me a bit more about your academic background; what disciplines do you feel most influence your research approach? 

HC: I was a Political Studies major as an undergrad, which set the stage for my ongoing interest in geopolitical issues and how they influence the economy and society. I loved studying global political systems, international political economy, and supranational organizations and looking at the frameworks built for global collaboration to enable international peace and security under the Bretton Woods system. That program made me feel incredibly fortunate to have been born into a time of relative peace and prosperity, unlike generations before me.

I did my graduate studies in Management at the London School of Economics (LSE), and it was here that I came to learn about the role of technology in business. The technologies we were studying at the time were those that enabled real-time inventory. Advanced manufacturing was “the” hot technology of the mid-1990s, or so it seemed in class. I find it so interesting that the curriculum at the time did not quite reflect the technology that would profoundly and most immediately shape our world, and of course, that was the Web. In fairness, the digital economy was emerging slowly, then. Tasks like loading web pages still took a lot of time, so in a way, it’s understandable that the full extent of the web’s power did not make it into many of my academic lectures and texts. I believe academia is different today — and I’m thrilled to see the LSE at the forefront of new technology research, including blockchain, AI, robotics, big data, preparing students for a digital world.

JP: I did do some stalking of your LinkedIn profile; I see that you also have quite a bit of journalistic experience as well.

HC: I wish I could have had more! I was humbled when my first piece was published in Canada’s national newspaper. I had no formal training or portfolio of past writing to lend credibility to my authorship. Still, fortunately, after much persistence, the editor gave me a shot, and I’m forever grateful to her for that. I was inspired to write opinion pieces on the value of digital tools because I saw a gap that needed filling — and I was really determined to fill it. And the subject that inspired me was leadership around new technologies. I try to be a good storyteller and create something that educates and inspires all in one go. I suppose I come by a bit of that naturally. My father was an award-winning author in Canada, but his day job was Chief of Surgery at a hospital in downtown Toronto. He had a gift to take complex subject matter about diseases, such as cancer, and humanize the content by making it personal. I think that’s what makes writing about complex concepts “sticky.” When you believe that the author is, at some level, personally committed to their work and successful in setting the context for their subject matter to the world at large and do so in a way that creates action or additional thinking, then they’ve done a successful job. 

JP: Let’s try a tough existential question. Why do you feel that the Linux Foundation now needs a dedicated research and publications division? Is it an organizational maturity issue? Has open source gotten so widespread and pervasive that we need better metrics to understand these projects’ overall impact?

HC: Well, let me start by saying that I’m delighted that the LF has prioritized research as a new business unit. In my past role at the Blockchain Research Institute, it was clear that there was and still is a huge demand for research — the program kept growing because technologies continued to evolve, and there was no shortage of issues to cover. So I think the LF is tapping into a deep need for knowledge in the market at large and specific insights on open source ecosystems, in particular, to create greater awareness of incredible open source projects and inspire greater participation in them. There are also threats that we as a society — as human beings — need to deal with urgently. So the timing couldn’t be better to broaden the understanding of what is happening in open source communities, new tools to share knowledge, and encourage greater collaboration levels in open source projects. If we accomplish one thing, it will be to illustrate the global context for open source software development and why getting involved in these activities can create positive global change on so many levels. We want more brains in the game.

JP: So let’s dive right into the research itself. You mentioned your blockchain background and your previous role — I take it that this will have some influence on upcoming surveys and analysis? What is coming down the pike on the front?

HC: Blockchain as a technology has undoubtedly influenced my thinking about systems architecture and how research is conducted — both technological frameworks and the human communities that organize around them. Decentralization. Coordination. Transparency. Immutability. Privacy. These are all issues that have been front and center for me these past many years. Part of what I have learned about what makes good blockchain systems work comes from the right combination of great dependability and security with leadership, governance, and high mass collaboration levels. I believe those values transfer over readily to the work of the Linux Foundation and its community. I’m very much looking forward to learning about the many technology ecosystems beyond blockchain currently under the LF umbrella. I’m excited to discover what I imagine will be a new suite of technologies that are not yet part of our consciousness.

JP: What other LF projects and initiatives do you feel need to have deeper dives in understanding their impact besides blockchain? Last year, we published a contributor survey with Harvard. It reached many interesting conclusions about overall motivations for participation and potential areas for remediation or improvement in various organizations. Where do we go further in understanding supply chain security issues — are you working with the Harvard team on any of those things?

HC: The FOSS Contributor Survey was amazing, and there are more good things to come through our collaboration with the Laboratory of Innovation Science at Harvard. Security is a high-priority research issue, and yes, ongoing contributions to this effort from that team will be critical. You can definitely expect a project that dives deep into security issues in software supply chains in the wake of SolarWinds.

I’ve had excellent preliminary discussions with some executive team members about their wish-lists for projects that could become part of the LF Research program in terms of other content. We’ll hope to be as inclusive as we can, based on what our capacity allows. We look forward to exploring topics along industry verticals and technology horizontals, as well as looking at issues that don’t fall neatly into this framework, such as strategies to increase diversity in open source communities, or the role of governance and leadership as a factor in successful adoption of open source projects.

Ultimately, LF Research will have an agenda shaped not only from feedback from within the LF community but by the LF Research Advisory Board, a committee of LF members and other stakeholders who will help shape the agenda and provide support and feedback throughout the program. Through this collaborative effort, I’m confident that LF Research will add new value to our ecosystem and serve as a valuable resource for anyone wanting to learn more about open source software and the communities building it and help them make decisions accordingly. I’m looking forward to our first publications, which we expect out by mid-summer. And I’m most excited to lean on, learn from, and work with such an incredible team as I have found within the LF. Let’s do this!!!

JP: Awesome, Hilary. It was great having you for this talk, and I look forward to the first publications you have in store for us.

Linux Foundation Research will provide objective, decision-useful insights into the scope of open source collaboration

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – April 14, 2021 – The Linux Foundation, the nonprofit organization enabling mass innovation through open source, today announced Linux Foundation Research, a new division that will broaden the understanding of open source projects, ecosystem dynamics, and impact, with never before seen insights on the efficacy of open source collaboration as a means to solve many of the world’s pressing problems. Through a series of research projects and related content, Linux Foundation Research will leverage the Linux Foundation’s vast repository of data, tools, and communities across industry verticals and technology horizontals. The methodology will apply quantitative and qualitative techniques to create an unprecedented knowledge network to benefit the global open source community, academia, and industry.

“As we continue in our mission to collectively build the world’s most critical open infrastructure, we can provide a first-of-its-kind research program that leverages the Linux Foundation’s experience, brings our communities together, and can help inform how open source evolves for decades to come,” said Jim Zemlin, executive director at the Linux Foundation. “As we have seen in our previous studies on supply chain security and FOSS contribution, research is an important way to measure the progress of both open source ecosystems and contributor trends. With a dedicated research organization, the Linux Foundation will be better equipped to draw out insights, trends, and context that will inform discussions and decisions around open collaboration.”

As part of the launch, the Linux Foundation is pleased to welcome Hilary Carter, VP Research, to lead this initiative. Hilary most recently led the development and publication of more than 100 enterprise-focused technology research projects for the Blockchain Research Institute. In addition to research project management, Hilary has authored, co-authored, and contributed to reports on blockchain in pandemics, government, enterprise, sustainability, and supply chains.

“The opportunity to measure, analyze, and describe the impact of open source collaborations in a more fulsome way through Linux Foundation Research is inspiring,” says Carter. “Whether we’re exploring the security of digital supply chains or new initiatives to better report on climate risk, the goal of LF Research is to enhance decision-making and encourage collaboration in a vast array of open source projects. It’s not enough to simply describe what’s taking place. It’s about getting to the heart of why open source community initiatives matter to all facets of our society, as a means to get more people — and more organizations — actively involved.”

Critical to the research initiative will be establishing the Linux Foundation Research Advisory Board, a rotating committee of community leaders and subject matter experts, who will collectively influence the program agenda and provide strategic input, oversight, and ongoing support on next-generation issues.

About the Linux Foundation

Founded in 2000, The Linux Foundation is supported by more than 1,000 members and is the world’s leading home for collaboration on open source software, open standards, open data, and open hardware. Linux Foundation projects are critical to the world’s infrastructure, including Linux, Kubernetes, Node.js, and more.  The Linux Foundation’s methodology focuses on leveraging best practices and addressing the needs of contributors, users, and solution providers to create sustainable models for open collaboration. For more information, please visit us at linuxfoundation.org.

The Linux Foundation has registered trademarks and uses trademarks. For a list of trademarks of The Linux Foundation, please see its trademark usage page: www.linuxfoundation.org/trademark-usage. Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds.