Untold Stories of Open Source: Priyanka Sharma
Dan Whiting | 06 June 2022
In open source communities, we meet people every day. We probably know their current role and responsibilities, but we don’t always have perspective on the history, education, and career path that made them who they are. These are some of the untold stories of open source.
At the Linux Foundation, we’re a couple of weeks away from launching a new podcast series, The Untold Stories of Open Source. For our blog readers, you’re getting a sneak peek into a few of the stories that will kick off our series. Today, we’ll share perspectives from episode 1, Priyanka Sharma.
Priyanka Sharma is an evangelist for the power of community in open source. Okay, she is much more than that, and we will get to that in a bit, but her passion and what drives all of her other successes in open source is the power of an inclusive, supportive community.
Priyanka didn’t begin in open source. After graduating from Stanford University in 2009 with a degree in computer science, she started her career at Google in the online partnership group, where she was a technical consultant onboarding new Doubleclick clients and acted as an interim project manager for internal insights tools. Following Google, she held roles at Outright and GoDaddy, including integrating the Outright product into the GoDaddy sales catalog. However, she was bitten by the build-a-business bug years earlier. In 2014, she gathered up some ideas and funding, experimenting with consumer products, but nothing was sticking.
A Road to TechCrunch Disrupt
She realized that her business partner had built a time-tracking app for himself that was geared towards software developers. It was plugin based, so you could put it into your IDE and have time tracking at your fingertips. After all, who wants to track time, so the easier you make it, the better.
All of the plugins were open source – introducing her to the world that she was about to live in. She noticed how people were drawn to the plugins, customizing them to work better for what they needed. She thought, “Maybe this is what we should focus on.” So, with a path she couldn’t have seen coming, she ended up getting into developer tools. The plugins were eventually used by 100,000 developers, featured by TechCruch Disrupt, and chosen by Y-Combinator.
Setting Out on Her Own
But, as she says, “All that glitters isn’t gold.” There were challenges every day as with any startup, from fundraising to public visibility. Getting into Y-Combinator was a pivotal moment, forcing the team to come to terms with what it would take to work together to make a real commitment to the project together, as a team.
Priyanka thought back to that time, “I think you can overcome anything when you are part of a team when you jive with each other, where everyone is aligned on the final outcome. When that is not the case, it is very tricky because everyone is going towards different goals. That is the meta issue that led us to go our different ways.”
Now out on her own, she realized that there were not many people who understood marketing developer tools or a go-to-market strategy for developer tools. So, she began working with Heavybit, an accelerator and incubator for developer products. “They really took me in and gave me opportunities to help their portfolio companies.” Her work helped Rainforest QA, Lightstep, LaunchDarkly, and Postman API.
Reflecting on Ben’s Approach
She ended up joining the Lightstep team because she saw not only the value of their reputation, but was drawn to the top-notch team and what they could teach her. Part of the draw was Dapper, a tool built at Google to provide developers with a distributed tracing system exploring the behavior of complex distributed systems. Dapper sparked many tools that weren’t anticipated by its initial developers. Ben Sigelman, co-creator of Dapper and the OpenTracing and OpenTelemetry projects, now part of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). “Ben’s approach was very much as an educator. There are lots of experts out there, but if they aren’t interested in teaching, I don’t get any value in it.”
As the second hire at Lightstep, she had a variety of roles, including developer relations, marketing, documentation, and more.
The initial focus of the company was on OpenTracing. They initially were an independent open source project, but they eventually decided to join the Cloud Native Computing Foundation to give them more firepower than “us by ourselves.”
Now, between her startup and Lightstep, she heard more and more about open source. She was drawn to the value placed on creation and collaboration.
Evolving to Cloud Native
Priyanka attributes the growth of cloud native to the fact that the core group welcomed everyone. You can see that in person at KubeCon + CloudNativeCon, the largest open source events in the world. She recalls how nervous she was going to her first Kube Con, feeling out of her element, but as soon as she walked through the doors, everyone was so welcoming and inclusive.
Dan Kohn built CNCF into one of the most successful open source foundations in the world in large part because it was built on being an open and welcoming community. Priyanka recalls, “Dan baked DEI into everything at CNCF from day one. . . He set the example and put it into the structure.”
Priyanka felt welcomed into the community and began asking for opportunities to participate. Sometimes the answer was yes, sometimes it was no thank you. But she still felt she had the support of the community. She had a sense of belonging for the first time in her career.
In 2018, she joined GitLab as director of technical evangelism, where she formed the technical thought leadership team. She was also in charge of cloud native alliances. At the urging of her boss at GitLab, she put her name forward to be elected to the CNCF Board of Directors.
While on the CNCF Board, she was energized by several other women on the Board. She said they set the bar high with a focus on the project’s good at all times.
Fast forward. Now, Priyanka is the general manager of the CNCF, leading one of open source’s largest and most effective foundations.
Seeking More Insight
The Untold Stories of Open Source is a new podcast from the Linux Foundation to share the stories behind those in open source. Take time to listen to all of the episodes and let us know what you think (or if you have suggestions of stories to be told). Look for the formal launch at Open Source Summit North America and OpenSSF Day on June 20, 2022.
There are thousands of incredible open source stories to share and we’re looking forward to bringing more of them your way. If you like what you hear, we encourage you to add the series to your playlist.
For those seeking even more open source stories from across the Linux Foundation and the communities we serve, you might start with some of the other storytelling pioneers including: Open Source Stories, , FinOpsPod, I am a Mainframer, and The Changelog. As we grow deeper roots in the podcasting arena, we’ll introduce more news about a network of open source podcasts.
Have even more time? Feedspot recently covered an additional 40 Open Source Podcasts worth listening to on your morning walk or commute home from the office.
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