For the past four years it has been my great pleasure, even honour, to work for OSS Watch, the JISC-funded national advisory service on open source software in the UK based at the University of Oxford. And now I’m moving on.
I knew almost nothing about free and open source software back in 2003 when Oxford won the bid for this small, pilot, advisory service. I was given the role of Communications Manager (splitting that with a job of the same title for the Humbul Humanities Hub, another JISC service based at Oxford). It was my task to ensure that OSS Watch had a clear message to communicate and that it reached the right people. In fact, communications was the sole function of OSS Watch as we set about raising awareness and understanding of the legal, social, technical and economic issues that arise when educational institutions engage with free and open source software. With more than 500 tertiary education institutions in the UK, this was no small ask for an advisory service with a staff of only 1.2 full-time equivalents (FTE).
Fast forward four years. OSS Watch is now a robust advisory service with 5 FTE, a team that I’ve been proud to lead for the past two years. It now provides direct, practical support for JISC’s 200-plus software development projects struggling to cope with an open source development methodology with which they are (mostly) unfamiliar. A big challenge, but also a huge reward. It’s an amazing kick you get when young and enthusiastic developers and educational practitioners grok open source for the first time: realizing the value of building communities around their development projects from the very beginning, as well as appreciating just how hard that can be. OSS Watch is also now working closely with Knowledge Transfer Units at the UK large research institutions, raising awareness of open source licensing and, especially, open source business models.
It’s hard to leave that behind. But mostly it’s hard to move away from the vibrant team of men and women whom I’ve had the pleasure to work with these past few years. Not everyone gets to work in a team. Most people’s working lives are spent either on individual projects or as part of a work group. A team is something else. In a team all of the players work together toward a common goal. Everyone is vital to that outcome.
OSS Watch will survive without me. In fact, it might even grow and become something better. Meanwhile I am on my way to Canada to start a new life. I will be based in Waterloo, Ontario, a city I have never even visited. I can’t say for certain what I will turn my hand to once I’m there. But I can say for certain that the future is open.