“How to Quickly Ramp Up on Open Source”: Marianna Tessel + Rocio Montes with Intuit (Video + Transcript)

June 16, 2020

Intuit CTO Marianna Tessel, in conversation with Intuit Open Source Tech Leader Rocio Montes, will share how Intuit is tapping into its engineering community to advance the company’s mission to power prosperity for more than 50M consumers, self-employed and small businesses around the world. In this session, attendees will learn best practices for driving open source participation and applying its principles internally through an inner source model.


Transcript of Elevate 2020 Session

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi everyone, I am back. I’m Sukrutha and we’re next going to be joined by Marianna Tessel, the Chief Technology Officer at Intuit. She’ll be joined in conversation with Rocio Montes, who is a Staff Software Engineer. Together they both at–Intuit Girl Geeks will share how Intuit is tapping into its engineering community to advance the company’s mission to power more than 50 million consumers, self employed, and small businesses around the world. So go ahead and get started. I can’t wait to hear.

Marianna Tessel: Hi, everybody.

Rocio Montes: Hi, everybody.

Marianna Tessel: First of all, I think Rocio and I will introduce ourselves a little bit more. Maybe I’ll start, Rocio. What do you think?

Rocio Montes: Yeah, go ahead.

Marianna Tessel: So I’m actually a software engineer in my background. I started my career in Israel, in the Israeli military. So ask me later on about how it was like being a captain in the army there. It was a lot of fun. After my military service, I actually came to the US to the Silicon Valley because that’s where all the cool kids that were working on engineering were.

Marianna Tessel: And I worked here in a variety of companies, starting from General Magic. There’s a documentary about the company. It was a really interesting company. Arieba, VMware and Docker. I joined Intuit about two and a half years ago, and about a little over a year ago, I became the CTO of Intuit. I’m having a lot of fun of this role, and this is how I met Rocio. So, Rocio.

Rocio Montes: Hi everyone. My name is Rocio Montes and I am a staff software engineer. I started my career at Intuit working on TurboTax, specifically on the electronic filing engine. Then I moved on to Turbo where I did some front end and mobile development, and now in my current role, I lead open source and InnerSource efforts at Intuit.

Rocio Montes: So I create tooling processes and automation to make these two initiatives successful at Intuit, and to enable our engineers to participate in the open source community. Which brings us here.

Rocio Montes: Marianna, I know that you’re very passionate about open source. How did you get introduced to open source?

Marianna Tessel: You know, Rocio, I always liked this idea of open source. This idea of, like, software, developed in the open, shared, free. And what I noticed over the years is while open source was this fringe movement early on where I remember we were talking about, “Don’t use the open source code because it’s not really quality or it’s just kind of this movement that is out there.” What happened over the years, it became really, really robust code and a real option for me as an engineer, and later on as a leader, to use. So I got fascinated by it, but then I also joined Docker, which was one of the, and still is, one of the biggest open source projects out there. And I have to say during this time, I completely fell in love with this idea of open source and what the impact and the opportunity of it could be. So that’s kind of a little bit of how I got into this and now I’m a complete fan.

Rocio Montes: That’s great. You definitely like it a lot, but can you tell us why is it important?

Marianna Tessel: I think open source is super important for many, many reasons. And it’s important to understand that it’s important to both companies, as well as developers themselves. You as individuals, it’s important for you as well. For employees, you can contribute to open source. You can learn a lot of new software this way, and it’s actually a great way to work in something you’re passionate about and boost your resume. I’ve seen a lot of developers starting their careers in open source and getting their ground in open source. Then later on, they actually can show, even though they might not even have work experience, they can show a lot of resume experience with their open source contributions, and they can become known and really be part of the community.

Marianna Tessel: There is also this, I think as engineers, you always want to have this impact. And one of the nice things about open source its very lasting impact on software. It’s always there, it’s open and it’s not bound within one company. So it’s super great way for you to learn, to expand your experience and also to get known sometimes.

Rocio Montes: Absolutely. So you’ve mentioned why is it important for individuals, but why do you think it’s important for companies to focus on open source?

Marianna Tessel: Rocio, that’s an excellent question because a lot of companies don’t understand that. They don’t understand the importance of open source for them, but I think it is super, super critical. First of all, one thing to understand, remember when I said that open source used to be this kind of more on the fringe and things that were like out there? Today, open source is actually where a lot of the innovation is happening, and a lot of new things start from open source. So you can get some of the most robust and the most advanced code from open source.

Marianna Tessel: And it used to be that the code in open source wasn’t necessarily super high quality because there wasn’t a company behind it, but today that is actually not true. This is one of the most high quality code because a lot of companies contribute to it and they actually harden the code. So you can find very innovative and very high quality code.

Marianna Tessel: And then, obviously, as a company when you consume open source, you’re not really attached to a vendor and you can take and evolve the code that you use in the way you want, and be kind of more in control of what you use and control of your destiny. So it is actually really, really good this way, but then there’s other benefits.

Marianna Tessel: From a talent point of view, you boost your image as a company when you’re involved in open source and you boost your reputation. Then, when you hire people, if you use open source components, you immediately get people that are qualified to work at your own code base, because they might know already GraphQL, Kubernetes, or whatever the challenges are out there. You don’t need to train them because they already know. And like I said, you can hire people this way and you boost your reputation.

Marianna Tessel: The last thing that is kind of really, really cool is that companies should consider open source things themselves. And what it does, it actually gives your software longevity as well. It means that it’s out there in the communities and others are going to help evolve the code. So that’s super other a great attribute of having an open source software. You know, Rocio, some companies actually make a business out of open source. And like I said, I have some background in a company like that, but that’s a whole different business though. I’m not going to talk about that.

Rocio Montes: Okay. But let’s go one level down to actually talk about what does it really mean to participate in open source?

Marianna Tessel: Yeah. Participating in open source is… Let’s break it down because we said, there’s individuals and there’s also companies. So let’s start from individuals. For individuals, you can participate in multiple ways. First of all, you can just get familiar with open source. You can browse and see what’s out there. You can start using it. You can start playing with it because open source is highly available and free. There’s almost no barrier to get going. You don’t need to get a license, you can really easily start using it. So, also, I highly recommend to people to get comfortable contributing to open source and say, “Oh, I have something here I can start working on.” You can start from something super small and increase your contribution, but it opens up a whole world for you as you do that. So, and you can start proving yourself in the community.

Marianna Tessel: And, last, one day you may become a maintainer, which means a really high contributor, and one of the people that actually decide what goes in the open source. You might become a maintainer as part of your community and maybe one day you will write an open source software and you put it out there and it will always have your name on it.

Rocio Montes: Yeah, absolutely. And I know that for some of our engineers it has actually created a way to participate in conferences, and give talks, and be part of the engineering community in a better way.

Marianna Tessel: Rocio, this is such a good point because I saw engineers that actually worked in open source and before they know it, a lot of people use it and they become community stars, giving talks to people asking them “How you do that?” And it’s so hard to do it if you were just working on a code in your company.

Marianna Tessel: You know, Rocio, before you move off this question, I also say for companies, there’s a lot of ways that companies can participate in open source. There’s probably three main ways that I can think about. First of all, as a company, I encourage companies to use open source software when it’s viable, when it fits your needs, and then have your teams also contribute to the open source software that you use. Having maintainers in open source is always so great because that actually means that you can influence the direction of the software that you use. So whatever software that your company uses a lot, consider having contributors there that are actually becoming maintainers.

Marianna Tessel: And last, as you know, Rocio, I’m really encouraging people in the company to open source software themselves and make more and more components available out there. Like I said, it’s good for the engineer that worked on it, but actually it’s super great to have your code out there evolving, and continues to have this longevity of life, and you get people that are trained on your code because it’s out there.

Marianna Tessel: Rocio, actually, can I ask you a question?

Rocio Montes: Of course.

Marianna Tessel: You talked about how important for people to contribute to open source and you actually one of these people that started contributing to open source yourself. So how did you go about it, and what project did you start with, and what was that experience?

Rocio Montes: Yeah, absolutely. I actually started contributing to open source during a college hackathon that I attended, and it was actually a great experience. We appeared to be blocked because we have found these bag on this library for Farsi and JSON files at the time. I really don’t remember the name of the project, but it appeared to us that we were completely blocked. And then one of the more senior engineers told us, “Well, this is an open source project. You can just forward the code and fix it.” And it was kind of like a “wow” moment for us, really, that realization that the open source community was there for us.

Rocio Montes: And for the hackathon, we actually used our fourth project because we had a time limit, but after that, we actually contributed back our fix to the project, and it was really nice to see that the maintainer of the project was actually really nice, even though I had forgotten to add the steps to replicate it. He took the time to ask me about it and just in general, nice about it. And then the fix was merged in and it just felt really gratifying. I think pushing your code to someone else’s project and having that collaboration experience. It’s something that to me is very gratifying.

Marianna Tessel: You know, Rocio, it’s funny. It sounded like it started from a need, but you got hooked and part of you getting hooked to this, he also leading here, inside Intuit, a movement to elevate our level of contribution to open source and awareness. How do you do that?

Rocio Montes: Yeah, absolutely. So two years ago, we started really working closely with Intuit technology evangelist, Aliza Carpio, to bring focus to open source in our engineering community. So we focus mainly on two things: Awareness and culture. So for that, we first launched our open source site. Everyone in the industry actually had a site, so we thought we need to have one too. It’s called opensource.intuit.com. I actually suggest everyone to go and check it out. And there we highlight our most popular open source projects.

Rocio Montes: We then established a community of global open source leaders. And this means that we actually have engineers at each one of our sites that share the passion for open source with all of the community. These engineers are actually a physical presence at each one of our sites, and they help us deliver global workshops for open source, where we are actually training our engineers to do that first step. Right? To get started with open source, because for some of us open source is still some sort of scary world and they just don’t know how to come in, but having someone physical and having that presence there actually helps. They are also responsible for guiding members through the open source process of their projects, and to actively look for potential projects to open source.

Rocio Montes: We also started participating in community events like Hacktoberfest. It’s something that Intuit hadn’t done yet. So we jumped into our first Hacktoberfest and we had really amazing results. We also looked into enabling our engineers to easily open source their own projects. And the process for open-sourcing a project was a little lengthy and confusing. So we pretty much set some automation in certain areas of the process to allow engineers to quickly and easily share the work that they have been doing internally with the open source community.

Marianna Tessel: Wow.

Rocio Montes: Yeah, it’s been really gratifying.

Marianna Tessel: Rocio, you mentioned lots of efforts. Are they paying off? Is it working?

Rocio Montes: Oh, absolutely. So we have reviews a process for open sourcing a project from six months, down to three, to two weeks. And we have actually, as a direct result of that, we quadruple the amount of open source projects. We now have 112 open source projects at our public organization on Github. And something really amazing for us is that we didn’t have any women-led open source projects, and we now have three of them and that’s an amazing win for us.

Marianna Tessel: Woo!

Rocio Montes: Yeah. And then Intuit started getting recognized for speaking engagements. We are now going to be participating at Grace Hopper as open source day co-chairs and open source track leaders. We also talked at ComicCon, we talked about open source at Developer Week. So it had really opened up the opportunities for Intuit.

Rocio Montes: During Hacktoberfest, we had over 170 PRs from our engineers, and really my goal at that time was, “Well, maybe we get 50 PRs, we’re going to be successful,” but the response was overwhelming. And it was really nice also to see that 23% of those contributions were from women, and that is actually really outstanding because the participation of women in the industry for open source is 6%. So to have those results are very, very, very nice.

Marianna Tessel: Totally agree.

Rocio Montes: Yeah. So Intuit is definitely focusing on open source and we’re very glad to be making those efforts. And many companies actually talk about also InnerSource, Marianna. What does that exactly mean?

Marianna Tessel: That’s a super great question. There’s InnerSource, and sometimes we call it internally open contribution, but the idea is that you open source your software inside the company. This means that you move away from the traditional model that there is just that one team that is responsible for the software, and you’re allowing everybody to contribute. I love this idea. First of all, people don’t have to be blocked if they need something from another team. They can go into code and they can help change it. So you can see the benefit of that.

Marianna Tessel: But also to get your code ready to be InnerSource, that requires a certain level of hygiene and that really pays off because as anybody who actually manage a successful open source project will tell you, you need to have a high degree of understanding, first of all, readable code, great automation, understanding what are the areas where you need contribution, a very strong CICB pipelines, and all of that to really make sure that other people can come in and contribute.

Marianna Tessel: So you might not get exactly the same level of rigor that you will get of managing an external community, but it does require you to elevate your code hygiene quite a bit. And like I said, it has the benefit of people coming in and helping you on something you need. You can put the issues out there and let other people in the company join, or when they need something from you, they can just join the party versus put it on some requirement list and make it through rounds and rounds of internal back and forth until it makes itself in.

Rocio Montes: Yeah, and extra meetings and just conversations that are not needed. We should definitely communicate through code.

Marianna Tessel: Totally.

Rocio Montes: So that’s great. It’s great to hear. So now going back to open source, what are your favorite open source projects these days?

Marianna Tessel: You know, there’s so many, but let me mention a few that are a little bit more in the infrastructure realm. I’m, as you know, I came from infrastructure, spent time at VMware and Docker so I tend to really know what’s going on in that space and gravitate to it. I still love Docker and this whole notion of containers, if you haven’t started using it in your company, please do. And Kubernetes is clearly the way to became the way to orchestrate containers, so that’s, again, a wonderful tool.

Marianna Tessel: And since I mentioned this through tools, I will remiss not to mention Argo, which is an Intuit tool that we open source. It’s actually a set of Kubernetes native tools and it helps you run and manage your jobs and applications. It is used by over a hundred companies, including companies such as Google, Tesla, et cetera. It’s really became an amazing, totally, very proud of it. We have other open source projects as well.

Marianna Tessel: I also like what’s going on with observability these days and you look at the project such Open Telemetry. We are very curious about them. And AI is another space that as it’s evolving, it’s good to see that there’s a lot of evolution of it that is actually open sourced. A good famous example is, of course, Tensorflow, but also Apache Spark has some very interesting ways that it brings help for AI jobs. So I recommend people take a look at them. And again, there’s a lot of good lists out there of open source projects, but go browse, go to Github, go to other places, and get yourself familiar with open source.

Rocio Montes: Awesome. That’s great advice. And also opensource.inuit.com, as well, for projects that you can collaborate.

Marianna Tessel: Totally.

Rocio Montes: Great. I think we’re ready now for Q and A.

Marianna Tessel: Yes, we are.

Rocio Montes: Let me go turn on the lights it shut off. Okay.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, we’ve got some great questions. First thing is more of an observation, I think, than a question, but people have called out as a female CTO, as a female leader in open source on, in this talk, you must work in a female-friendly engineering culture. Do you want to speak to that?

Marianna Tessel: You know, I would like to… First of all, I think, obviously, our culture is very friendly, and in general at the company, which makes it super easy and welcoming to be a female CTO. I don’t have to justify it, or talk about it, or apologize it, and I actually don’t even think about it. So that’s super great. My role in that, as well, is to make sure that our culture in the company, and particularly in engineering, is super welcoming to women and be a true champion for women. But I think it’s a very, very friendly culture and one that really is helping women. Rocio, what do you think?

Rocio Montes: I agree. I agree that the culture is very supportive. As a female engineer, I do feel that I can go after any of the goals that I set out to work on, and we always get that support.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s great. As you all know, there’s a lower percentage of women typically in contributing to open source. What do you think might be the reason behind it? Do you feel like there’s just a lack of accessibility or this lack of awareness? Where do you think, in your own experience, the variety of reasons that may or may not have contributed to this lack of diversity in open source?

Marianna Tessel: I think that open source could be a little bit–as Rocio described her own experience–It could be a little bit intimidating. It does feel like you walk in a community of strangers and you’re starting to contribute your code and you don’t necessarily know the people. First, I totally agree we need to increase the awareness of open source and that’s important, but also let’s not be afraid of contributing and let’s have women actually take over open source. I think works. Women are really natural community builders, so we actually going to see increase level of collaboration in the community.

Marianna Tessel: And just like any other community, there’s also not everything is great in open source and the way the community sometimes behaves, but you can always flag that and it gets addressed. But it’s super welcoming environment and don’t be afraid of it. Tiptoe in, go in, and you can really, really start flourishing in it as something. So I really encourage people to get more awareness and then actually not to be afraid to start. And then it will become a lot less foreign once you do.

Rocio Montes: Yeah, and to add to that, there are, I think that when we started seeing the projects coming on from female engineers to open source their projects, I think that created a chain effect. Seeing one woman do it, and then the other ones actually follow because they see that representation in that community. So I think that looking into open source projects that are from women, maybe, or just going to a meetup where people are focusing on open source will get you that security and that community feeling that will encourage you to keep going and participating in open source.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s great advice. If there’s anything you wanted to take away from this talk, be fearless, go ahead and contribute. It’s actually not that scary of an environment, it sounds like. So go ahead and get out there in the open source world.

Rocio Montes: Yeah.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: The next question we have is about how if you want to contribute, but the company might have policies against it. There seems to be a lot of draconian contracts when you’re an employee, right? So what advice do you have there?

Marianna Tessel: Every company has their own policies for open source contribution and when you are in a company it’s important for you to understand the specific policies… Sorry, my earphone is falling. It is important to understand the particular policies of your company and stay within that. Obviously you can also contribute to completely unrelated open source projects normally on your own. Again, ask for a company’s advice, but I recommend you get familiarize yourself with the policies and stay within.

Marianna Tessel: My word of advice here is for companies is to get really open to the idea of having more and more people in your organization contributing to the open source. Encourage it and open source software yourself. Recently there was an article that went around at Inuit where somebody said that open source software by companies is really the future of software. Especially when companies open source software, not for the purpose of monetizing it or making profit out of it. So I would recommend the companies get on this bandwagon, go open source a software. It’s really good for you. It’s good for your employees. It’s good for the world of software. And for employees, if you’re not sure, ask your company, ask your legal department, HR departments, your managers for a guidance of what to do. That’s always the best thing.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you. I think people really, really are looking for mentors generally. Especially as a woman in tech you want advice, you want to bounce ideas off of someone. So do you think that it’s helped you or it will help people to have mentors in open source, and how do you go about finding one? Besides attending a Girl Geek dinner, of course.

Marianna Tessel: Mentors always help, and for me, what works is not necessarily have… And again every person is different, so I don’t want to say that the only way, but for me what worked is not necessarily have one or two mentors, but I have a variety of mentors that I go to for different questions. And maybe some people I go to because they have just unbelievable advice about people and they always know what to do when I get a tough situation in that area. Others might help me when I get a really hard technology question and I might go to them with technology questions.

Marianna Tessel: So different mentors for different areas are great. I think in open source community, what you’re likely to find is mentors that can help you understand how to become a maintainer, how to become more of part of the community, and there’s ways to get close to the communities. Many of the open source community actually hosts the in person events and more. There’s conference that are in that space. So you can actually find mentors there. I think they’re more appropriate mentors that will help you to understand how to be active in the community and how to flourish there.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you. This has been an amazing session. I know I’ve learned a lot and I’ve seen from the comments and the questions that everybody’s really, really appreciated it, especially some call outs about how the talk was structured as an open dialogue. So thank you so much, Marianna, and thank you, Rocio, for making time for all of us today.

Marianna Tessel: Thank you for having us.

Rocio Montes: Thank you very much.

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