Accidental Leadership in Open Source

Accidental Leadership in Open Source

Next Billion Creators

My name is Samson Goddy. At the time of this writing, I am locked up someplace in Port Harcourt, with my hands sanitized, convincing myself every day to do more social distancing, and struggling with my change of pace because of COVID-19. Some days it feels a bit impossible. Thankfully, I have experience doing things that sound impossible and have been working on just that for almost three years.

The audience will learn

  • How open source can impact personal growth
  • Importance of open source communities
  • How I was able to Learn While Doing (LWD)

How I became an Accidental Leader and how I learned to focus on things that I care about, including giving my all, concentrating on building something iconic, and showcasing the many ways you can contribute to open source software(OSS).

Meeting the open source community

One of the most important parts of open source culture is the community, the people around it. The diversity in skill sets and different experiences makes OSS projects more accessible. Open source is so popular these days that it is now the standard for software development. I got into open source through a project called One Laptop Per Child, primarily working with the desktop environment that came bundled with the machine called Sugar Desktop), a free and open source desktop designed for interactive learning for children. Yes, there is a Linux flavored desktop for children. It was a strange-looking desktop to me, because there were more windows around me, in fact, more windows than doors to successfully becoming a software engineer at that time. I saw myself moving away from being a user into becoming a contributor, and with the help of Google Code-In, my contribution at that time was very defined.

Things started making sense to me, especially when I got a ping from Google saying a Googler nominated me for Google Open Source Peer Bonus. Unfortunately, I wasn't eligible for the prizes that came with it, because I was 17, and you need to be 18 to be eligible. It was a fantastic experience for me to get recognition from Google that way; maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was younger than most community members.

On January 1st, 2017, I became a board member for Sugar Labs. I joined the board as the youngest serving oversight member. I felt cool the day I got the email, but as time went on, it became not so easy for me as I was younger, or perhaps I felt intimidated.

I was part of the leadership team, and two of the members watched me grow in tech. They both work at MIT: Walter Bender, one of the co-founders of One Laptop Per Child, former director of MIT Media Lab and Claudia Urrea, currently a Senior Associate Director, MIT Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL).

One of the beauties of open source is that you get to work with amazing people, including folks who helped build your tech career. Growing from being a user to becoming part of the leadership team at almost 18 was indeed a flex for me. Remember this wasn't my intent, I didn't even dream this far, but open source made it easier for me to grow without worrying as I was supported by people within the community.

I joined the Google Summer of Code program as a mentor. It was like becoming a project manager but also trying to mentor someone. At first, it was a bit weird. This was probably because of the age gap, as I was barely 18. However, I used the opportunity to understand why I need to behave as a leader even though I wasn't prepared for it. As part of the effort as a mentor from the Google Summer of Code(GSoC) program, I traveled to the United States for the first time. The trip changed many things for me because it was the perfect opportunity for me to connect with other contributors in person, and it gave me a unique idea of the apparent path I was on.

I jumped on a plane, and straight to San Francisco, I was so excited about going to Silicon Valley. Putting on Google Code-in swag made my immigration process at the airport seamless. Fast forward to the summit; it was a bit different to me, because I am used to seeing more people of color in gatherings back home. Yes, I knew I was coming for a global summit, which meant meeting a diverse audience, but I was surprised by how little African participation was present.

On top of that, I was the youngest in that summit; I mean a lot younger. Rumor has it that I am still the youngest to attend the GSoC summit. My priority was to network with as many people as possible. I did just that, and also reached out to the Google OSS team. Improving African participation in the program was something we had to discuss, and I am deeply passionate about advocacy and community growth. I felt responsible and understood that it is something I need to fix by myself. I connected with Chris Dibona, Director of Google's Open Source Programs Office, and he was super helpful as we discussed ideas about advocating for more folks to join the platform from Africa, and that's how I became friends with the OSS team at Google.

Building Open Source Community Africa (OSCA)

Going back to Nigeria with those ideas was something I was happy about, and I knew that I had plans that could help improve existing communities, but wasn't sure what that was.

I connected with Ada Oyom, founder of She Code Africa in 2017 immediately after my trip. She cares about building communities, and I wanted to work on a project centered around OSS. So it made sense to collaborate with her to create that iconic idea. I started researching the growth of OSS in Africa. I noticed it was affecting me codewise because I was struggling to maintain writing code and doing the research. So I made a hard decision to focus more on my research than writing code. I started attending more tech-focused conferences and meetups. I was learning more about the community, understanding what works, and things that needed improvement and used it to advocate for open source. It was an opportunity to share how and why open source is essential.

In 2018, I worked with my state government to host a Google Summer of Code Bootcamp with my friends. It was essential, as it was an opportunity to start a dedicated community. A community of open source advocates, a place where folks can share and collaborate on ideas and connect with people with related skill sets but with diverse backgrounds.

On February 18th, 2018, I co-founded Open Source Community Africa with Ada Oyom. As always, with a co-founder, you have shared vision and independent goals. Ada and I were committed to working together, but I was still figuring out what I wanted OSCA to be. It was refreshing to have a community and host meetups, but I wanted something different, something that will impact the lives of the community. I started using the connections I made during my trip to San Francisco; this is related to having numerous discussions with the biggest challenge, "Sustainability." I wanted the community to grow, but to be sustainable so it can be easily manageable and not have too much pressure to maintain its health.

We expanded and got some fantastic folks, created an OSCA team with a similar vision. We started experimenting, whenever we fail, we revisit and try to do better. We eventually broke OSCA goals into smaller pieces; one of them was expanding into smaller groups(chapters). The idea behind the chapters is to give people the power to build a local community. A community centered around their local needs and discussions about open source, with OSCA helping to fund and support the activities, giving them access to resources, and connecting them to opportunities. It was a brilliant idea, but it needed funds to keep up. Sustaining was something I did not plan for. I thought it was straightforward, but I was wrong.

It became my biggest challenge; I thought about giving up and focusing my energy elsewhere. Since I was a board member for Sugar Labs, a project with money in the bank, I figured I needed to drive OSCA in a similar pathway to make it sustainable. Then came another challenge for me. The United States had existing frameworks for fundraising for nonprofits organizations. OSCA, as a project-based in Africa, had to deal with multiple currencies, different government rules, and an immature structure for fundraising from individuals to companies.


It became crazy for me, and I started doing more research, but as part of a board for a project with a fiscal host, I had the advantage of asking the right questions to the right people and the journey to finding a home for OSCA had begun.

I began looking for something more suitable that could accommodate our current needs and get companies to support easily without any hiccups. A friend shared a link to an event called Sustain Summit. This un-conference event focused on the sustainability and health of open source and its projects. I reached out to the organizers and got invited to attend their second event in London, and just like the GSoC Summit, I was also the youngest.

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The cool thing about Sustain Summit was the undivided attention you get. There were no slides, only heart conversations about the future of open source. Companies with Open Source Program Offices (OSPO) send their employees to attend the event to figure out the needs of open source and how to support sustainability. Yeah, I used that to network with people with similar interests. Just like any conference, networking is my favorite part. Interestingly, one of the topics discussed was "How to ask companies for money." hosted by Duane O'brian.

After his section, we had a conversation about, you guessed it, his topic. It was helpful to me; we became friends and exchanged emails. While at the conference, I learned more about Open Collective, a platform that enables maintainers to get monetary support from individuals and companies. I was very excited, and I spoke with Pia Mancini about getting OSCA into the platform.

OSCA joined the Open Collective as a collective, and some of the issues around finance were no longer a problem. It was time to figure out what we needed to do. In 2019, our goal was to have more chapters in cities and a way we could push more content to the community. Our community grew larger; we expanded to other countries and did some crowdfunding to get backers to support our work on our collective page. We used those funds primarily to pay for service costs but also allocating budget for meetups while encouraging organizers to seek local support.

It was working, and this helped organizers to plan accordingly and place priorities on things that are highly important so that money can get to other chapters. We started engaging partnerships to help other OSS projects to gain contributors, and it helped a lot. Connecting with the community chapter-leads gave us insight into things we need to do more as a community. One of the requests was to connect and have one big community event that will bring people with skill sets centered around open source together. But not just a conference type of experience but more of a celebration. With networking as a priority and a way for people to happily see what other Africans are doing within open source.

Raised over $70k + for OSCA activities

While the big community event was a great idea, it was pretty expensive and complicated as it was a new idea that needed a solid plan. I designed a budget we would need to sustain OSCA events and try to host something around what the community wanted. I boldly added around 40,000 USD as a target to get everything started on our collective, with no idea at first on how to get to that target.

Before I asked companies for money, I wanted to make sure that we were well prepared. We did countless meetings internally, figuring out where to place priorities. I started going to conferences centered around the developer ecosystems, as a way to pay attention to current trends and find topics of interest for the OSCA community. Of course, I have the best team ever, we started bringing in ideas, and we came up with the theme "Next Billion Creators". We got everything ready, including a web page explaining what we wanted to do. Learn More about OSF

I did my research and started targeting companies that support OSS, especially the ones with open source program offices (OSPO). Thanks to the study and strategy planning for months, I was able to pitch better to companies, using my connections to some OSPO offices and using some of the ideas I got from Sustain Summit to get enough funding. I was able to pull out double what we planned as a goal and attracted top companies to support our goal. Alt Text


At the end of 2019, I collaborated with Github to host Open Source in Africa panel at the Github Universe 2019 to create more awareness about the state of OSS in Africa. I also joined the Open Source Collective as a board member to bring more ideas on ways to sustain OSS projects, spoke at different conferences about my work.

What am I doing now?

I am looking for new opportunities!! Preferable a job that will encourage me to do what I do best. Hopefully, my story will give people more ideas on how to continue looking for ways to sustain open source.

Big Shout!!! to Josh Simmons for leading "Accidental Leadership" conversation at Sustain Summit Brussels.

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