Leaving Red Hat

I’m leaving Red Hat, effective January 7th. Here’s my self-interview on the topic…

Q: Why are you leaving Red Hat?

A: Good question! I’ve worked for a lot of companies as a Linux kernel developer (IBM, Intel, Red Hat, etc.). Now, jobs vary a lot within companies – one of my favorite sayings is, “You don’t work for a company, you work for a manager.” And different people like different corporate cultures.

All that being said, in my personal opinion, Red Hat is the best place to work as a kernel developer – or, if we’re talking managers, Ric Wheeler, and by extension, Tim Burke. If there’s any company that “gets” open source development, it’s Red Hat. I have my complaints, but I’ll put it this way: I haven’t appreciated Dilbert nearly as much since I started working for Red Hat.

So why in the world would I leave Red Hat? In short, because I no longer want kernel development to be my full-time job. I wrote back in June that I wanted to “move out of programming into something more meaningful – feminist activism? science writing? zero-carbon energy?” The answer appears to be (a) feminist activism, in the form of working on behalf of women in open source (as should surprise no one).

Q: Why can’t you work on women in open source at Red Hat?

A: While Red Hat is supportive of community outreach and my work in particular (I wrote the conference anti-harassment policy on company time), I feel that Red Hat already contributes more to the open source community than most companies and should not bear the sole cost of a full-time advocate for women in open source. A Red Hat employee would also have both apparent and real conflicts of interest doing the work I’m interested in – for example, would it be ethical for a Red Hat employee to spend time helping another distro improve their track record for sexist speech?

Q: Why are you leaving now?

A: I have been working on union mounts for the last year and a half and wanted to get it merged into mainline before I quit Red Hat. But then a friend was groped at an open source conference – and then attacked for blogging about it. Within three days, I realized that I had to start working on women in open source now, not later. Fortunately, my manager, Ric Wheeler, supported my work on the conference anti-harassment policy, but as I said, I don’t think Red Hat is the right place for this kind of work long-term.

Q: What are you doing next?

A: I don’t have my next job lined up yet but I’m ready to start talking to potential employers. I’m fully prepared to self-fund for a few months while I work on women in open source projects. This is very much in the open source tradition: Do the work you think needs doing and if it’s useful, perhaps someone will notice and pay you to do it for them. Also, I’m still open to very short-term kernel consulting jobs but don’t intend to go back to consulting full-time.

The worst case is that I will spend three months doing something I really care about, and then get another kernel dev job – a prospect that perturbs me not at all.

Q: What does this mean for union mounts?

A: I will continue to work on union mounts but only part-time – think of it as my personal version of a Google 20% time project. Al Viro understands the union mounts code base better than I do in some places, and I’m certain Christoph Hellwig would have no trouble with it either, so I’m not the only developer capable of maintaining it. Expect one more union mounts release before I leave Red Hat.

Q: Blah blah, bogus in-closing “question” to end the interview neatly?

A: In closing, thanks to Red Hat and all my co-workers for a great two and a half years! And, as usual, I do not speak for Red Hat in any official way.

8 thoughts on “Leaving Red Hat

  1. Wow. I burned out and quit. You quit and dedicate yourself to the issue. That’s why you are and will always be one of my role models. Thank you so much for this.

    1. No no, what I did was far more classic – I worked like crazy on the issue, burned out, quit, worked on technical stuff for a couple years, and THEN re-dedicated myself. In my experience, at any given time something like 30-50% of women in open source activism are burned out. So you are in good company, which included myself until about a month ago.

  2. If anyone deserves to get paid by the Linux Foundation or similar, you do. Have you considered them as a potential employer?

  3. would it be ethical for a Red Hat employee to spend time helping another distro improve their track record for sexist speech?

    Improving social intercourse within the community most definitely benefits Red Hat as it’s the community the company is thriving on. Just as improving the kernel or libc or whatever benefits everyone.

    In my experience, at any given time something like 30-50% of women in open source activism are burned out.

    Well actually it’s not just the women. ;-)

    When I made the suggestion in November to define an incident response policy and list the conferences adhering to it, I was quite surprised that you acted so quickly and took the time to pursue this. This blog posting kind of explains it of course. Thanks a lot for your efforts.

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