July 20–24, 2015
Portland, OR

This is why you fail: The avoidable mistakes open source projects STILL make

Tom Callaway (Red Hat)
2:30pm–3:10pm Thursday, 07/23/2015
Foundations D135/136
Average rating: ****.
(4.22, 9 ratings)

Prerequisite Knowledge

Awareness of open source, interest in understanding how open source works, basic code compilation/build concepts.


In 2009, while trying to package up a new (and large) open source web browser (Chromium) for inclusion in Fedora, I became frustrated at the state of the code (and their project as a whole). In the attempt to find stress relief, I started to write down the things that I had discovered which were causing me heartburn and could have been avoided. I assigned each of these items a score, based on my own experience as a Fedora package maintainer (currently maintaining 382 packages), a co-author of the Fedora packaging guidelines, and a Red Hat employee since 2001. I jokingly entitled the list “Points of FAIL,” and added other mistakes that I had seen. Several of my friends and colleagues suggested others, and the list grew. I posted it to my blog and went back to packaging.

Since then, the list has taken on a life of its own. It is included as part of The Open Source Way book, has been used to educate instructors on open source as part of the POSSE workshop, and is even used in college classes as a tool to help students analyze the health and state of open source communities (at Rochester Institute of Technology and Western New England University)! I’ve been approached by several open source projects that sought to understand how they could resolve their points of fail and be more productive with open source.

In 2015, six years after the original “Points of FAIL” were written, much has changed in open source, but much has stayed the same. In this presentation, I will revisit the original list and update it to reflect the modern universe. Additionally, I will include key topics that I did not consider in 2009, specifically Personality, Diversity, and Governance. The purpose of presenting these failures is not to shame or humiliate anyone, but rather to share the knowledge that comes from these mistakes without forcing others to make them on their own. The hope is that by presenting this list in a factual (and often humorous) context, it will enable new open source projects to grow faster, and assist existing open source projects in identifying areas which are in need of improvement.

Photo of Tom Callaway

Tom Callaway

Red Hat

Tom Callaway has been a Linux user since 1997, a Red Hat employee since 2001, and an active contributor to Fedora since its inception. His day job is at Red Hat as the Fedora engineering manager. Before that, he was a sales engineer at Red Hat (five years), so he knows a thing or two about how to make money from FOSS (and how not to). ;)

Here’s a list of all the things Tom is involved with or responsible for in Fedora:

  • Former Fedora Board Member (three terms)
  • Maintainter for 400+ Fedora packages
  • Lead of the Fedora Legal team, and key maintainer of the Fedora Licensing list
  • Chair of Fedora Packaging Committee and original author of the Fedora Packaging Guidelines
  • Holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx, Heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed
  • Fedora Ambassador
  • Member of Perl SIG, Fonts SIG, Games SIG
  • Maintainer of Chromium packages for Fedora

In what little time remains, he enjoys science fiction (books and media), origami, gaming (tabletop and video), frogs, pinball, geocaching, hacking on the Raspberry Pi, and hockey. Tom is happy to discuss proper (and improper) FOSS licensing, as well as any topic related to Fedora.