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Welcome to our series of interviews with the people behind the OpenChain Project. While open source is mostly about software, and governance is mostly about licenses, it is also the story of thousands of individuals collaborating. We hope these interviews will inform and inspire our readers, and encourage more people to participate in open source and OpenChain.

Our third interview is with Nicole Pappler from TÜV SÜD

You have been involved with technology for a while and you now have a leadership position in open source. Can you tell us a little about how you joined your company, why you are involved in technology development, and how you first discovered open source?

After school I started dual training to become a production maintenance specialist, followed by studying electrical engineering at university which brought me to coding for embedded devices in the first place.
Actually I cannot fully remember what‘s been my first contact with open source. Most probably it was the GNU c compiler when I began learning c. So I guess my first contact with open source has been about 17 years ago. When I started my first coding job at a company which was already into open source, I also changed the OS on my private computer to Ubuntu – and I think that was when I really started to appreciate open source.

Your involvement in open source is very interesting. Software is behind most of our technology and open source is behind most of our software. However, in relative terms there are few coordinators or managers with significant experience of this approach to technology. How did you become a decision-maker in your company’s use of open source?

Around 3 years ago I started exploring new service areas to add to our certification portfolio. I took over the emerging topics within the software domain, naturally also looking into open source, getting the feedback that there might be some interest regarding 3rd party certification. The services we currently offer actually get very positive feedback from the market, but it’s true that most managers around me do not understand how a business model within open source could work out. Due to the great support of our Japanese colleagues we had the first chance to pilot our first open source certification scheme. I am looking forward to continue the close cooperation with TÜV SÜD Japan to gain more momentum and demonstrate the growing value of being involved in open source

OpenChain is all about open source compliance in the supply chain. Our industry standard builds trust and our reference material helps companies build processes to meet the standard. Approaching this discussion for the first time can be a little intimidating. Most people are modest about their understanding of licenses or choosing the “best” approach to solve a business challenge. It may be a strong word to use, but often a certain sense of fear makes people hesitate. How did you learn to approach this issue with a positive and open mind?

Working quite often in big projects that bring together specialists from different domains I learned quite early on that it’s more important to have the right people on board then having to understand each task involved yourself.
With OpenChain it is similar – I can contribute my experience regarding processes and process audits and simultaneously meeting and learning from fantastic specialists in all the other important aspects like tooling, legal etc. For a successful outcome it’s all about bringing the right people with the knowledge needed together. And above all, fortunately I am a very curious person.

One thing the OpenChain Project is concerned with is diversity. Our project is developing a long-term industry standard and our strategic perspective is measured in many years or even decades. To access the potential in our community we need to make sure gender or personal choices never make people feel unwelcome or excluded. In some markets like China and Korea around half of the people we work with are female. In other markets, such as Japan and the United States, the percentage of women is far less. Have you faced challenges because of gender and how did you overcome them?

Actually I would be lying answering this question that I never faced gender bias that left me feeling uncomfortable.
One thing I learned over the years, if someone is convinced you cannot do the job, no matter what’s the reason for their opinion, walk away and work with people who appreciate your contribution. Otherwise you are just wasting your time and energy as there will always be somebody who doesn’t like you, due to your gender, what you stand for or simply because they have issues connecting to other people.

The next question is directly related to the last one. Because the OpenChain Project is concerned with diversity we must acknowledge that every part of our project needs to continually improve. Our social structures, our meeting formats, our processes to create or improve material. Everything needs to be considered to find any challenge to making people welcome and empowered. Can you assist us in this process with some suggestions for improvement?

As I always feel very welcome at OpenChain this is quite a difficult question for me. So maybe one important thing would be to continue to be as open, welcoming and respectful to everybody in our community and those thinking about joining.

All around the developing world age is a topic. Our populations are getting older and the social distance between young and old people seems to be growing. People in their early twenties seem to have very little in common with people in their forties or fifties. Of course this is understandable and of course it has always existed between generations. However, in the context of open source, our population is aging too, with the average age of participants around 30~55. Maybe we have more older people than young people. Do you have any suggestions for how we can make young people interested and welcome in projects like OpenChain?

Maybe the increasing pressure to graduate as fast as possible, keeping student loans low and at the same time trying to gain experience by doing internships prevents students from looking into open source projects. Showing them how rewarding contributing to these projects could be by e.g. gaining real industry experience and increasing their network might get them both interested and motivated to stay involved. The fact that open source projects result in an outcome with greater sustainability then closed proprietary solutions should also be of greater interest to today’s youth.

There is a big difference between tactical activities that solve day-to-day problems and strategic activities that solve bigger challenges. OpenChain is basically focused on strategy. This means our participants think about the future and it means we also have to think about how many tactical actions can serve a strategic mission. People often ask how to do this and they often mention that it is hard to think strategically when many business metrics are based on quarterly activities. Do you have any suggestions based on your own experience?

Business metrics based solely on quarterly revenue numbers tend to smother all strategic activities but are a steady companion of corporate life. However we should try to work it to our advantage by establishing short term goals within our strategy therefore demonstrating a constant progression towards strategic goals. This could be a first step to bridge the gap between reaching strategic goals by performing tech centric tasks and quarterly management goals. This is a continuing day to day process to establish common understanding and trust.

We have asked many serious questions in this interview. Each of your answers is extremely valuable for our current and our future community. OpenChain is all about sharing knowledge and helping everyone do better. However, we are not only a dry, factual community. We also have many positive social relationships and there is a hope or a goal that OpenChain can be fun too. We are all together collaborating to solve interesting challenges. Do you have any tips for how people can come into a project like OpenChain and find the experience rewarding personally as well as in a business sense?

Since OpenChain combines different disciplines, it offers both new perspectives as well as the chance to not only meet interesting people but also learn from them.
This is certainly one of the main draws for me as it also consequently translates into an increased understanding of how to offer valuable services within the open source realm to my customers.

Finally, you have been so kind to answer these questions in English. However, the future of open source and OpenChain is not in English, but instead in communication from Mandarin to Hindi to German. The future is making sure people in each nation can work together freely. We already hold the local work group meetings in the local language but is there a way we can reduce language barriers even more?

I think local groups are the best way to reduce language barriers for all that are not native English speakers. Additionally to being able to discuss topics more thoroughly in your mother tongue, these local working groups are also great to form local support networks. And even if everybody involved with OpenChain is able to understand English, the decision makers in their respective companies they need to convince, sometimes may not. So I think that having as much material as possible in different languages, like translating the OpenChain specification into a variety of languages, definitely reduces reservations. Having as many off-the-shelf translations of OpenChain material available might help to increase the understanding of OpenChain and therefore its acceptance.

Thank you Nicole for your time and thoughts!