Brussels / 31 January & 1 February 2015


Interview with Karen Sandler
Identity Crisis: Are we who we say we are?

Karen Sandler will give a talk about Identity Crisis: Are we who we say we are? at FOSDEM 2015.
Q: Could you briefly introduce yourself?

Hi! My name is Karen Sandler, and I’m a cyborg lawyer… ok so it’s a bit cheeky to describe myself as a cyborg for having a pacemaker defibrillator but I do have the distinction of having proprietary software literally sewn into my body and connected to my heart. After not being able to convince any manufacturers to let me review the source code that my life relies on, it became my passion to show how vulnerable we are around software safety and to advocate for free and open source software in all life and society critical software. Of course, as we move towards an Internet of Things and all of our software talks to each other, the line on what is critical software becomes very very blurry.

Q: What will your talk be about, exactly? Why this topic?

My talk is about the conflicts of interest that come up around free and open source software. When people are passionate about what they do, as they often are in free software, they can find themselves in a number of sticky situations.

I chose this topic because I see these issues permeating every aspect of free software. We talk about governance a lot in our field, but unless we’re conscious of our conflicts of interest we can’t expect to create an environment where we can fairly contribute with one another.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish by giving this talk? What do you expect?

I hope it helps attendees take a hard look at their own conflicts of interest and take a moment to evaluate what motivates them.

Q: What’s the most important advice you could give to people in the free software community wearing multiple hats, one of their project and one of their employer?

This is complex. I try to cover as much as I can in my talk, but for now I’ll have to give you the lawyerly answer of: “It depends.” :D

Q: Is this identity crisis you’re talking about specific to FOSS or do you see the same issues in other communities?

While other fields have conflicts of interest, free software is unique. The issues I’m discussing are central to who we are and how we work with one another.

Q: In your talk you will give some specific examples of tension in the intersection of free software and corporate interests. Could you give one typical example of this situation to whet the appetite of the FOSDEM visitors?

Let’s just say that I manage to touch on the Ubuntu and GNOME split and DongleGate in the same talk!

Q: How many roles do you currently have yourself? Have you already been in a tricky identity situation?

I have so many roles: I’m an Executive Director and officer of Software Freedom Conservancy, a board member of the GNOME Foundation, co-organizer of the Free and Open Source Outreach Program, pro bono counsel to the Free Software Foundation, GNOME and and a free software activist/enthusiast. I have been in tricky identity situations on many occasions.

Q: Have you enjoyed previous FOSDEM editions?

FOSDEM is a really unique conference. I love how strong the community showing is, and I love that it’s organized with that as its focus. Because of that, we at Conservancy have decided to have an event on the Friday night before FOSDEM (you can totally join us for dinner and then go to the beer event!). It’s a fundraiser but we’ve done our best to keep the entry fee low so that it’s open to everyone. Of course, I hope that some people pay a bit more or become Supporters to help us raise money for the cause! Tickets are available on Conservancy’s site.

Creative Commons License
Creative Commons License

This interview is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Belgium License.