Open source has done a great deal to give those individuals who have high levels of technical skills access to the same code bases and other professionals that once were the exclusive domain of high tech companies. But the concept of meritocracy goes well beyond just technical skills. This sixth and final entry in our interview series discusses Jordan’s thoughts on how meritocracy really works and how it has helped to elevate those who live and work even in remote parts of the world to the same status of those who work for large companies.
Ben: Open source is a meritocracy. How do you feed that mechanism?
Jordan: I take a slight issue with the term meritocracy because there is always the implication that it is purely technical acumen that is being measured. A meritocracy is, “How much merit do you have in terms of skill and accomplishment?”
I will not say that that it is not a factor. It absolutely is. Somebody who really just adds a whole bunch of stuff in the middle of the night and pops up and says, “Here you go” and it’s really good — and my word, this is polished, and it works, and that’s awesome — you will clearly receive kudos and feedback for that.
But I think what is also important in assessing merit is enthusiasm. A lot of the people who actually make the most change, and I do not mean saying in terms of lines of code, but in terms of just getting stuff to happen, are the ones who are just enthusiastic, and want to see certain things, and are willing to describe the vision, and why that would be really cool.
They inspire other people around them who are perhaps better coders to actually write the code. That is the only distinction I want to make when we talk about meritocracy. I think what open source brings to the fore is the ability for somebody with passion and drive to make a mark, to rise from obscurity and actually become a mover and shaker in a project, just based on their sheer motivation.
That is actually one of the great geographical levelers in this business now. You can be in the most remote corner of the world somewhere, utterly unknown. Just by sheer hint of effort and passion, you can appear on the scene and really become well-known, respected, and impactful in any number of different projects now.
Ultimately, you will start showing up at conferences, have people want to shake your hand and say, “Oh, I love your work!” That is pretty awesome. Up until that really became true, you had to just be kind of lucky and be born near the Silicon Valley area, or some other high tech Mecca. Otherwise nobody would ever know about you. You would have no opportunity to make any kind of impact.
You would have to somehow get through the interview process at a Fortune 500 company like Google or Apple or Microsoft or whatever, in order to ever have your work even be seen. That is no longer true. I think that is really what open source brings; something that is unique and special.