Detours on my Journey to Open Source

Last week, I reflected on my journey to open source. This week, I reflect on how that journey continued into my academic career. The focus of today’s story is on the detours I took that led me to where I needed to go.

By the end of my high school education, I had experience in open source, specifically the and Drupal communities. I was convinced that open source was a great licensing model and I valued the collaboration it enabled. I was building websites as a freelancer.

I had a noticeable passion for software development. Many years later, a high school friend told me how he found it hard finding time to meet with me because I often preferred getting into the flow of writing software.

In high school, everyone believed I would pursue a career in software and become the next Bill Gates, only with open source. This is not how it played out. I did end up in the open source software world, but I took several detours on the way.

Detour: B.A. in Business, Economics, and Banking

As I was considering career choices for after high school, I had all options open to me. I was very fortunate to pursue any like of work that interested me because I had supportive parents, the necessary mental capacity, education, as well as the social and economic status. I considered studying computer science and becoming better at what I had a passion for.

However, a piece of eye-opening advice I received pointed out that all software exists to solve a problem and if I wanted to create impactful software, I would need to understand the problem domain including the business and economics side of it.

For three years, I put writing software and participating in open source communities on the back burner as I followed the advice to build out my business and economics understanding. I joined a dual-studies program that had two components.

The first component was an apprenticeship at Bankhaus C. L. Seeliger, a local bank in Wolfenbüttel, Germany. The apprenticeship concluded with a certification by the Chamber of Commerce that would allow me to practice banking in Germany.

The second component was a 3-year bachelor program in business at the WelfenAkademie, a college in Braunschweig, Germany. The program concluded with a Bachelor of Arts degree in business with a concentration in banking.

The two components were well-coordinated and I took turns spending several weeks at the bank and attending classes.

During this time, I continued to read news about what was happening in the IT industry and I was especially interested in news about open source projects. I would also choose technology and software topics for my independent studies and research reports.

In the bank, I most enjoyed my time in the IT department. I enjoyed helping with PC issues. The only thing I enjoyed more was helping with the rollout of a new document management system.

In fact, I wrote my bachelor thesis on the subject of change management for the rollout of this system.

Detour: Overcoming a Career Blocker

Towards the end of the apprenticeship and bachelors, I was eager to back into IT. The bank did not have a job opening in the IT department and so I looked elsewhere.

Fun fact: Out of a love of traveling, I applied at Lufthansa as a flight attendant. Lufthansa rejected my application after the assessment center with kind words that I interpreted as: “Don’t waste your talents.” I redoubled my focus on a career in IT.

I approached the Technical University Braunschweig (TUBS) about joining their computer science master’s program.

I had falsely believed that the newly introduced bachelor’s and master’s programs allowed for movability between degrees. It turned out that I did not meet the enrollment criteria for computer science masters.

I was lucky to have talked with the program coordinator of the management information systems (MIS) degree. He showed me that I was only a few credit points shy of joining the MIS masters and suggested that I enroll as a bachelor student in the degree to earn the necessary credit points.

Within one semester, I enrolled in all foundational computer science and MIS classes. I felt like I just had to prove that I already had the skills necessary for pursuing the MIS masters and so I did.

Detour: Studying Abroad and Falling in Love

While enrolling in the MIS masters program, I found on the program website an unassuming link that promised information about an exchange program.

The PDF document I found there described a 1-year exchange program with the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). I would transfer credit points between the TUBS and UNO, double-dipping on my course work. The promise was to earn the master’s in MIS from TUBS and an MBA from UNO without losing any time.

I was intrigued, asked how to enroll, and then learned that accepted students also received a scholarship to cover the expenses of the exchange program.

Long story short: I started the MBA program at UNO which set wheels of destiny into motion.

I fell in love and started considering living in the USA and Omaha, Nebraska specifically.

Looking at options to stay in Omaha, I explored the Ph.D. in IT program at UNO. I liked the makeup of the program. It was very interdisciplinary and open to me joining with a background in business and MIS. I felt that with the Ph.D. in IT would finally complete my move to a career in IT after my detour with a bachelor’s in business and banking.

To get into the Ph.D. program, I asked a professor if he would take me in as his Ph.D. student. I collaborated with him on my master’s thesis project and demonstrated my ability to engage in research. The research area we were working on was collaboration science. At the time, I was not even considering open source as a research option but in hindsight, it is stunning how closely related the topics are.

End of Detours: Coming to Research into Open Source

The professor I was planning to work with accepted a job at another university while I was still applying to join the Ph.D. program at UNO. He offered me to follow him there but I was set on living in Omaha, Nebraska, starting a family here, and getting married.

This left me without a mentor when I joined the Ph.D. program. I scheduled meetings with faculty who had interesting research topics.

When I met with Matt Germonprez, I learned that it was possible to do research into open source. I was immediately hooked.

My experience in the and Drupal community came back to me. I had never considered that open source could be a research option but now it was.

I was hesitant at first to work with Matt because he specializes in qualitative research. I was afraid that with English as a second language, I would not be equipped to do qualitative analysis where an in-depth understanding of language was necessary. Matt promised to train me, gave me the confidence that I could learn the skills, and so I gave it a chance.

The research approach I learned was built on engaged fieldwork. This means participating in open source projects, fully embedding myself in open source communities, and talking as much as possible to professionals in the space to learn their language and viewpoints.

Throughout the four years of my Ph.D., I got to know many people in the open source ecosystem and participate in different open source projects.

This is where my detours ended and I arrived in open source again. I had what was needed to dive in and become a contributing member of the open source ecosystem. There is plenty of fodder for more blog posts. I have already shared some of my stories and can recommend as further reading:

Today, my main focus in open source is on metrics, the Linux Foundation CHAOSS project that I cofounded, and Biteriga.

Let me close by saying this: It is my mission to help the open source ecosystem become more professional with how we use metrics. I do this through (1) my work in the CHAOSS project and (2) by helping organizations hire Bitergia to receive professional services for their metric needs.

New Paper: “Open Source in Development: Enabling Business and Services”


This paper investigates the role of open source participation and employment in the service industry in development. We statistically analyze country-level data from publicly available global databases. The findings suggest that open source participation and employment in the service industry are together and individually positive moderators in the positive correlation of new business formation and development outcomes. This paper contributes to socioeconomic development by identifying ways in which open source participation contributes to development.


Link, G. J. P., Kowal, J., & Qureshi, S. (2019). Open Source in Development: Enabling Business and Services. Information Systems Management, 1–23.

I was not able to secure funding for gold open access publishing. However, I can share a PDF in private if you email me: linkgeorg at gmail.

Contributing to practice and research – experience with the engaged scholarship research method

With Sarah Conway from the Linux Foundation, I published a contributed blog post in The New Stack. We wrote about the CHAOSS D&I Working Group’s history, present, and future.

What is the relevance of this blog post? Obviously, writing about the CHAOSS D&I Working Group is publicity for the work we do. Obviously, writing about how the working group operates and what goals it has makes it easier to onboard people. Obviously, getting a blog post accepted makes me happy. However, the relevance of this blog post goes beyond what is obvious.

Not so obvious is why I initially wrote the blog post. I wrote the text as a section for my dissertation. The CHAOSS D&I Working Group has been my field site for studying how metrics for open source project health are created. I needed to describe the work of the CHAOSS D&I Working Group for the dissertation to tell the full story. Once I had a draft of the story, I found the text to be a nice summary and thought it was worth sharing with the CHAOSS D&I Working Group. Another reason for me to share the text was to make sure I did not forget or misrepresent anything – this is called member checking and increases the validity of my research.

After sharing the text with the CHAOSS D&I Working Group, the text in the dissertation and the text that is now the blog post evolved differently. Sarah extended and revised the blog post to make it more attractive to the audience of The New Stack. Meanwhile, I merged the text in my dissertation with findings from interviews to tell a more focused story for my theoretical discussion. Core elements in both versions still exist, the screenshots that show the CHAOSS D&I Working Group work, for example, but they have different foci and purposes within the blog post and dissertation.

To me, the background behind of the blog post demonstrates the double benefit that researchers provide when they engage with professionals on the subject that they study. I find it very rewarding to be providing value to a community of practice while doing research. I am very glad that I learned how to do engaged scholarship research during my Ph.D.

Seeking my Next Adventure

UPDATE: I joined Bitergia as Director of Sales.

My time as a PhD student is coming to an end and I’m ready to move into a full-time role at a company around August. TL;DR is included with more details below.


What I’m looking for in my next adventure:

  • Open source focus
  • Building communities
  • Remote work + travel

What I’ve been doing (resume):

  • Engaging and empowering contributors
  • Optimizing communities & contributions (CHAOSS)
  • Public Speaking and open source evangelism (Talks)
  • Instructing and training

You can contact me at

Now for the longer version and more details what I am searching for in my next adventure …

I am finishing my Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. I enjoyed my time in academia and especially when paired with industry experience. I am now seeking a new adventure in industry and would like to start around August.

I am looking for a remote position to work from Omaha, Nebraska. I founded a family there and want to nurture our roots as a legal permanent resident. I have a dedicated home office and live 20 minutes from an airport with excellent connections to anywhere in the world.

My primary job criteria is that I continue to work in open source. I have ten years experience in open source and focused my 4-year Ph.D. program on how organizations engage with open source projects. I co-founded the Linux Foundation CHAOSS Project to foster industry collaboration for better understanding open source project health. I strategically steered the project as a Governing Board member, tactically fostered a community as a maintainer, and operationally created content as a contributor. I made many friends across organizations and projects and want to continue working with these amazing people.

As part of my employment, I would like to continue giving talks at conferences and connecting with people face to face. Conferences I like to travel to and present at include Linux Foundation events, CHAOSScon, FOSDEM, and SustainOSS.

You can contact me at

Here are a few links with examples of my work and more details about my past experience:

Idea: Sustainable Best Practices Badge 🥇

TL;DR The idea is to establish a checklist of best practices for sustainable open source communities. We could follow the same model that the CII Best Practices Badge has for security best practices. Communities voluntarily sign up to achieve a badge and provide public evidence for following sustainable best practices. The Sustainable Best Practices Badge application tracks this information, serves as a place for checking the status of a community’s badge, and provides badges that communities can display on their repositories, websites, blogs, newsletters, and marketing material. With wide adoption, this badge becomes a quality signal for open source communities. Foremost, the badge serves as a checklist for communities to review their practices and improve where necessary.


Open source communities have no uniform way to signal that they are sustainable. An observer has many different signals to look for, for example: What is the bus factor? How is the community financed? How diverse are the contributors? Are there security policies? Is there a code of conduct?

Communities want to signal that they are sustainable because it attracts users, developers, designers, translators, advertisers, and in short new contributors. Users need to know they can count on the community to support an open source software long term. Especially, corporate users face risks when an open source software to go unmaintained after it was integrated in their innovation stream, product development, and service offering. Contributors want to contribute to a community that is welcoming, values their contributions, and serve as a credential on their open source resume. In short, all stakeholder incentives align to benefit from signals about the sustainability of open source communities.

We, as the open source ecosystem are lacking a reliable way to signal the sustainability of an open source community. We may look at the size of a community, what companies are backing it, whether it has a code of conduct, how active the members are, when the last release was, or whether it gets positive press coverage. Sustainability is a many-sided problem and to date, only one-sided solutions exist.

Existing Work

We have a Sustainer Manifesto with principles that sustainers believe in (Adam Jacob’s established similar principles). However, these principles need to be translated into specific actions and best practices.

Academic research has not identified what best practices make an open source community sustainable. Researchers report that communities have a variety of different governance models and establish their own practices. Tracking various metrics to predict whether a project will be sustainable and continues to be active in the future yielded inconclusive findings. Many of these studies were conducted with but GitHub is now the norm. These older studies are also unable to speak to the new reality considering the recent influx of corporate community members. In short, research does not have an answer but rather poses many unanswered questions.

Several resources exist for open source communities to learn about sustainability issues and how to address them. These are based on anecdotal evidence.

Incomplete list in alphabetical order by author first name:

The problem with these resources is that they are input for communities but do not translate into signals for observers to know whether a community is sustainable.

The CHAOSS project collects different metrics for assessing open source communities. The problem is that as an observer, who is not part of a community, data for metrics can be difficult to collect. CHAOSS is useful for communities to figure out how to measure themselves and prepare metrics as signals for outsiders. CHAOSS is addressing the problem that communities signal in inconsistent ways and thus observers have no baseline for comparison.

The CII Best Practices Badge advanced security practices in open source. Communities can self-certify to follow security best practices from a checklist and have to provide public evidence. Many communities report having changed their practices in an attempt to earn the badge. As a reward, communities can display the badge to signal that they follow security best practices.

Sustainable Best Practices Badge

The idea is to combine the above existing work. We borrow the idea from the CII Best Practices Badge and create a checklist of sustainable best practices. We may even fork the web app that CII developed. We derive best practices from the resources available today and common sense. We vet the list of best practices through a community review process with long-standing members of the open source ecosystem. We use CHAOSS metrics to measure outcomes from appropriate best practices and provide evidence. We follow a scientific approach to track which best practices are more indicative of sustainable communities.

Each Sustainable Best Practice has to be actionable for communities to implement them. The checklist serves as a tracker of how many best practices a community is already following. A sustainable community may have little to change to check all best practices and earn a badge.

Communities can use the Sustainable Best Practice Badge to signal that they are following these best practices. This is not a guarantee that a community is indeed sustainable. A checklist cannot eliminate all risks and danger. However, airplane safety has improved thanks to checklists pilots go through before every flight. Similarly, communities can be more sustainable if regularly checking that they are following known sustainable best practices.

Communities have an incentive to earn a Sustainable Best Practices Badge because of the signal it provides and because it helps them establish proven practices.

I am putting this idea forward for discussion and would love to hear feedback, criticism, support, and suggestions on the SustainOSS forum.


While the idea for a Sustainable Best Practices is mine, it is shaped by conversations at the Sustain Summit, metrics work in the CHAOSS project, co-authoring the Sustainer Manifesto with Justin Dofman, and a Twitter thread with Adam Jacobs. This proposal is based on my own experience. In the spirit of transparency, I will declare my involvement. I co-authored the paper on why we need more research into open source. I co-founded the CHAOSS project and am a member of its Governing Board. I translated the CII Best Practices Badge to German and participated in the discussion for adding silver and gold badges. I know there is more work out there and I look forward to the conversation this blog post hopes to start.