Rich Sands Joins the Ohloh Team – An Interview

I am pleased to announce that we have brought an experienced developer community leader on board to guide – Rich Sands. In 2010, Rich consulted with Black Duck to help crystallize our plan for a developer-centric site, as well as formulating our first plan for the evolution of Ohloh after its acquisition from Geeknet. Rich returns full-time, in the role of Director of Developer Communities. His focus will be on guiding Ohloh – as well as our code-search site – to new successes, and on ensuring that they collectively meet the needs of their respective developer users.

By way of introduction, Rich and I discussed some of his history, perspective, and goals for Ohloh.

Jim: Rich, tell us a bit about your background. How did you learn about developer communities?

Rich: I studied Computer Science in college and spent the first few years of my career as a software developer. After a few years, I realized that my heart and my skills lay more in understanding users and their needs and motivations, rather than straight-up software engineering. After completing graduate school, I was hired by Sun, where I held a variety of roles, primarily in the software group. In 2005, I was the product manager for Sun’s JDK developer initiatives when the company decided to open source the Java platform. Over the years that followed, I was responsible for working with developer communities, as Sun open sourced the JDK.

Jim: So what is it you took away from that experience?

Rich: Developers are very savvy, and have long memories. For example at Sun, we knew we had only one chance to rebuild trust with the FOSS community regarding Java, so we went to our most vocal critics, and brought them into the planning process. By being completely transparent, asking for people’s thoughts and ideas, and incorporating those ideas into our planning, we quickly proved that we were serious about keeping Java relevant and building a strong community. Sun benefited from the deep knowledge and passion of some of the smartest developers in the world, who became our most enthusiastic supporters – I’ll never forget that!

Jim: What is it about Ohloh that excites you?

Rich: There is so much awesome innovation in the FOSS world, but it can be hard to find exactly what you need in this abundance. And if you’re a contributor or project leader, gaining visibility and being valued can be a challenge with so much going on. Ohloh unites users and contributors to FOSS, and delivers the data and tools to help solve these practical problems. I want to make developers more productive, and FOSS more widely adopted. As a believer in the power of the open source development model and software freedom, I can’t wait to help accelerate Ohloh’s progress.

Jim: What will you actually do to make it happen?

Rich: Well, first off, I will listen. How can we evolve the features and design of Ohloh to deliver more value both for those trying to find and use FOSS, and for the communities and projects building them? There is no magic bullet. It’s an iterative process where we will try stuff, quickly evolve it, embrace what works, and discard what doesn’t. The audience for these sites is you, the users and contributors to open source. We’ll keep your view of what we’re doing paramount. And we’ll communicate, engage and invent new ways to join and participate.

Oh, and then we’ll listen some more!

Jim: What do you see as the key factors for success?

Rich: One thing I learned through my prior experience is that the greatest challenges in building a robust developer community are usually not technical. Developers are well-armed to tackle the technical issues. One of Ohloh’s biggest strengths is that the site is forge, platform, license and language-neutral. So Ohloh is a natural gathering place for a broad range of developers and projects. Demonstrating how individuals and projects participating in Ohloh benefit both themselves, and the whole developer world will be vital for success. I’m a bridge-builder, and a passionate advocate for developers and FOSS. Black Duck is bringing me on to help make Ohloh an even better resource for promoting and using the innovation of our communities and I’m totally psyched to do exactly that!

Jim: What would the Ohloh community find interesting to learn about you?

Rich: When I was a kid, just about the only thing I would eat was Oreo cookies. Now I’ll eat most anything, and I am a passionate foodie. I enjoy both cooking and gardening, combining those interests in a kitchen garden that I grow during the summer, at least until the weeds overtake it. It is an interesting fact, though, that I am the metabolized product of thousands of Oreo cookies. You’d never know that from what I like to eat today, but it does explain a lot.

And I still love Oreos!

Jim: How can people reach you?

Rich: The Ohloh forums or Twitter @ohloh. I’m looking forward to hearing from people!

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