Aoife Moloney: From office coordinator to Fedora Product Owner cover image
Aoife Moloney: From office coordinator to Fedora Product Owner

DevConf.CZ Team • June 20, 2022 | Category: Interviews |

Aoife Moloney worked as an Office Coordinator at Red Hat, where she got to know open source and then ended up as a Product Owner in Fedora and CentOS Stream. Read about Aoife Moloney’s journey to open source.

About Aoife Moloney

Profile Picture Aoife Moloney is from Waterford in Ireland and works as a Product Owner in the Community Platform Engineering Team for Fedora and CentOS Stream. Having studied product management in the past, Aoife has always done most of her learning on the job.

In her free time, you can find her surrounded by ponies, because her son and family are heavily involved in showjumping. She has also won a national showjumping competition in Ireland. Her biggest inspiration is her grandmother, who was a firm believer in the importance of learning and putting your very best foot forward. She gets inspired by reading fantasy adventure books, and getting lost in the classic tale of undiscovered potential and rooting for the underdog, like the Wheel of Time series or the Culture Map. You can find her on Twitter @aoifemoloney4.

Watch the recording from Aoife's DevConf.CZ 2022 talk: Code, Whiteboard, Action!

Q: How did you start contributing to Fedora and CentOS Stream?

I became involved in both projects when I was lucky enough to be offered the job as a Feature Driver with the Community Platform Engineering team in Red Hat. I had previously been an Office Coordinator in the Red Hat Waterford office where I ended up learning a lot about open source through the people I met and worked with there. I also took a few part-time courses on project management. I felt that I had enough transferable skills, and I was able to relate my professional achievements to the skill set that the product owner role required, so I took the job!

And I have to say it was the best decision of my career as I was able to become a certified product owner and studied part-time to earn a diploma in both project management and training evaluation and delivery. Where I am now is built on learning on the job and through ‘osmosis’, meaning I surrounded myself with people who I could continuously learn from. My background is in customer service. I have worked in front-of-house roles for about 17 years now, and the time spent in my current role is included in that figure! The way I contribute to the projects that my team is involved in is by helping them coordinate work, and being someone the community can interact with and talk to about the work our team does.

Q: What makes Fedora and CentOS Stream stand out to you?

Both projects are amazing. CentOS Stream is still building its success story, but it is a wonderful distribution to use, and since it is the upstream of the next RHEL minor release, contributors can make a real impact on the development of RHEL. Fedora is a very well-established distribution, and as one of its users , I love how friendly and fun the community is.

In my role, I have the privilege of being involved in both communities, as the CPE team provides infrastructure and development for both projects. As the team product owner, I get to take part in making decisions about the work that our team undertakes for each. I oversee the coordination of work that is requested of our team that would be large enough to need multiple people over multiple weeks from launch to completion, and I love the dynamic, fast-paced nature of it. Our team could be running two, sometimes three projects that would each deliver a feature or an upgrade of a service for Fedora at the same time, while also developing and building CentOS Stream, and my role requires me to be both accountable for the work progressions and ensuring good communication throughout. Being the person who reviews and actions work requests so that the projects that need that work done can continue to thrive and succeed is the main way I contribute to open source projects.

Q: What is the hardest and the easiest part of being an open source project contributor?

I'm going to start with the hard part and then finish on the easy part, which is a rule I try to live by, too!

The hardest part for me is finding the courage to make a decision when it comes to actioning project work for my team, as I always want it to be the ‘right’ decision. Thankfully I have some highly knowledgeable people on my team with whom I discuss technical issues when I receive a new work request. But it still gives me an ‘eek’ moment when a work request is actioned, the team is working on it, and either the requirements change or some newer technology comes out that puts the work under question. In those moments, I tell myself that I made the best decision with the information that I had at the time, and what comes after can be dealt with when the time comes. I imagine one could sometimes feel the same about submitting a PR: You make a change to the code based on the information you have at the time, and while in the future it might turn out to be wrong or troublesome, it seemed the right thing to do at the time. Self-confidence can be a tough one to deal with in open source at times!

The easiest part, though, is the direct opposite of that. If you find yourself part of a community like the ones around Fedora and CentOS Stream, which have nothing but good intentions for both the project and the people involved, it is so easy to feel empowered to ask questions, discuss things related to the project, make a decision, or submit a PR. Finding the courage to get involved can be hard, but once you do, feeling like you have a place in that community and being empowered to contribute in whatever way you can, should, and does, become easy.

Q: What is the best way to reward open source contributions?

Recognition. We should always recognize people for the work they do, be it big or small. You never know what’s going on in their lives, so if they can still spare some time to contribute to an open source project, then they should be recognized and thanked by the community, be it in the form of a short email or a karma boost on IRC. The people who work hard to keep the lights on in both Fedora and CentOS Stream, those who help get new releases out the door, those who take the time to report bugs, and those who help fix them, are fully deserving of the praise and gratitude that they receive from their communities. Still, it is nice to be recognized publicly for the work you put in.

The Fedora release parties do a great job of connecting project contributors who worked on that release, and on the project, in general, and providing an opportunity to meet and thank one another for the work that they have done.

Q: How did the pandemic affect the project and your contribution?

The pandemic was an adjustment for me, for sure, because I really had to work on my work-life balance. It began when I was less than six months into my new role, where the majority of my new team worked remotely, whereas I was more office-based. I got to meet most of them for the first time at my first in 2019, and I was really looking forward to seeing them all again later that year at our face-to-face. When I had to switch to working from home, I felt a little silly rolling my eyes and commenting on how tough it was when they all have been working remotely for a long time, anyway.

However, looking back, it was not the work that was challenging, but my environment. I had no clear boundaries on my workday. The work followed me from the kitchen table to the sitting room, the bedroom, and the garden, and I missed the moment I should finish working. When I was working at the office, I grew so accustomed to finishing my work before I left for the day. So as I worked from home, I found myself gradually becoming tired, a little less enthusiastic about my day-to-day work, and starting to fall into bad habits.

I have always worked at my best when surrounded by friends, and while my team has been the most friendly group of people, at that time we were still forming connections with each other, and only meeting them ad hoc to discuss work stuff made getting to know my team really tricky. Because of this, I wanted to debunk the assumptions that ‘shop talk’ is the only acceptable kind of talk among coworkers, and that work had to be treated as a formal activity, so we injected some life back into our planning sessions by using movie posters as talking points, and having really fun, informal quarterly celebrations to reflect on the work that our team has accomplished. I think that this helped the team morale a lot, and it certainly helped mine. I had fun through my work, and that made me want to continue working hard so that I had something to look forward to at the next celebration call.

Looking back, the biggest positive impact of all of that for me was that I discovered a way to connect with people virtually and learned how to make work a meaningful and fun activity.

Q: How did impact your open source contribution?

As I mentioned earlier, I attended my first in January 2019 when I was still relatively new to my team, and I remember being overwhelmed at the calibre of talks that were on offer. I liken it to being a bit like a rabbit caught in the headlights, standing in the hallways, feeling overwhelmed from seeing and meeting people that I had only briefly interacted with or heard about online before.

At that moment, I set myself a goal of returning to a event one day as a speaker. And this year, I finally got to do it. As someone who was not too technical when I joined the Community Platform Engineering Team and attended a very developer-focused conference, to be able to speak at one, and share my ideas and stories with people who were interested in the topic and enjoyed what I had to say was a real moment for me. I think a lot of people suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’, and being able to say “I spoke at” gives me the reassurance that yeah, I am actually good enough.

My speaking experience was wonderful. The people who run the conference did such an amazing job of making sure that I had enough time to prepare, that I understood how to access the Hopin platform, and that I knew how to contact them if I ran into any issues either beforehand or on the day of my talk. I felt at ease when delivering my talk because I knew that there were people there to support me every step of the way.

Explore other articles like this: The many roads to open source interview series.