Would Open Source Look Like If It Were Healthy?’

Sumana Harihareswara’s Github talk.

Cory Doctorow
3 min readMay 18, 2021


“What Would Open Source Look Like If It Were Healthy?” That’s the question Sumana Harihareswara set out to answer in her Github talk earlier this week — a talk that considers FLOSS in the broadest possible terms and still makes specific, concrete proposals.


Harihareswara starts with the obvious proposition that “open source” can’t be healthy if the programmers who create it aren’t healthy, and draws a link between basic income, child care and universal health care and the health of open source.


She also points out that the “health” of open source has been systematically poisoned by harassment, misogyny and racism, and names people who were driven out of OSS because of their gender and race — as well as people like Aaron Swartz, hounded to death by the FBI.

From there, Harihareswara embarks on three speculative narratives in which “user personas” — a common tool among software developers and product managers seeking to understand how to suit their work to its eventual users are elucidated.

The first is the story of a new kind of community nonprofit, one that goes beyond the idea of “learn to code” and specifically engages with underserved communities to help them develop their own technical infrastructure that suits their own needs.

This nonprofit, based on the Australian Data Science Education Institute, works with formerly incarcerated people before and during re-entry, helping them start a project that maps automatic defibrillators in their community, and identifies AED deserts.

The project is boring, at a technical level, but it can have a profound effect on its community, and its real-world salience makes it a fantastic training exercise. Harihareswara describes the tooling that allows a small number of experts to support this community.

The next persona is “Paula,” a DMV data-entry clerk who, thanks to her union and new procurement rules for DMVs, ends up working on an OSS replacement for the bloated, terrible software that state DMVs use across the country.



Cory Doctorow

Writer, blogger, activist. Blog: https://pluralistic.net; Mailing list: https://pluralistic.net/plura-list; Mastodon: @pluralistic@mamot.fr