Contributor Blog #9: Interview with Prithvi Raj
Rising from Chaos: The Litmus Test of Success
We have many diverse contributors in opensource that help upstream communities in unconventional ways, which doesn’t require any coding or development skills. Starting with a non-code contribution can help anyone overcome the sense of failure and not being good enough, and it can also serve as a springboard for our open source adventure. This interview series aims to highlight some non-code open source contributions that anyone can make right now to get started contributing.
For this month’s edition, we talked about creating a career out of opensource contributions and becoming a community manager with Prithvi Raj.
Can you introduce yourself and share your journey so far?
Hello everyone, and Parth! Thank you so much first of all for doing this with me. My name is Prithvi Raj, and I am based in Bhubaneswar, Orissa. For the past year, I have been working as a Technical Community Manager at Harness Inc, a company that offers software delivery solutions across seven modules. My primary role has been as a community leader for Litmus Chaos, which is a CNCF project focused on cloud-native, open-source chaos engineering.
My journey as a community leader began almost three years ago at MayaData, a cloud-native database company. I was tasked with leading a community for a side project they were working on, which eventually evolved into the Litmus Chaos project. As the project grew, so did the community, which led to the creation of ChaosNative, a company dedicated solely to the project. During this time, I was also leading a community for chaos engineering as a technology, organizing meetups and other events.
From a community perspective, I also organize events such as Kubernetes Community Days Bangalore, Kubernetes Community Days Chennai, and Chaos Carnival, which is a global conference based on chaos engineering. Additionally, I recently became a CNCF ambassador, and I am excited to help organize Kubernetes Days India, which will take place later this year.
Chaos engineering is a niche technology that is becoming increasingly popular day by day. It’s amazing to see how the community has grown since Netflix coined the term about ten years ago. I am thrilled to be a part of this community and am grateful for the opportunities that have come my way.
Congratulations on becoming a CNCF Ambassador! I’m sure it’s a feather in your cap that you’re most proud of. You mentioned that you became a community manager with LitmusChaos, which went on to become a full-fledged company. I haven’t seen many examples of people who started as community managers before being in a community for a long time. How did that happen?
From my college days, I’ve been interested in understanding different types of communities. Not just open-source communities, but all types of communities, including tech communities, gaming communities, and others focused on personal interests like sports or culture. This journey started with my desire to contribute to various communities, whether through technical or documentation contributions, hosting or participating in meetups, or joining local student communities. Through these experiences, I learned how communities develop, grow, and perform, and how individuals can contribute to their success. Eventually, I became a community manager, a role that has gained importance in recent years. When I first started at MayaData, the community management role was still new and experimental. Instead of hiring someone with a sales or marketing background, they decided to give me a chance to see if community management could work.
What projects have you contributed to?
The most important and vital project that I have contributed to is LitmusChaos. I have also been involved in the chaos engineering community on Census Slack. Additionally, I have contributed to projects such as Data on Kubernetes, Harness, Kapitan, and Pravega in the CNCF space. While I played a role in building the community for Harness, it is currently being managed by other individuals. Overall, I have made significant contributions to these communities.
How did your contribution journey start?
It all began in my third year of college when the idea of community was starting to gain traction. People were forming and participating in communities, and platforms like Slack and Discord were proving instrumental in their growth. In 2019, I started to get involved in communities by joining various Slack and Discord communities, such as the Ministry of Testing and Google Developer Student Club, which boasts over 10,000 members. These communities provided me with access to a wealth of resources, and I had the opportunity to learn from experienced mentors who helped me get started with contributions. As an engineer, there are many ways to contribute, and not just at the code level. Open source is vast, encompassing fields such as Web3, AI, and cloud-native tools like the one I’m currently working on. There are many cloud-native tools in the sandbox and incubating environments under CNCF that are welcoming contributions from students. Some third-year students have even made significant contributions to the Kubernetes community, which led to good job offers from companies like Red Hat and VMware. Although I wasn’t aware of these opportunities at the beginning of my journey, I always knew that open source and communities could take me places. Contributing to communities has helped me gain a broad understanding of how they work, allowing me to choose the community or product to contribute to.
In what ways have you contributed?
There are so many ways. I was never one of the best developers, so if you talk about my personal contributions, my overall idea was to always focus on contributions that go beyond coding. Hence, I started with evangelism. It’s all about taking your product to places, making sure that you are well-versed with how your product works, giving product demos, and what your project can bring to the larger table. Let’s say if you talk about Kubernetes as a technology and running resilience tests on Kubernetes, it’s a subset, but it needs to be important to the broader community of people who are using Kubernetes. So that’s where I evangelize by delivering talks in various meetups around the world. During the pandemic, everything was virtual, so it was pretty easy to join Meetups that were happening in New York or Melbourne, or anywhere in the world. People would be joining from various companies and communities. There were so many conferences that were happening virtually around the world, and that required someone as an evangelist, someone as an advocate to join in and talk about the product, talk about the project, and also bring in contributions. A contributor is only a contributor when they can bring in other contributors to contribute to the project as well. That’s something that I believe, and that’s why it really helped bring a lot of contribution.
When I started as a community manager, that project had around just 60 slack members and used to get around three or four issues in a week or in a couple of weeks. But today, the slack itself has grown to around 1700 folks, which is less in terms of the community. Because you know, it’s hard to join the slack, but if you talk about the litmus community overall, it’s more than 5,000 folks that are out there who are community contributors or users. Evangelism also includes writing articles and blogs. It was important to articulate that, and when we started we thought that let’s make even the blogs open source and let everyone contribute to the blogs. So we joined dev.to. It was getting started at that time; medium was a pretty popular platform, but dev.to was just coming up, and you know on dev.to you can either create an org or you can either use a tag. So, we used the LitmusChaos tag, and it became really popular, where other folks from companies like F5 and AWS started contributing to blogs
The third contribution I would say was bringing integrations. I think whatever your project is or your product is, if you integrate it with other products or popular projects out there, then that project grows automatically, and that’s where we integrated with projects like Kublr, Kapitan, Pravega, Octant. These are very popular Cloud-Native projects out there. And we integrated with them by joining their communities, getting into a feedback loop, understanding what possible integration points are there. And that is where me as a contributor came into place, where I had the role of bringing the maintainers of my project and the maintainers of the other projects together to discuss and understand these contributions, and to bring those contributions back to the community, where they understand that yes, this is a new development that has happened. This is something that they can also use in their environments.
These were the three main contributions I would say I made to the community and then I also expanded them by organizing my own events. I organize CNCF chaos engineering meetups on meetup.com. We have a very popular Chaos Engineering meet up group which has around 2000 members, and we have organized some popular meetups and events. We did one in person in Bangalore as well last November. And then we have done a lot of virtual ones where I’ve seen massive participation say 150- 200 folks which is a good number. So that’s been the large side of contributions and there are so many small ways you can contribute to, you can help develop the website, you can help think of user stories. I think as a contributor it’s also important to understand other contributors or users.
Can you talk about some of the challenges you might have faced?
I think the first and foremost important challenge was the lack of resources. I feel that when I started, there was a lack of resources out there and still, resources are coming up. When you get started, it’s not easy for you to figure out where to start. You turn to YouTube videos or you get to read blogs, but still, it’s hard for you to understand how to get started with a particular project, how to get started with a particular community, and what’s there for you to contribute. That, I think, is an important challenge. I also feel another challenge was getting to know the right people. So, if you know the right people in a community, like the maintainers or the core contributors, and they’re ready to help you, that becomes easy. So, it’s very important for you to understand the right stakeholders of the project before contributing. That’s the second challenge. The third challenge, I would say, was obviously building contacts. I think it’s a hard and fast rule to have contacts, but it helps if you know people in the community, and I feel everyone is very welcoming. You just have to put in the first effort of reaching out to the right people, and ask them to be a part of the community or help you contribute something to the community.
Share your experience in becoming a contributor.
The placement season for us started in 2020. Even during that time, though I was already a contributor, I never knew that this would become my profession. For a lot of people out there, it’s hard to imagine or maybe they are unaware that they can become contributors. Me becoming a contributor itself changed my journey, not just in terms of what I learned, but also how I developed as a person. The attention I gained from the community made people recognize me and my work. They also started asking me to contribute to their project. There are so many people who want to collaborate with me, invite me to participate in their events, deliver talks or webinars. It’s life-changing in some form because interacting always helps you learn. I have learned from a lot of popular maintainers of different projects and contributors from various companies. It’s a dream for a lot of students in India to be a part of companies like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. But for me, the fact that I have had the privilege to have conversations with them and learn from them has been a journey in itself, an experience that I consider valuable. Maybe today, I don’t feel like becoming a part of these companies because I have learned how big you can become as an open-source contributor and how far you can go just by contributing to open source. That has changed a lot of things. Today, people from the West are wanting to hire contributors, and amazing companies out there want contributors as evangelists in India. There are so few contributors for Kubernetes itself, even though there are many Kubernetes developers out there. There aren’t many people who have worked on projects based on Red Hat OpenShift or AWS, and there’s so much that people can contribute to. That’s where the demand has also increased. It’s not just about the demand, but it also takes you places. I was fortunate enough to deliver a talk at conferences in Japan and Singapore. I was supposed to deliver one in the US, but unfortunately, I did not get a visa. I have been to many popular conferences, and I am going to attend KubeCon in Amsterdam. I think that’s also prevalent today, where students or anybody who wants to contribute and shift from just doing closed-source development to open-source development is being recognized and wanted. I feel very happy about it, to be honest.
How do I get started with contributing your way?
I would recommend joining communities that align with your interests. I see a lot of people who are interested in joining the DevOps or Kubernetes community, and for the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) community, joining the Slack workspace is the very first step. Once you join Slack, you can align yourself with the community and get started reading the available resources. There are plenty of resources that can help you get started, and if you need further assistance, being part of these communities can be beneficial. There are good channels where you can ask your questions and people who are stakeholders or workspace managers can guide you to the right resources or people to reach out to.
Next, I suggest selecting one project, or at most two, to focus on instead of contributing to multiple projects. This way, you can be a master of one trade instead of a jack of all trades. You can start with coding or non-coding contributions, and participate in mentorship programs like Google Summer of Code, Google Summer of Docs, or LFX Mentorship. These programs give you a direct opportunity to connect with maintainers and have hands-on experience with the project.
If you’re not interested in a specific project, you can still join the Slack communities and mention your interests. For example, if you’re good at coding with Python or Go, you can mention that in Slack and ask if there’s something you can contribute to the project. If there is, the community will be open to helping you out with resources.
Finally, it’s important to join the community meetings. Monthly contributor meetings are held on a regular cadence and provide a great opportunity to have one-on-one discussions with other contributors and maintainers. These meetings provide an ‘ask me anything’ environment where you can share your doubts, questions, and learn from others.
Recommend one unconventional contributor whom you admire and tell us more about them.
I feel that Kelsey is someone who has immensely helped the community. I’m not even sure if I am the right person to thank him enough, as there are so many people who have learned from him. There are people who have invested their time and effort in open source because they have seen him advocating for projects and technologies that are relevant to the ecosystem and deserve attention. I believe his work has helped contributors, users, and the overall ecosystem. That’s just a short shoutout I wanted to give to him. If there’s something that I can learn from him and bring in as a leader not just for a particular product, but for the cloud native open source ecosystem itself, I would be glad.
Prithvi, I appreciate you so much for taking the time to share your experience and viewpoint on open source contributions. I have learned lots of things from our conversation, and I hope that it will be helpful to our readers. Thank you so much!
I will leave you all with my favorite takeaway from this interview..
A contributor is only a contributor when they can bring in other contributors to contribute to the project.
- LitmustChaos | https://litmuschaos.io/
- Chaosnative | https://www.chaosnative.com/
- Chaos Carnival | https://chaoscarnival.io/
- Census Slack | https://docs.getcensus.com/destinations/slack
- Data on Kubernetes | https://dok.community/
- Kapitan | https://kapitan.dev/
- Pravega | https://cncf.pravega.io/
- Ministry of Testing | https://www.ministryoftesting.com/
- Google Developer Students Club | https://developers.google.com/community/gdsc
- DEV Community | https://dev.to/
- Kublr | https://kublr.com/
- Octant | https://octant.dev/
Prithvi has been leading the community efforts for LitmusChaos, the CNCF incubating project based on Cloud-Native Chaos Engineering, and has helped scale a community of 1500+ folks from scratch. He is a Technical Community Manager at Harness, the primary sponsor of the LitmusChaos project. He is currently a CNCF Ambassador and is one of the organizers for Kubernetes Community Days Bengaluru. He has worked on global events, conferences, and meetups such as Chaos Carnival, Kubernetes Community Days Bengaluru & Chennai, CNCF Kubernetes Chaos Engineering Meetups, and more to help grow various communities in the DevOps ecosystem. He can be reached out on LinkedIn, Twitter or via mail
This blog post is part of the March edition of UnconventionalContributors, our monthly interview series about different ways to contribute to opensource. If you like this article, check out the stories of our other contributors and stay tuned for our upcoming editions.
Have a story to share? We’d be delighted to get in touch and discuss sharing your story. We are also open to suggestions for new content that will foster the community’s growth.
We’ll see you all in the next one. Till then, Happy contributing!👋🏻