The Invisible Work of Maintaining & Sustaining Open-Source Software

SciPy 2019 Keynote


July 10, 2019
9:15am to 10:00am
Austin, TX

Abstract: Open-source software has become critical infrastructure for many sectors, including academic research, industry, governments, non-profits, activism, and more. However, the work of maintaining these projects is no small feat, particularly given the many different kinds of work expected of maintainers. In this talk, I share findings and insights from our team’s ongoing mixed-method research into the maintenance of open-source software in and beyond scientific computing, which is based on ethnographic interviews with maintainers and stakeholders, as well as quantitative analyses of code repositories. In particular, I discuss the often-invisible work that maintainers do to support their projects, and how invisible work intersects with other relevant issues to the sustainability of OSS projects, including funding models, governance, diversity & inclusion, and burnout.

BIDS Ethnographer presented this keynote talk SciPy 2019 on July 10, 2019, in Austin, TX. 


R. Stuart Geiger

BIDS Alum – Ethnographer

Former BIDS Ethnographer Stuart Geiger is now a faculty member at the University of California, San Diego, jointly appointed in the Department of Communication and the Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute. At BIDS, as an ethnographer of science and technology, he studied the infrastructures and institutions that support the production of knowledge. He launched the Best Practices in Data Science discussion group in 2019, having been one of the original members of the MSDSE Data Science Studies Working Group. Previously, his work on Wikipedia focused on the community of volunteer editors who produce and maintain an open encyclopedia. He also studied distributed scientific research networks and projects, including the Long-Term Ecological Research Network and the Open Science Grid. In Wikipedia and scientific research, he studied topics including newcomer socialization, community governance, specialization and professionalization, quality control and verification, cooperation and conflict, the roles of support staff and technicians, and diversity and inclusion. And, as these communities are made possible through software systems, he studied how the design of software tools and systems intersect with all of these issues.  He received an undergraduate degree at UT Austin, and an MA in Communication, Culture, and Technology at Georgetown University, where he began empirically studying communities using qualitative and ethnographic methods.  As part of receiving his PhD from the UC Berkeley School of Information, he worked with anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, historians, organizational and management scholars, designers, and computer scientists.