Presented by

  • Sumana Harihareswara

    Sumana Harihareswara

    Sumana Harihareswara is a project manager and programmer who led the rollout of the new in 2018, led PyPI's security/accessibility/localization improvements in 2019, helped the PSF communicate about the sunsetting of Python 2, and has worked on Zulip, Mailman, MediaWiki, and several other open source projects. Most recently she has managed improvements to pip's dependency resolver and user experience, and has expedited the release of new versions of pipenv and autoconf. She earned an Open Source Citizen Award in 2011 and a Google Open Source Peer Bonus in 2018. She lives in New York City and founded Changeset Consulting in 2015.


When an open source project has gotten stuck, how do you get it unstuck? Especially if you aren't already one of its maintainers? My teams have done or are doing this with Mailman, PyPI, pipenv, and Autoconf, and I have some lessons to share. It is even possible for a new contributor, who's never worked on a project before, to show up and be the catalyst that revives a project or gets a long-delayed release out the door. I'll share a few case studies, principles, and gotchas. There's also a larger context here; why do projects get stuck in the first place? Why do so many widely used, multi-contributor, reasonably important free and open source software projects find themselves years behind their intended release schedules, or caught between legacy maintenance burdens and the effort of a much-needed architectural overhaul, or stifled by simmering and unresolved interpersonal disagreements? I propose that a key factor here is the lack of prior management experience and skill among many FLOSS project maintainers. Individual contributors who have never managed public-facing projects before are often in dire need of project and product management skills -- and may not realize it. I'll discuss that problem, the particular set of skills maintainers often need and don't have, and various initiatives -- including my own upcoming book -- to teach those skills. More than developer time, maintainership -- coordination, leadership, and management -- is a bottleneck in software sustainability. You'll come away from this talk with steps you can take, in the short term and in the long run, to address this for projects you care about. More information and resources are available at