August 1, 2008

GNOME Foundation's Stormy Peters: Trust and empower

Author: Tina Gasperson

Stormy Peters recently became the executive director of the GNOME Foundation, where she is already working to raise public awareness of the GNOME desktop environment and user interface, and to attract new corporate sponsors and developers to the GNOME community. She says it was not as much a move away from her old job at OpenLogic and the for-profit business world as it was a move toward the community she's been part of for years.

Peters was at the Linux Collaboration Summit in Austin, Texas, in April when the Foundation's Dave Neary approached her about the executive director position. "I started thinking, now is the right time for them and for me."

Stormy Peter

Peters says she believes that the time has finally come for the Linux desktop to gain critical mass in the technology marketplace. "This is a huge opportunity, and it is the right time to push that forward," she says. "The Linux desktop is something people have wanted for a long time, and now it's really happening."

A big part of that growth is attributable to the expansion of Linux into the mobile operating system scene. "There's a good chance your cell phone is running Linux. You don't really care, but it is running Linux. That's a huge volume of users, and they're giving feedback on this end-user platform." Other factors include smaller, less expensive laptops like the Asus Eee PC that ship with Linux installed by default. "You have huge volumes of these things shipping and people are getting Linux. They didn't get it because they're huge believers in open source. They got it because it works well. That's a tipping point we can build on."

Peters has likened her experience at the GNOME Foundation to having seven bosses. Writing on her blog, she notes: "A lot of people have been joking about me being the 'top dog' or 'big boss' so I thought I'd point out that I work for the Board of Directors -- 7 volunteer, part-time directors who are doing a great job of running the GNOME Foundation. My job is to make them and the GNOME Foundation even more successful." Peters tells that her vision is not to manage people but to empower them. "When I first started working, I had a boss who said, 'Stormy, what can I do for you,' and I've stuck with that every since. A manager's role is to help people by working for them or with them to get things done. These people are working on GNOME because they're passionate about that. And I'm working for them."

After her conversation with us, Peters expounded on those thoughts at her blog, where she wrote about the twin concepts of trust and empowerment. "Trust people to do the right thing. Trust them to have good ideas. To want to make the project, organization, team or company successful. Trust them. They want to do good.... Empower them. Make sure they know you trust and believe in them and give them what they need to execute on their great ideas. Maybe it's a computer, or a person to bounce ideas off of, or help convincing others, or some space, or fun people to work with, or a better understanding of what the company is trying to do ..."

Peters, who now works from her home office, says that though she's very familiar with GNOME and the open source community in general, the biggest difference now that she has left OpenLogic and the corporate world is fending for herself. "It's much more that I have to make my own business cards" because of the lack of administrative assistants in the community. "It's more of a shock at that level."

Looking at the adoption rate of open source at the enterprise level, Peters says one of the reasons businesses are moving to open source is for developer retention. "I've known for a long time that developers like open source software. At Hewlett-Packard, I got lots of calls from developers who were excited about what they were doing and wanted to open source what they were doing. Developers just like open source because it works well, they get to interact, they get recognition. At OSBC, Jon Williams, chief technology officer of Kaplan Test, gave a keynote and said they consciously chose open source because it helps them retain developers. I think you're starting to see more companies doing that. I've talked to a lot of companies that are -- nobody I can quote for you though."

Peters says GNOME is already on the radar screen of a lot of IT directors. "The default desktop for many Linux distributions is GNOME, and a lot of people are using Linux on the desktop. I recently read a survey that said 46% of all enterprise users use That's a good sign that the Linux desktop is being used by a huge percentage of enterprise users."

Working at the GNOME Foundation out of a love for the community has been a good experience for Peters. "It has been very exciting and crazy," she says. "At GUADEC, everyone wanted to say hi and show me what they're working on. I met with several hundred people. It's so much fun to be involved in the community and showing the world I'm part of the community. I'm excited to be working with sponsors and get enterprises using GNOME, and helping to build those relationships. I get energy from interacting with other people -- I enjoy talking to people and seeing their excitement."

GNOME fans interested in shaking hands with Peters will find her at upcoming shows including LinuxWorld San Francisco next week.


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