Presented by

  • Stuart Geiger

    Stuart Geiger

    Stuart Geiger is an Assistant Professor at the University of California, San Diego, in the Department of Communication and the Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute. Geiger is a disciplinary nomad: an interpretive social scientist by training, with a background in the humanities, and just enough expertise in computer science and data science to make trouble. Their work is grounded in the idea that science and technology are inherently social activities that are shaped by people and institutions. Geiger uses qualitative, quantitative, and computational methods to study the development of science and technology. They particularly study decentralized and/or volunteer-based projects, such as free and open source software, peer production platforms like Wikipedia, user-generated / social media platforms, and scientific research. Their past research has examined topics including: community sustainability; newcomer retention and newcomer-veteran interactions; governance and leadership; quality control and content moderation; the roles of support staff; invisible work, 'glue' work, and other work seen as 'non-technical'; motivation and burnout; bias and discrimination; and diversity and inclusion.


Free and open-source software has become critical infrastructure for many sectors, including academic research, industry, governments, non-profits, activism, and more. In this talk, I share findings and insights from our research team’s mixed-method research into the social and technical maintenance of free and open-source software. This is based on interviews with maintainers and stakeholders across a wide variety of FOSS projects, as well as quantitative analyses of code repositories. In particular, I discuss the often-invisible and non-technical work that maintainers do to support their projects as they grow and scale. The work of maintaining these projects is no small feat, particularly given the many different kinds of work expected of maintainers. This is especially the case for projects that achieve “catastrophic success” in being relied upon by more and more users and institutions. Maintainers must maintain not only code, but a community around that code. These communities are constantly changing, and maintainers can find themselves needing to mediate competing visions of how the project ought to operate and where it may go in the future. I particularly focus on the invisible work of scaling projects and managing projects as they grow – not just in terms of their own size, but also in terms of their integration within complex and ever-changing networks of other FOSS projects and ecosystems, corporate and academic user-institutions, foundations and funders, and other stakeholders. This work is often quite different to the more-visible software engineering work that maintainers do early in their projects. There is often little training or resources for community-based work, which is often not tracked or made visible in the way software engineering work is. I discuss how this invisible work can impact maintainers' mental health, with many cases of burnout arising from maintainers finding themselves overwhelmed with their expanded roles. Invisible work also intersects with other relevant issues to the sustainability of FOSS projects, including funding models, corporate relations, project governance, and diversity & inclusion. I conclude with recommendations for FOSS maintainers, contributors, funders, end-users, institutional users, and other stakeholders in the broad ecosystems supported by FOSS.