Making Open Work
May 8–9, 2017: Training & Tutorials
May 10–11, 2017: Conference
Austin, TX

Open source communities as biological ecosystems

Debra Cerda (U.S. PostgreSQL Association)
11:00am11:40am Thursday, May 11, 2017
Collaboration and Community
Location: Meeting Room 9C
Level: Non-technical
Average rating: ****.
(4.00, 1 rating)

Who is this presentation for?

  • Everyone can benefit from this session

Prerequisite knowledge

  • A basic understanding of open source community structure

What you'll learn

  • Explore the parallel between key components of the organizational structure and behavior of social insects to diverse and thriving open source communities
  • Understand how everyone plays a role in an open source community


The study of social insects has long demonstrated the critical importance of eusociality to maintain biodiversity in an ecosystem. Eusociality (“eu” from the Greek meaning good/real), the highest level of animal sociality, includes cooperative brood care, overlapping generations within a colony of adults, and the division of labor into specialized behavioral groups. In addition to having a well-defined division of labor, social insects, including ants and bees, communicate between individuals and are able to solve complex problems. (Colonies are defined as “superorganisms,” which work collectively and in an unified manner to support the colony.)

Debra Cerda explores the parallel between key components of the organizational structure and behavior of these insects to diverse and thriving open source communities, drawing on examples of open source platforms at risk of extinction. (The Ecological Studies of Open Source Software Ecosystems (ECOS) is one example of the practical application of studies of ecology to open source software systems, especially when it comes to robustness and fitness of a system.) Challenges exist in these communities in onboarding new members, but these can be addressed by creating inclusive content and diverse opportunities for users and developers at different stages of learning phase and through various methods. There are many ways to contribute to open source beyond contributing code or technical documentation—project managers, advocates, and users all play integral roles in unified open source communities.

An open source software or platform is only as strong as the community and companies which support it. Whether an open source software thrives or withers and dies is dependent on all of its members.

Photo of Debra Cerda

Debra Cerda

U.S. PostgreSQL Association

Debra Cerda is a director for the US PostgreSQL Association, where she oversees the association’s Diversity and Inclusivity Initiative. She has been an open source and PostgreSQL advocate for several years and is a co-organizer of the Austin PostgreSQL Users Group, PG Day Austin 2016, PGConf US 2017, and the soon to be announced PGConf Austin 2017. Debra volunteers on the advisory board of ChickTech Austin and is an active member of Austin Women in Technology, as well as founder of DataRescue Austin, a grassroots effort to archive federal “at-risk” data.