Guest post by Annalisa Gennaro

I had the chance to talk at the KubeCon + CloudNativeCon 2023 in Amsterdam, taking part in the panel “Help! Where should I start? Your guide to Cloud Native Resources” and telling about my own personal cloud native journey within the CNCF community. Here are some excerpts. Warmly hope this can help.

What projects are you involved in? 

I started with the Italian localization of the Glossary Project, I’m in the Cartografos WG, I took care of other documentation translations (like the first version of the Cloud Native Security White Paper of TAG Security) and I’m actively involved in the organization of the KCD Italy (which will take place in person on the 16th of June in Milan), By the way, I have been just appointed CNCF Ambassador.

What motivated you to localize the Glossary in Italian?

It all started out of selfish personal reasons, I want to be honest: I was missing the international environment I was used to in my previous professional life, I needed to find a place to belong within the community and I simply needed to understand more of the technical aspects and contents of my job. Thus I began to study hard to progressively deepen my tech knowledge as I have a non-tech background.
Since I had some previous experience as a translator, I thought that handling each concept, understanding it as much as I could, and making an effort to translate it into my mother tongue could be another way to learn.

What drove you to join the Cartografos WG?

I joined the Cartografos WG when the model was practically completely outlined, I was invited by a colleague because we were structuring our Cloud Native Journey to offer to our Customers, and I needed to know more. I was driven by business reasons at the beginning, but I stayed for the people I met and because the CNMM talked about people as one of its main chapters. There I could give my opinion.

We often take people for granted, as well as their willingness to commit, their will to upskill, and we focus on processes and technologies. Italo Calvino, a famous Italian writer, in his American Lessons at the Harvard University, wrote that our adaptability to new setups and technologies is slower than the innovation brought by the technology itself. People remain the key factor. Organisations need to find the right pace of adoption and the best experience possible (when we talk about experience, we talk about human beings).

Why are non-code contributions important? 

Non-code contributions are important because they guarantee variety in terms of people who contribute and in terms of possibilities given to programmers as well: a number of tech people, in fact, wish to contribute avoiding coding, if this is what they do all day long. 

When we talk about diversity, people usually think of are gender-related or race-related issues. Well, diversity means multiplicity of cultures and languages (that is to say different approaches to projects, issues, interpersonal relations): it means voices coming from people who have different perspectives on things due to their various backgrounds, skills, and attitudes because of their stories, experience and job functions too. We need more interdisciplinarity to enrich the community. Scientific and technical knowledge require intersections with humanities to be able to value each one’s contribution.

According to Plant Neurobiology, a healthy ecosystem is one where the utmost variety is allowed: different kinds of plants support each other according to different natural abilities (some attract pollinators, some reject parasites) and make their community stronger, more prolific, and healthier in other words. This is because they have ways to communicate with each other and ways to interact with other beings, like insects, bacteria, mammals and birds.

The variety and diversity of living beings are fundamental to ensure the evolution of a resilient community.” (Stefano Mancuso, The Tribe of the Tree)

Do you have to be technical to contribute? 

Not at all. You may be a designer, a strategist, a marketer, a UX expert, an HR person, who knows? Maybe we’ll even need more philosophers to handle ethical issues, more psychologists and sociologists to understand new behavioural patterns. The community needs a medley of tech and non-tech to create cognitive bridges between worlds. We need more non-tech people to understand what we are doing, what Cloud Native is about so that we can make businesses better understand. Aristotle already suggested that experts should talk in a fair and simple way. This is where non-tech people could work together: let’s get over the bias that making knowledge easier means making it less valuable. Simple is not shallow. 

What about non-native English speakers, can they contribute to these projects? 

Not only can they, they have to! First of all the mission of our community is to make Cloud Native ubiquitous: we need to grow local communities, which means trying and using local languages as much as possible.

The glossary is one project to begin with, but there are tons of documentation to be translated for example or interpreted into different written or video contents to let people easily access them. Also, although the whole IT field is a strongly English-based even in Italy – developers read and write in English often more than they do in Italian – we find it very important to have the chance to rely on quality content in native languages too. Since cloud native is not simply a bunch of tools and technologies for developers and architects, but more a cultural and organizational approach, the access to knowledge by many different audiences, non-technical marketing people, decision makers like C-level people, HR figures, students and even developers with different backgrounds is crucial.

When you are a non-tech and non-native English speaker, you may find barriers to entry, but some of them are created by ourselves. You may feel out of place, you don’t understand devs and engineers, their inside jokes, what they talk about, they might sound weird, and you may feel weak and stupid, or not up to it. Don’t let fear block you: it would be arrogant to believe to fill the gap between their knowledge and yours by following a couple of courses or studying as hell. Just keep in mind that you need to approach the core with your own skills by remaining true to yourself and your values. And trust the community: everyone makes mistakes, everyone fears being laughed at or being criticised. It’s human. Never heard about the impostor syndrome as much as in this field. Well, we are here to share and collaborate, not to show off. Everyone contributes with a little tile, a little piece. That’s the power of the community.

What have you learned from contributing to open source that surprised you?

Well, I was amazed that people from different companies, often competing in the market, manage to collaborate openly on common projects to enhance the opportunities and knowledge of the whole community. Astounding. It impressed me. Something that is worth keep on nurturing.

What drove you to get engaged and is that still what motivates you?

The fact that your voice can be heard, that what you do and say can be of help to other people and that your efforts are somehow acknowledged by the community itself. Which is not to be connected to egoic feelings, but to a warm sense of belonging. Tim O’Reilly once said: “Empowerment of individuals is a key part of what makes open source work, since in the end, innovations tend to come from small groups, not from large, structured efforts.”. That’s why all these single projects and working groups are important, and why people are the driver to interweave them. That’s why I’m staying.

This all has been possible thanks to the fact that SparkFabrik, the company I work with, sincerely believes in open source and supports our efforts in contributing to the community in different ways. Businesses need to understand that their support is vital to keep open source lively and secure.