Great Open Source Communities With Benny Vasquez

Posted on Tuesday, May 3, 2022
Open Source software projects rely on strong communities for support, feature development, bug fixing, and any number of other technical tasks. But communities also provide users with a place to share experiences and find like-minded folks. benny Vasquez, Chair of the AlmaLinux Board of Directors, joins us to talk about what’s great about community.


Mandi Walls: Welcome to Page It to the Limit, a podcast where we explore what it takes to run software in production successfully. We cover leading practices used in the software industry to improve both system reliability and the lives of the people supporting those system. I’m your host Mandi Walls. Find me @LNXCHK on Twitter.

Hello. Hello. Hello. Welcome back to Page It to the Limit. This week I have with me benny Vasquez, who is the Chair of the Board of Directors for AlmaLinux. benny, welcome to the show.

benny Vasquez: Thank you. It’s good to be here.

Mandi Walls: So tell us AlmaLinux, give us some background there about what that is and what your job and titles as chair there.

benny Vasquez: The history of AlmaLinux is actually really closely tied to Red Hat and open source in general. We got our start because Red Hat announced that they were shifting resources away from the CentOS downstream version that so many industries rely on and shifting all of their resources to the CentOS stream version that they had announced the year before. And it honestly, I think it was the right move for red hat. I understand why they did it from a business perspective, but there’s a whole community that got left with nowhere to go and no version of downstream, stable, red hat that they could use. So that’s where we came in.

Mandi Walls: So how did you get involved there? Like you have a history in your background’s a bit in open source and community building and kind of all over the place there. So tell us a bit about that story.

benny Vasquez: Yeah, so that one actually is kind of fun. My, in a past life, I worked for a company called cPanel and there I did a bunch of community building and community outreach and cPanel is honestly built on top of the open source world. Everything, not everything inside cPanel, obviously, but there’s so much inside web hosting that is open source and cPanel was no exception as part of my community building. I got to really support open source by bringing the projects in, to talk to engineering and making sure that those connections were made or making sure that anything that we could financially back we did.

Mandi Walls: Oh, nice.

benny Vasquez: Yeah. Yeah. I get to, I get to spend lots of money in that way and that’s always fun. After I left CPanel, then all of the CentOS stuff happened and Igor from cloud Linux really recognized that the like vacuum that was being left by red hat, we knew that we needed to fix it. Right. So he started setting up on Linux and then came to me and was like, listen, we need somebody. We need an expert from like knows the web posting industry and also knows DevOps and also has expertise to provide in the community building side of it. So can you come help us please? So I got to be not just a, like a user of Linux, but also got to help drive it and point it in the right direction. And then in October of last year, I think we announced Igor was stepping down because really he wants to make sure that everything’s going to live beyond him. Like it’s not about me. It’s not about cloud Linux. It’s about making sure this survives longer than Santo west did. So he steps down from the board and I took over as chair and now we’re just driving like this year, our big focus is going to be fundraising, but we’ve already got almost a hundred thousand servers calling home every night. We’ve got a bunch of people, a bunch of companies backing us in a million different ways. And we’re really driving. I keep saying, we’re bringing the soul back to enterprise Linux, but it’s not fair. Right. It’s always been there. We’re just giving people a place together that they feel welcome and loved.

Mandi Walls: Oh, that’s an interesting segue into my next question, which is the community aspect of open source is one of the, like I feel is one of the things that really draws people to those projects and it conversely can draw people away from those projects. If the community is a bit toxic or hostile without naming any names

benny Vasquez: We don’t have to, everybody’s got [crosstalk 00:04:21]

Mandi Walls: everybody kind of knows, right? Like you turn around and like, there’s another big piece of drama in some other community. You’re like, oh yeah, it’s them again. Right. Like of course, but for the community aspect of something like a Linux distribution, like that’s a global community, right?

benny Vasquez: Yeah.

Mandi Walls: What’s that like to sort of drive that across the globe really?

benny Vasquez: Really fun. So it’s been absolutely stunning to see how much just being like welcoming makes all of the difference. We’re, we’re in a very special position because there’s a whole bunch of sent to us refugees looking.

Mandi Walls: Yeah.

benny Vasquez: Right. But all we have really had to do is make a space for those people and they have come and we’re even getting people that are converting from Ubuntu because they are excited about being part of something new and seeing something new start and also getting to help build that excitement in their own way. The most amazing thing to me about it is coming from such a, I feel like the last couple of communities that I’ve really worked in have been kind of tired and kind of emotionally raw and Almalinux is such a new thing. And all of these people are just so excited to be here. Everybody is happy to see each other. like there’s so few people that don’t just be nice. They’re just nice people to each other.

Mandi Walls: Yes.

benny Vasquez: Nice people to they’re nice people to interact with. They are all extremely helpful. They’re all just good humans. And the language barriers are so few and far between, because even in a situation where people don’t speak the same language, they use Google translate and are effectively communicating between each other, because they approach it with that positive energy. It’s really, really cool.

Mandi Walls: That’s excellent. Like, I feel so old. Right? Like, cause like you say, like so many communities are sort of out of the newness, you kind of run out of the folks who are really scratching an itch, right? Yes. With a project.

benny Vasquez: Yeah.

Mandi Walls: And have like some kind of drive towards seeing it through. And yeah. Like I kind of like got a fancy new project to work on. Like that’s kind of nice. So, what are you thinking about like as the project matures, how do you keep it?

benny Vasquez: How do you keep it spicy?

Mandi Walls: Like how, how do you keep people engaged over time to sort of fend off that like wearing down?

benny Vasquez: I think honestly, it’s just going to be making sure that we continue to welcome new people because there will always be people that come and go as their life allows them to. When you’re dealing with open source. There are so many situations where you have people who are very well intentioned who want to be involved, who are excited about what you’re doing, who join and say, yes, I can absolutely help. And then life gets in their way.

Mandi Walls: Absolutely.

benny Vasquez: That’s not a bad thing. As long as you recognize that their ability to tribute does not necessarily impact their interest. And you respect that out of every human, then you can continue to have a welcoming and like good foundation of a community that will continue to welcome new people and carry that energy forward because it’s always new for somebody. Right?

Mandi Walls: Sure. Oh yeah.

benny Vasquez: Always is new for somebody. And as long as you continue to welcome those people with the same energy, they will bring that same energy to you.

Mandi Walls: Yeah. So I been using Linux since the late nineties, I think. Right. Like I cover my gray hair, but like it’s there. Right. But like the distributions kind of come and go, they have their own personality. This looks weird because you think about these conglomerations of people that have a personality.

benny Vasquez: Yeah.

Mandi Walls: About them. And like, what do you feel like is the personality for AlmaLenux is it just your happy friends they’re doing Linux stuff?

benny Vasquez: It’s definitely the happy friends. Right? the biggest thing that I think we’ve done right is hire, I mean maybe a massive compliment that I should have warned him about, but one of the biggest things we’ve done to be this successful is hire Jack, our community manager.

Mandi Walls: Oh, excellent. Okay.

benny Vasquez: He is such a genuine human and he is just everywhere that you want to be. He’s got that like strong technical understanding and the ability to talk to anyone and everyone all the time.

Mandi Walls: Oh, Excellent.

benny Vasquez: I love that about him. And he is such a compassionate, empathetic human that every time I see him interact with anybody, that’s exactly how he approaches it. And that means that our community has, honestly, because he’s been driving so much of it has taken on those qualities from him. It’s a very compassionate, empathetic, I keep saying the word welcoming, but that’s what it is like when you walk in the door, if you are greeted and somebody says, Hey, it’s so good to see you. Like, that’s what that is.

Mandi Walls: Yeah.

benny Vasquez: And He is, you would never, the first time I met Jack, I absolutely was like, who is this guy? Because he was upset about something and he is from New York and he’s got that New York accent. And he was, you know, there’s a very stereo,

Mandi Walls: I live in New Jersey, so yeah, I totally get this.

benny Vasquez: Exactly. And he’s got that, like that stereotype of, I got upset and now I’m talking really fast and I’m talking really aggressively, blah, blah, blah. And then like 10 minutes in, he was like, all right. Okay, cool. And he was just on the next thing. And his feelings around the thing that he was upset about were very raw and very real. And as soon as he was done expressing them, he was like done with that. I’m moving on because I’m better than this. And that’s a thing that you don’t get out of many people.

Mandi Walls: Yeah. Yeah. That kind of like emotional intelligence and like the ability to compartmentalize and like put priority where priority is needed.

benny Vasquez: Exactly.

Mandi Walls: Say your peace.

benny Vasquez: Yep, exactly. And he was upset about something that deserved being upset about it. Doesn’t matter how much it deserves it. If it like pulls you down, then you’re going to bring that back to every other interaction that you’re having. And he just doesn’t, he absolutely doesn’t. He walks into every situation fresh and it makes me so happy. He’s a great, I’m apparently going to talk about how much I love Jack today.

Mandi Walls: Awesome. We, we should call him out in the show notes.

benny Vasquez: I know. We’ll be like, Hey, go listen to this podcast.

Mandi Walls: We were talking about you, your ears burning. You know, so along that line, like you’ve been doing community management and stuff for a long time. Is there, we like to ask folks if there’s a myth about the things that they do that is sort of common in the industry. So is there like a favorite myth that you’d like to bust for the audience today about?

benny Vasquez: Sure. Yeah. And honestly, I have a feeling that I’m going to be mostly talking to my people. So this one may not be a myth for them, but I had to have this fight recently. So it’s in my brain. There’s a very specific approach to community building that has gotten a lot of attention lately, especially as startups start to get more funding again. And it’s a phrasing difference. That is so important. There’s a difference between building a genuine community that provides a user base that ends up being full of customers, that you can then monetize and make money off of. Because frankly, we live in the society we do where money ends up being the driver, right.

Mandi Walls: People got to get paid.

benny Vasquez: Recognizing that building that community will result in those things is the right way to approach it. But I keep seeing this phrase “extract value from your community.”

Mandi Walls: Yes, exactly. Put it in the transcript as vomiting noises. Oh my God.

benny Vasquez: Yeah. When you approach it with the intent of extracting value, everything about what you do will be tainted. Yes. Can’t build a genuine community around some that deserves even something that deserves a community. If your goals are so tainted are so problematic, if your goal is extracting value, then you’re not going to see what your value, what your community can provide. Yeah. You’re going to go in there with predetermined ideas. You’re going to go in with a vulture energy and you’re not going to get what you want.

Mandi Walls: Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, I’ve seen that too. So our team is technically devops advocates, but we’re essentially Pager Duty use dev row team. And like the questions become, when you’re talking to your peers and we’re talking to other folks that do community kind of development, that like, well, we’re being asked to like show our ROI and we’re being asked to show all these numbers. And like, then they decided that we’re going to build this community. It’s going to be free support and all this stuff. And like, Yo dog, is that really what your users are going to do for you? Are you sure about all that?

benny Vasquez: Exactly.

Mandi Walls: Do you feel there’s a difference between like communities that get built up around open source versus communities that sort of happen around commercial software?

benny Vasquez: I definitely do. Yeah. It’s not just in the people that show up in what they end up being, like, the types of communities that they end up being. But it’s all also the energy that you put into them. So like open source, if you, especially, if you do something like almaLinux, you’re building it up out of excitement for what’s going on. And it becomes this beast onto itself. And it’s absolutely like, at some point you’re no longer in control of the community. You’re just along for the ride. Right? If it’s built up around a commercial product, when you approach those people, they’re already users, very unlikely. Are they people that are like looking to try your product? To be a user community that is all people that are there because they’re paying you. And that automatically becomes a different dynamic because they want to give you feedback about your thing. They’re not contributing to it. they don’t feel that ownership that you do with open source project. So it’s automatically a different thing. And I think that they can each provide value. Like you still want to use your community because they tell you what they think you should be building. Yeah. They tell you what you should be for providing for in a commercial setting, but with a open source project, you feel that ownership, as soon as you submit your first poll request, whatever it is, or answer your first question or help somebody in the chat, you are absolutely like that ownership is something that cannot be replicated.

Mandi Walls: Yeah. Absolutely. And like, I think too, like one of the things that you kind of see is when you’re talking about a commercial product, there’s not like a face there. And even for big commercial projects that have gevral and community managers and whatever, they’re not exactly the face of engineering, the way you have, these certain faces of open source projects. Like you kind of know this person’s GitHub handle and who they are, you follow them on Twitter because they approved your poorest or whatever. And like, you start to build this relationship with them. But as a user of a criminal commercial product, even if I talk to the commercial gevral team, it’s not the same relationship.

benny Vasquez: Yep. Yeah, absolutely. It’s such a different feel. It’s technical people want to talk to technical people and even if you’re gevral, there’s still that layer of abstraction. Right? I want to talk to the engineer the, of built it.

Mandi Walls: Yes. Yeah. I want to know what you were thinking here. I really understand.

benny Vasquez: Exactly.

Mandi Walls: Yeah, definitely. So I don’t say even before the pandemic, like there was a big shift in how communities are getting organized. Like there’s a lot of different software products. There’s a lot of different places for folks to congregate. Like what have you seen over the past? I don’t know, 5, 6, 7 or eight years or whatever. Like where do folks, where are folks most comfortable? Cause now that there’s slack, but slack isn’t, so it has limitations for open source communities and then there’s discord. But the discoverability of discord is like a mess. Like how do people find their tribe and hook up with them and get to know people?

benny Vasquez: Honestly, it is always about, for me when you’re trying to find, oh God, God, it’s so hard to know where your people are from a commercial perspective. It’s really easy to say, I need to go where my users are already congregating.

Mandi Walls: Yes.

benny Vasquez: You’re talking to somebody that’s using, I don’t even know insert piece of software here. They’re already congregating somewhere. Yeah. You can go like join those and just kind of like troll around and not don’t make any way. It was just listen for a while. if you are trying to find the group of people that do or care about the things that you do or care about, it’s so much harder. And I was talking to, this is so tangentially related, but I was talking about one of my friends the other day, about how hard it is to make friends as a grownup.

Mandi Walls: Oh yeah.

benny Vasquez: Because when you’re a kid or even like a young adult, we’re all forced into these settings by school and those sorts of things, where you automatically are going to meet people. And the thing we don’t do as adults is go to these things, to meet people, you have to find these groups. And I hate it. I hate it so much. But right now the thing that the place that I’m finding the most of my people are, is on Facebook Places. I hate it. But it’s like, I mean, it’s probably because some of my hobbies make me a million year old woman, but like the gardening communities and the crochet stuff. and like that kind of stuff, it’s all Facebook. I think it’s so hard to find the people that you want to interact with.

Mandi Walls: Yeah. I definitely feel that way. And I feel that way kind of like, I really use like one women in tech, slack as a crutch, like there’s like 6,000 channels or some ridiculous thing on it. And I’m like, okay, I’m going to hang out in cooking. I’m going to hang out gardening and hang out house plants, because somebody’s going to tell me what I’m doing wrong with my Pieta or whatever. And then like, I just kind of stay there and like the good part is people are everywhere. The bad part is I’m probably never going to meet them in person. And like that’s very much the way that any of our tech communities are too. I’m like, okay, well I can talk to this person who’s currently in Latvia or whatever about whatever they’re working on. But never really, probably never going to get to meet them. So

benny Vasquez: But I also think that’s the future of connection, right.

Mandi Walls: It kind of is.

benny Vasquez: Yeah. especially because we were all forced to do it through pandemic time. Yeah. Like my brother and I are really good friends and we actually really like each other and we live on the opposite side of the country right now. And that means that we are intentional about making sure that we talk to each other during the basis. And we find like online trivia games or something to play with each other and that kind of stuff. And I honestly think that is going to be where connections are forged in the future. My 11 year old nephew who we have, all of his stuff locked down. So he can barely talk to anyone outside our like family or outside predetermined humans. Right. But he was on Minecraft the other day, on some Server and found some kid who’s I think he’s one year younger and they have been playing together almost nonstop. And he was just like, probably never going to get to meet him because he is in Canada. And I was like, I don’t know, buddy. Like we might meet him someday. But also that doesn’t change that you guys are friends right now. you don’t have to meet him in person to know that you’re friends right now.

Mandi Walls: It’s so much better than having a pen pal in the eighties, but like same kind of energy.

benny Vasquez: Yeah. It’s exactly it. But those are, that’s how we’re building our connections now. And I feel like our parents made fun of us when we did it.

Mandi Walls: Yes.

benny Vasquez: We were making Friends over live of journal or whatever. We built connections with people and it’s just going to be that continually. Right. We’re never going to go back to a time where you only talk to the people that live next to you.

Mandi Walls: Yeah. Which for a lot of folks is good. Cause like my parents neighbors are weird and like, oh my God. And we were also like the only young family in the neighborhood for a long time. So that was a challenging growing up kind of pattern all your neighbors are in their eighties, but yeah. So for your future and like other things like else, are you looking forward to, for Alma, for other projects that you’re looking at for the sort of state of open source sort of in general

benny Vasquez: For Alma specifically, I’m excited to see where we see adoption the next two years because cent Os seven has support on the end of 2024. And that’ll mean like we got our first push when sent was eight when life last year. Cause redhead is weird about timelines right now. But I honestly think when cent Os seven goes, end of life, we’re going to see another huge push. And right now we’re seeing a huge increase in adoption in Asia.

Mandi Walls: Oh nice.

benny Vasquez: So I’m going to, I’m interested to see like how those people are using it and what they’re doing with it and like who else picks us up? I’m excited.

Mandi Walls: Yeah. Awesome. So how can folks get involved with Alma? Where does Alma live?

benny Vasquez: On the internet? So is the website and you can find everything from there. I’m going to do a little bit of a pitch because for me, one of the most important things about Alma is that if you have a stake in what’s happening, if you have a stake in the future of the operating system, then we want you to have a voice in the future of the operating system. So everyone from users to contributors to sponsors has the right to have an opinion in what happens. You get to vote in board elections and that kind of stuff. Anyone who wants to can apply to be a member, the membership bar is very low,

Mandi Walls: Be breathing

benny Vasquez: Well, be breathing, be a user.

Mandi Walls: Oh , all right

benny Vasquez: Right. Join the matter. Most help somebody out on discourse. Like it’s all very, very, very, if you are involved in the slightest a bit, want you to be there because like I said, we genuinely believe that, I’m going to say it again, if you have a stake in the future of it, you deserve to have a voice in the future of it. And that’s the thing that we all missed with cent Os. Yes. We didn’t get a chance to have a voice. And that’s the thing we want to make sure that we do in the future. So come to, you’ll find everything from there. You’ll you can find the chat, you can find GitHub, you can find sponsorships, you can find membership applications. Our board meeting minutes are on the Wiki. Like everything you want.

Mandi Walls: Awesome. That sounds great. Like, I hope that folks get out there and if you’re interested or you have, any kind of interest in that they help Alma out and give us another good, strong Linux distribution in the world.

benny Vasquez: Absolutely.

Mandi Walls: Sweet.

benny Vasquez: That’s what we’re here for.

Mandi Walls: Yeah. Right. Like the whole, I don’t know, Linux has such a strange history with the bifurcations and like all the tree of distributions.

benny Vasquez: Yeah, it does. I saw an image on Wikipedia. It was honestly, I think it was something like five or six years old, but it was just a wall and it showed like the life cycle of each and where they branched off of. It’s so insane.

Mandi Walls: It’s absolutely crazy. And you’re just like, if you knew the history of why they blew apart in like different branches, it’s like, okay, well these two people had a discussion about one particular package or one part of the project. And like all of a sudden they’re like, here’s a fork. And you’re like, what are you even doing? This is crazy.

benny Vasquez: Yep. it’s always comes down to people. Yes. Every time there’s a fork It comes down to a very well I’m using lots of superlatives, but very rarely does it come down to a technology need. It is almost always, I don’t like what you’re doing. I’m going to go over here and do it Different.

Mandi Walls: Exactly. I’m like, oh, what, what exactly did you sign up for? Like, do you actually understand what do the Fork is going on?

benny Vasquez: Yep.

Mandi Walls: Oh yeah. So as our parting question, is there anything that you wish you had known sooner when you started this journey that you know now that you would tell other folks who are just getting started and open source or open source communities or any of that stuff?

benny Vasquez: Yeah, honestly it took me 10 years to recognize the little voice in the back of my head that said that everybody’s doing this wrong. Don’t let them do it anymore. There was this voice that was like, everybody’s approaching this from that extract value view and be louder about the fact that you need to be genuine first and then the value will come. And I really wish I had felt strong enough in my understanding of humans as I started this journey to have that conversation. Now that I do it colors every single interaction that I have, whether it’s work or not work. And it makes me so happy to be where I’m at.

Mandi Walls: We’ll leave it at that then. Cause that, I think that’s some amazing, amazing advice for folks. So thank you Benny for being on our show.

benny Vasquez: No problem.

Mandi Walls: This is awesome. And for all of you out there listening, we’ll wish you an eventful day That does it for another installment of P to the limit. We’d like to thank our sponsor Pager Duty for making this podcast possible. Remember to subscribe to this podcast, if you like what you’ve heard, you can find our show notes at and you can reach us on Twitter at page it to the limit using the number two. Thank you so much for joining us and remember uneventful days, our beautiful days.

Show Notes

Additional Resources


benny Vasquez

benny Vasquez (she/her)

As a multifaceted woman with over 20 years of experience in management, technical support, brand management, community, and developer relations, I know that my passion is service. I find my joy in bettering a product, a presentation, or a brand. I’ve worked as an individual contributor, managed teams of varied ages and experiences, and built programs from the ground up.


Mandi Walls

Mandi Walls (she/her)

Mandi Walls is a DevOps Advocate at PagerDuty. For PagerDuty, she helps organizations along their IT Modernization journey. Prior to PagerDuty, she worked at Chef Software and AOL. She is an international speaker on DevOps topics and the author of the whitepaper “Building A DevOps Culture”, published by O’Reilly.