Exclusive Interview: DeLisa Alexander Of Red Hat


We recently started a section in Muktware called Woman Force In Open Source where we interview female executives and developers playing an important role in the Open Source world. This week we are interviewing DeLisa Alexander, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer of Red Hat.

Swapnil: Red Hat has become the first open source company to touch the billion dollars mark in revenues, can you tell us about the culture at Red Hat?

DeLisa: Sure! Red Hat has a unique culture that differentiates us from the competition and attracts people who are passionate about what we do. Over the years, we have found that, regardless of your role or your work location around the globe, if you work at Red Hat, you will experience this culture. It likely won’t be surprising to hear that Red Hat’s culture is derived from the values of the open source software development communities in which we participate, including most prominently, the Fedora community.

Those values include:

Meritocracy, transparency, authenticity, accountability.

What this means at Red Hat is that one is respected and is influential at Red Hat based on the value of the work that you do, the ideas that you have and the efforts that you make to contribute.

A title doesn’t go very far in influencing the Red Hat community. Thought leaders are widely respected. People expect one another to seize opportunities to make a difference here.

Developers expect that everyone is seeing the source code that is being contributed into the community; similarly, when it comes to internal decisions and processes, people expect to not to be surprised by decisions, particularly those decisions that impact them. Instead they expect to be able to contribute feedback to a new idea, for the decision-making process and rationale to be transparent and for people to be accountable for the work they do and the decisions they make.

DeLisa: Red Hat’s culture is a key ingredient to our employer value proposition and to our success as an organization. Red Hat’s culture is what makes the experience of being a Red Hatter different than any other and what makes people so passionate about Red Hat’s success. We know that people come here because of our brand and reputation and they stay because of the people and the culture. As we recruit new people to Red Hat, we are careful to consider whether a candidate is a culture fit for Red Hat. While Red Hat is a great place to come to make a difference, it isn’t a fit for everyone. We actively think about preserving our culture as we select people to join Red Hat so that the experience is positive for both Red Hat and the candidate.

Swapnil: When we hear the name of a company it gives us the glimpse of the character of a company — for example Oracle or Google. What kind of character does Red Hat have?

DeLisa: Red Hat, in my mind, is a passionate, authentic, and approachable superhero. We are leading changes in the way that businesses connect through our community-powered approach to innovation. We are a catalyst for our communities and the benefits of sharing technological innovations as well as leading in the 21st century.

Swapnil: Are there any programs for brand awareness?

DeLisa: Absolutely!  Red Hat’s brand is a real asset and on the People team, we help to empower our associates around the globe to be ambassadors for Red Hat, with great success. Our associates know how to share our employer value proposition with their networks and how to pitch our employment experience. The result: this quarter over half of the people that we hired were referred to Red Hat from our associates!

Swapnil: Can you also tell us about woman power at Red Hat? (General Statistics). How do you think female participation could be increased in open source software development?

DeLisa: Red Hat, like most software companies, has a small female population and we all compete for the top talent, male of female, and find that there are simply insufficient numbers of women in the market. This is a nationwide trend and stems from the lack of women entering university software engineering programs. As the mother of a middle-school aged girl, I have studied this topic and learned that middle school is the time that girls begin to shy away from math and science and are drawn in larger numbers to language arts and social sciences. One initiative that I am particularly excited about is for school systems to broaden out the concept of “STEM” education (science, technology, engineering, and math) to include ART – so STEM education becomes STEAM education. My personal experience tells me that this will be more appealing to girls and could be a lever that influences the problem over time.

I am personally a strong proponent of diversity at Red Hat. A few years ago, I realized that as a woman in my role, I had a great opportunity to be a catalyst for enhancing our female diversity and I asked a few women in the People team to come together to start a women’s leadership community. They enthusiastically answered the call and I have been astounded by the response that our Red Hat women have had to the opportunity to connect in a community.  So in the short term, our plan is to make Red Hat a place that our women want to make a career so that the women we have in our population stay and grow and so that we are able to recruit additional women over time.

Swapnil: Female developers are not very visible in the Linux and and Open Source landscape. The environment of Linux & Open Source development is not very friendly (mailing lists and forums are harsh for newbie’s), which female developers don’t find very comfortable. How much this environment is responsible for the lack of visibility of female developers in the FLOSS world?

DeLisa: My guess is that the small number of female software developers in the Fedora community is reflective of most open source software communities and most software companies. What I understand is that to be a vocal participant in those communities, you need to be stalwart in your communications, to be confident in your position and to stand your ground; it is a meritocracy after all. Male or female, you need to be able to take feedback. If there is a bug or defect in what you are contributing or advocating, the community will do its best to find it.

Swapnil: Women are in leading positions in all industries. Major IT companies are being lead by women; however there is a gender gap in the Linux and Open Source world. Can you tell us about women’s participation in the development of Fedora and RHEL?

DeLisa: While the community doesn’t ask for gender information, we believe that if you consider contributors beyond developers, such as marketing, design, documentation, the numbers of women significantly increases. We have some very influential and high profile women in our organization who contribute to the community.

Swapnil: What is Red Hat’s policy for the Fedora mailing list so that female users or devs feel comfortable, if Red Hat interferes in their matters?

DeLisa: Red Hat does not maintain the Fedora mailing list. My experience within Red Hat is that some of our most visible and vocal contributors are women. Interestingly, our Red Hat women’s leadership community and its mailing list has become one of the most vocal and visible lists in our organization.

Swapnil: Are there any programs that Red Hat/Fedora are running to encourage Female developers?

DeLisa: Yes! We support scholarships and mentoring programs such as the Google “Summer of Code”, which offers female interns an opportunity to write code for various open source software projects. They also pair the interns with mentors and allow them to gain exposure to real-world software development scenarios.

We are also supporters of AdaCamp, an Ada Initative event that is focused on increasing women’s participation in open technology and culture. They bring people together to build community, discuss the common issues women have in the open technology fields, and collaborate on ways to address them.

Swapnil: Can you tell us about the Red Hat University?

DeLisa: Red Hat University is an organization that is dedicated to developing Red Hat associates and to cultivating Red Hat’s culture. We offer programs that associates can take to enhance technical, sales, leadership. and management skills needed to perform in their current role, for internal mobility growing into new roles, and for strategically developing skills & capabilities required by Red Hat for our future success.  We offer these programs in a manner that enhances our Red Hat leadership brand (we call this the “Red Hat Multiplier”), which is woven into our approach to developing people.

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