Q and A with Jan-Christoph Borchardt: Importance of diversity in Open Source


Jan-Christoph Borchardt is an interaction designer and community manager working on Nextcloud, Open Source Design and Open Source Diversity. Jan recently delivered a talk at the Nextcloud Conference, in which he talked about the importance of diversity in the open source community. We talked to him to understand the work he is doing around diversity.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Living organisms cannot thrive and survive without diversity, can the same be said for open source communities?

Jan: Yes, absolutely. If a project wants to succeed with a big diverse audience, the community and core team also needs to be diverse. Projects led by the same profiles will give the same solutions to the same issues, even if they don’t work, and always attract the same type of profiles.

Diversity doesn’t stop at being inclusive of a diverse group, it also means being culturally sensitive towards a global community. How important is breeding a healthy culture to the prosperity of a community?

The core of open source software and community work is to make the world a better place, to work on something together. To achieve this, everyone has to be mindful and empathic of the variety there is in human experiences.

Some issues have already arisen, from vocal assistants like Alexa or Google Home only recognizing American/English or European accents; or automatic soap distributors not recognizing a Black person’s hand.

Many misinterpret diversity as if it’s creating a quota for diverse group; that’s not the case, it’s more about creating an environment where people from different cultural backgrounds, genders, races, and religions can feel comfortable to sit at the same table and build something. Can you highlight that part a bit?

Unfortunately, there’s often people who complain about diversity and inclusion initiatives – and these people are mostly the privileged people who never had to worry about structural marginalization or harassment. A good example of this is the reaction to a Mastodon post we did about hiring:

https://mastodon.xyz/users/nextcloud/updates/145095

Can you talk about some of the diversity related efforts that you are aware of?

Actually, some friends and I are in the process of building a platform specifically for highlighting diversity and inclusion initiatives in open source, it’s called Open Source Diversity.

People participating are Nina Cercy from our marketing team, Jona Azizaj who works on Nextcloud Contacts during RailsGirls Summer of Code, and Kristi Progri who with Jona is very active in the Albanian Open Source community as part of the Open Labs hackerspace.

Can you tell us about the efforts you are directly involved with in Nextcloud?

This year we participated in RailsGirls Summer of Code for the first time and it was a great experience. It was much more guided and as seamless as Google Summer of Code, with supervisors helping the projects and teams along the way. Our team Codeaholics worked on the Contacts app and got awesomely involved in the community, also attending the conference and giving a talk about their work 🙂

We also used Diversitytickets.org for our conference and want to do that for our development sprints as well. We regularly attend the Open Source Ladies meetup in Berlin and are available as mentors for Nextcloud. I hope we’ll also be able to participate in Outreachy again in the future. And for anyone who wants to get involved, we use the »starter issue« label to mark issues which are perfect to get started in the project.

How diverse is the Nextcloud community?

We’re not doing any specific metrics but there’s definitely an increase visible. Of course we still have a lot to do, as the open source world in general, but I’m always happy how often I hear how inclusive and friendly our community is. 🙂

You delivered a talk at the recent Nextcloud Conference. How was the response?

Very positive, and I think everyone of us is really excited about the different kinds of cool people contributing to Nextcloud.

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