The Importance of Increasing Diversity in the Open Source Community

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girl developer writing code at her desk

It’s no secret that the past twenty years has seen remarkable progress in technology innovation.  Smartphones opened up a whole new ecosystem of applications and possibilities, cars have become more connected and safer, and there are now RISC-V based software systems created to work in space!

We’ve truly created a world that is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. As globalization promotes the exchange of ideas across borders, we’re continuing to reap the benefits of collaboration in our highly connected world. In order to take advantage of this momentum, we have to get serious about fostering diversity and inclusivity across the technology ecosystem, including the open source community.

The Diversity Gap

Since 2014, tech juggernauts have released diversity reports, revealing that each company’s ranks are woefully lacking in representation. Although many companies promised to double down on their efforts, the share of U.S. technical employees who are Black or Latinx rose by less than a percentage point since 2014. According to a study by Gartner, through 2022, 75% of companies with diverse and inclusive decision-making teams will exceed their financial targets. The study also found that gender-diverse and inclusive teams outperformed their less inclusive counterparts by a whopping 50%. This begs the question, where does the disconnect come from? Many great minds have approached this question, supplying answers, which range from staff sourcing issues to hostile work environments. While understanding our shortcomings is important, we must focus on clear, actionable goals that promote diversity and inclusion across the industry to make real progress.

The Power of Upskilling

As the famous Sir Francis Bacon quip says, knowledge is power. One actionable goal is providing more resources for people to learn new skills and expand their knowledge base. After all, it’s clear that more companies are focusing more and more on open source technologies so this will continue to be a hot sector for job opportunities. In fact, the 2020 Open Source Jobs Report found that 86% of IT leaders say that the most innovative companies are using open source software, and 77% say they plan to increase their use of open source technologies over the next 12 months. The problem is that training resources, particularly for open source hardware, have been very limited and less accessible – classes can run into the thousands of dollars. The open source industry needs to make it a priority to help people from underrepresented groups access the resources they need to enter into the hardware industry and grow their careers.

At RISC-V International, we are trying to do our part to remove the boundaries to accessing information and helping people connect with others in the industry. Our RISC-V Learn Online program provides free online learning courses at the beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels to help people increase their engineering expertise and career opportunities. We also have many free events where people can learn and network, and offer scholarships to our paid events for individuals from underrepresented and/or marginalized groups. Mentorship and on-the-job training is incredibly important too, so we developed a program to match people with mentors for 12-week internship-style projects with a paid stipend.  Additionally, we are working on collaborating more closely with universities; by helping to ensure students have adequate resources to learn while they are in school, we can help to tackle the pipeline problem and encourage more people from diverse backgrounds to start their careers in the open source field. Finally, it’s essential to make sure everyone in the community feels heard. We encourage open dialog across our working groups so everyone can speak up about issues that are important to them. In the coming weeks and months, we’re kicking off a working group dedicated to the professional advancement of underrepresented groups, ensuring they have the resources and support needed to succeed.

The Future of Open Source

While we might not have the jetpacks and flying cars predicted by futurists decades ago, technology has opened up new waves of innovations and has made our lives better in many different ways. As widespread connectivity has made it easier than ever to collaborate with people from across the globe, we must make sure that the open source community is represented by people from different backgrounds and experiences so no one gets left behind. Attracting new voices to the open source community is absolutely foundational to the industry’s continued growth, and will help generate new ways of solving problems and innovating for an even better future.

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