LGTM… odds are, some of you have no idea what this acronym stands for. While the open source community has made it clear they value inclusivity in terms of diversity, it has become increasingly difficult to participate without background knowledge in coding and the industry’s “secret language.”
At All Things Open 2021 in Raleigh, North Carolina, Nigel Brown, VMware Open Source Community Manager, delivered a lively talk entitled “LGTM,” articulating a surprising barrier he’s identified in working in open source, despite ubiquitous efforts to make the industry inclusive.
The language barrier makes it a less-than-seamless entry for a newbie to open source, and Nigel’s talking from personal experience. Nigel got his start in the tech industry through open source software, contributing and building projects at hackathons. With a background in music engineering, his introduction to tech was not traditional. Nigel notes the difficulty getting used to the jargon and the way things work in the industry didn’t lead him to believe the open source community was really “open” for everyone.
“The barrier,” Nigel notes, “is the wealth of acronyms being used in the community, which makes it increasingly difficult for everyone to contribute—some people don’t understand what the acronyms mean.”
The presentation included personal examples of misunderstandings and how we, as an industry, can collectively move forward more inclusively. This presentation topic felt crucial because if we as an open source community start to include more contributors with diverse skill sets (not just software engineers), we will create solutions that apply to a much larger cross section of people.
Nigel implored attendees to be more intentional with their language, provided resources for learners, and focused on inviting current community members to spend more time mentoring. For the content creators, there was an added takeaway of being more explicit with prerequisites and solving for them by either creating content that gets people to where they need to be, or elevating other voices by finding or commissioning content that can be the necessary prerequisite.
For more insights, listen to Nigel’s 11-minute talk because, as he says, “The effort we spend creating more inclusion in our industry is not wasted.” You’ll hear some examples of what happens when things go wrong and a vision of what could be if things go very right.
Language creates barriers — pay attention to when you slip into the “local jargon” — if you’re not sure, ask someone outside your work circles to review your document. For even more insights on language and accessibility, check out Suzanne Ambiel’s “Do I Make Myself Clear?”
Oh, and Nigel? Your presentation LGTM.