When thinking about success, focus on the relationships you are able to form.
Celebrating the unsung heroes of open source, Fastly is shaping a future where technology meets kindness, collaboration, and a better internet for all. In this episode, we interview Hannah Aubry who shares how they are doing these things by undergoing significant innovation and a rebrand to become Fast Forward. She sheds light on the incredible contributions of the most skilled individuals behind open-source technology and how organizations like theirs are stepping up to empower them. Hannah also covers how Fastly is championing change in this particular space while celebrating the most talented builders of the digital world.
With us is Hannah Aubry who works for Fastly. They aren't a commercial open source business, but they are a damn interesting one. Hannah, welcome.
Thank you so much. I am so glad to be here.
Before we get into it, do you want to give us an overview of yourself, your background, and what your role is at Fastly?
I have an interesting career path in technology. It starts back in my childhood, but I won't tell you too much about that. I remember very clearly getting my first laptop and starting to cruise or surf the internet and explore the technology space. I went to Apache.org and learned all about open source through there.
I discovered this space where people were coming together to create something or build something in the community without any financial gain necessarily and without anything besides a passion to build and create something that could fix some problem or create some solution. I ended up trying to get Linux installed on my Dell Inspiron and failed. I was non-technical and couldn't figure it out. What I walked away from that experience with was, “This isn't for me. For whatever reason, I couldn't figure this out.” Maybe I was too young and didn't know enough yet, but it wasn't for me. That's why, for many years, I had an IMDb page and not a GitHub page, but I never lost this passion.
I've been an actor. I worked in communications for a while, but always in the back of my head was watching this space with such interest and looking for a way that I could give back to it. After spending some time in communications, I started to work at DataStax on the developer relations team. DataStax is the Creator of DataStax Enterprise and also a major contributor to Apache Cassandra. I ended up finding myself back in the open source space.
After a few years, this role in developer communications opened up at Fastly. As part of this role, I was able to work on the open source and nonprofit program at the time. The first thing I got to work on at Fastly was announcing our recommitment to this program during the pandemic to the tune of $50 million. It was hugely rewarding to come back to this space and feel like I got to be a contributor to this space in such a huge way. For the next couple of years, we worked on that quietly in the background. That's been what Fastly has been doing since the start of the program, doing this quietly in the background and helping projects and nonprofits continue to exist.
When we relaunched the program as Fast Forward at the end of 2022, a lot of people, project maintainers, came out on Twitter to support this next evolution. For example, the Founder of npm, Isaac Schlueter, posted, “Without Fastly’s support, at the end of 2013, npm wouldn't exist.” It's not still running on Fastly, but that breathing room to be able to figure things out and how he was going to move forward kept the project alive. That's the thing I get to hear every day in my work. The support with this infrastructure that we're able to provide to projects enables them to continue to exist.
This rebrand is Fast Forward, or this refresh, I should say, included reworking this program in a few different ways. We wanted to tie it to our vision for the internet and for supporting open source. We rebranded as Fast Forward because that's what Fastly does. We press fast forward on people's digital properties, their apps, and their downloads, for example. We make them more secure. We save people a lot of money so they can focus on building more new offerings for the community, focus on adding and responding to PRs, fixing bugs, etc. We make it so they don't have to worry about staying up and staying online.
My role, in particular, is to help turn project maintainers’ best worst days into their best, best days. What I mean by that is a lot of time, when people come to Fastly, they've had this incredible skyrocket in interest in their project. Maybe they've gone viral or something has happened that everyone is coming to try and download or use their project. That's stressful. It's hard. You've created this thing and put it out in the world. You want people to be able to get it and people to be able to download and use it, but because of that high amount of demand in a single moment, they can't. We get to come in, help them move their services over to Fastly, and make sure they get to stay up.
I work directly with project maintainers to deploy Fastly in front of their services. I get to tell their stories. I get to write blogs and go and speak to others about what they're doing, how they're giving back to open source, and how they're contributing to the space. Also, I get to connect with people and help them help each other. For example, we work with the Python Package Index and RubyGems. We are a connector between those people to help them share resources, knowledge, etc.
That’s super interesting. In terms of Fastly itself for those people who maybe don't know what the company does or the majority or some of the people reading know it is a content delivery network, it's more than that, right? It's quite a bit more than that.
Yeah. Our heritage is a content delivery network. The CDN is built on open source varnish, VCL. We offer a high level of configurability and customizability over some other CDNs in this space. Since then, we've also added further products to our line. For example, a few years back, we acquired Signal Sciences and have incorporated their technology into our next-gen web application firewall. In addition, a few years back, we announced the general availability of Compute@Edge, which is our server-less compute environment. I'm super excited about that product in particular because it's built on WebAssembly.
What's so cool about that is we're really a founding member of the Bytecode Alliance, which is the organization that's building WebAssembly. Luke Wagner, the Inventor of WebAssembly, works at Fastly. That's a way in which we are contributing to what I see as the future of the Internet's core functioning. It's a fundamentally more secure and fundamentally faster and lighter technology for not only running websites but also, on the server side, co-locating applications, etc. That’s what’s so exciting to me about that. It's another way in which Fastly is pushing the fundamental functioning of the internet forward.
Fast Forward is contributing to the future of the internet's core functioning. They help make it fundamentally more secure and lighter technology for running websites and co-locating applications.
It’s probably fair or accurate to say that there is a lot of open source software that Fastly is built on top of. In terms of giving back to the community both in terms of time and money, how does the company come around formulating a strategy to do that?
What we think about when we're talking about how we can give back is what's our highest level of contribution. To us, it's not only these free services that we hear all the time that enable open source projects and the nonprofits to support them to function to exist. It's our time and it's our care. Many times, when I'm working with project maintainers, I hear that even more so than being there to help get them onto our services, it's also the fact that we're paying attention, that we care, that we approach with kindness, and that we're not tossing credits over the fence. We're helping people implement our services. We don't want to be a sponsor of the community. We want to be part of the community. We also want to support people who are there who are already building the space.
When we think about our strategy for supporting open source projects and nonprofits, we're not looking to go in and force anything or necessarily set a direction for the space. We want to go in and respond to the community and how it's building. An example of that is the fediverse. We've been doing a lot of work to support various projects in the fediverse. Shortly after everything happened with the social platform formerly known as Twitter, we reached out to Eugen Rochko who is the CEO and Lead Maintainer of Mastodon.
At that time, they were experiencing a huge surge in traffic and also had become a target for DoS and DDoS attacks. We saw this opportunity to support someone who was doing so much to push a piece of the internet, the web, forward that we believed in so much. We are strong believers in decentralization, personal privacy, and data privacy. We are strong believers in supporting people who are already there, who are already building the space, and who have been doing the hard work for years. That was a really great opportunity for us to give back in a way that has been profound for Mastodon in particular. Not only are we serving their flagship instances, but we've also been able to work with them to put out content to help other instances protect themselves and manage this huge influx of traffic.
You mentioned a sum of $50 million. Where did that number come from? What are you going to do with that money? How do you define the success criteria for a program like that?
At the start of the pandemic, when we were looking at how much we wanted to commit to this program, we looked at how much we were already donating to open source projects and doubled it. We were like, “Let's keep doing this at the same rate and try and go out and find,” in particular, at that time, “The open source projects and nonprofits that are doing work around vaccine distribution, for example, or around connecting people with immunodeficiencies to resources to go shopping for them.” We were like, “How can we have an impact on those people who are seeing this immense crisis occur and get them the support they need to go and do that work?”
In terms of success criteria, there were a few things when we set out to refresh the program that we wanted to see and would use as success criteria for it. One was when we saw this mission that we set for it about building a better internet and helping the builders build a better internet. We wanted to see people picking up and carrying that message as their own, this rallying cry being adopted. That's something we expected to see over the course of months, maybe a year. It's something we've already seen, in particular, in the fediverse.
When thinking about success, focus on the relationships you are able to form.
This support we're giving to Mastodon has become a bit viral in a sense because so often, I'm seeing even my own handle getting tagged in but the Fastly devs’ handle as well getting tagged in. They are saying, “If you need support or you need to scale your instance, reach out to Fastly. Reach out to Haubles@Fosstodon.org. She can help. She can get you the services you need to grow and scale. You don't have to worry about your infrastructure. You can worry about the people side of it of managing an instance.” It's been exciting to see that this program is already having the exact impact we wanted it to on the community.
In terms of communicating these sorts of offerings, how did you guys go about doing that? How did you get people aware of these sorts of offers?
It’s really about going to where people are. I have Zula, Mattermost, and Discord open every single day to monitor communities like GitHub, places where people open source maintainers and contributors are already gathering. The vision of this program is that we want to be where the community is already building. We want to be able to jump in and help people where they are when they need help. We are on Mastodon. We're on Bluesky. We're everywhere where people are gathering to build.
In terms of other organizations that you are working alongside, are there other folks that you guys partner with?
Yeah. That is an area where we want to grow a lot more. Through Glitch, we have a strong connection with DigitalOcean. My vision for the program is that perhaps, one day, we can build an ecosystem of free services where for certain open source projects, we could host their entire infrastructure. We work directly with all of our partner organizations as well.
A project I'm excited about is working with the Scratch Foundation to look at their entire set of infrastructure and see how we can make it more efficient. We are looking to see how we can possibly move entire portions of it over to Compute@Edge as a means to provide more services to help them grow and sustain what they do for children in the world but also demonstrate this cutting-edge new technology that is only going to be adopted more on the web. Web is simply Wasm. In addition to the technical side of moving their infrastructure over, we're also looking at how we can partner with these organizations, particularly educationally-minded ones, to create coursework and learning experiences. We're educating tomorrow's builders on cutting-edge new technologies.
You've mentioned Glitch a few times. Can you talk a little bit about what that platform is and how you guys make use of it?
Glitch is the friendly place where everyone builds the web. It is an online code editor, but it is also a community of really passionate developers who are creating incredible, unique, artistic, and useful applications and websites. One of my favorite things I found on Glitch is a weird old book finder. It is where you stumble upon weird, old books. It was also a platform on which a bunch of Wordle clones were created as Wordle was coming out.
It's a wonderful technology that makes coding more accessible for everyone. It's used widely in classrooms to teach young people how to code. It's used by DevRel teams to create lightweight, embeddable use case applications, demonstrations, demos, etc. For Fastly, our work is Compute@Edge as a publishing target for Glitch projects. It’s a way to demonstrate Compute@Edge as power and speed. It's also an incredibly passionate developer community we see a lot of overlap between our Fast Forward program members and the Glitch community as well.
It’s interesting. I've played around with Glitch a little bit. For those of you who don't know yet, Glitch.com is a computer Sandbox where you can hack around with ideas and see what happens. You mentioned there's a fairly big community behind it as well, right?
Yeah. Their community is inspiring. There are so many passionate people who are interested. It’s the same way as the broader open source community. They are people who are interested in building, experimenting, exploring technology, and learning how to code. There's so much overlap in that passion and direction to me. I've had such a joy getting to play with it.
I'm certainly not the most expert coder. I work with a lot of expert programmers. I'm not one of them, but it's been such a joy to me. There's so much surprise and delight. Whenever I need help, I go to the Glitch Community Forum. People are so friendly, kind, and helpful. They are ready to jump in and educate each other. That's exactly what we want to build with Fast Forward. It’s that kind, helpful community of people trying to build the web or build the internet.
I'm assuming that a large chunk of that support that you're providing is CDN bandwidth and things like that. If you're involved in a project like npm or the Python Package Index, that's a fairly obvious use case. Am I right in saying that there are probably things that Fastly is offering that you might not necessarily be completely obvious for someone like myself?
The main use case for our services through Fast Forward is downloads. I've been thinking about open source downloads for a while and the evolution of that. In a sense, an infrastructure network of mirrors is a CDN. It's a self-built CDN. It's a wonderful thing to see this evolution where we are able to obfuscate all of that work for open source maintainers and say, “Don't worry about it. You don't have to manage your own network of mirrors anymore. We'll do that for you.”
An infrastructure network of mirrors is basically a self-built CDN. It is a wonderful thing to see this evolution where everyone can just obfuscate all of that work for open source maintainers.
A new and increasing use case for our services is security. We've been offering DDoS protection to Mastodon in several instances. It is a very scary and frightening thing to have happen, particularly on a social network to have to be playing Whac-A-Mole with IP addresses in such a stressful moment. At the same time, particularly on a social network, you have all of these users who don't know what's going on and are probably inundating you with messages maybe on some other platform to try and figure out, “Why can't I message my friends?” That’s a powerful way we're able to give back to the community as well.
The number one way we're giving back our support to the open source community is the care, the kindness, and being there when they need it. One maintainer I was speaking to called themselves the plumber of the internet. They are making sure the pipes work and people are able to download the project. That can be a lonely, unglamorous thing. One of the main ways we are able to give back is to say, “We're here for you. We see you. We see this hard and sometimes thankless work you do. We are here to support you, and we're here to celebrate you and elevate you.”
In terms of how projects and maintainers can get involved in these programs, what are the different avenues available there?
Open source projects and maintainers can apply to Fast Forward at Fastly.com/Forward. They can also reach out on our developer forum to perhaps get involved with some of our member organizations. The URL for that is Community.Fastly.com. They can help in giving these folks attention and in celebrating them. I was reading a book called Working in Public by Nadia Eghbal. It looks at the culture of work and the culture of collaboration that has grown around the open source community. Something that was stressed so much was the toil that exists in being a maintainer, dealing with issues, responding to PRs, vetting PRS and contributions, etc.
Maybe the number one way that folks can give back or be a part of Fast Forward is to exhibit the values that Fast Forward believes in. That is collaboration, community inclusiveness, and kindness in celebrating the weird, fun, and kind internet and supporting each other to do this hard but really important work.
In terms of physically getting together, are there any opportunities for the people in the program to do that?
Absolutely. We have our customer conference coming up on September 29th, 2023 in New York. We'd love to see everyone there. We'll have some of our Fast Forward program members there. We're interested in getting some more events on the calendar. Something Fast Forward is going to be doing more of is going to our program members’ events as well. We'll be at Rust Global in WasmCon coming up on September 6th and 7th, 2023. We'll also be at KubeCon from November 6th through 9th, 2023.
That's in Chicago, right?
Yes, which is where I live.
It’s an easy journey. Are there any others this 2023?
That will be it for 2023, but we'll be looking to do more in 2024.
What's next for the program, do you think?
We've been looking at how we can better support our employees in contributing to open source as well. We have been working on our contribution guidelines to make it easier for Fastlyians to contribute. We've also been looking at some of the other ways we can support them and build internal community as well. That’s elevation, support, and celebration.
I'm really excited. I hope I'm not speaking out of turn talking about this. It's a little sneak peek of some work we've been doing. This was announced not long ago. We have partnered with Mozilla to help them implement Oblivious HTTP for Firefox, which is the open standard protocol for a private relay. It is a privacy-respecting relay protocol to prevent any browser or third-party company from knowing who you are or what you're doing on the internet.
I'm excited about that. I hope that our work with Mozilla to implement this for Firefox will encourage others in the industry to adopt this privacy-respecting protocol as well. That's a big thing for Fast Forward as well. It’s not only to provide free services but to help demonstrate what we believe is the best way to build the internet. Part of that is respecting users and their privacy.
That's fascinating. Thank you so much for your time. It's great to know how progressive and generous Fastly is with that community. Thank you for sharing that.
Thank you so much for having me.
I'm an open source community advocate who believes in building safe systems and spaces that spark collaboration and kindness. I lead Fast Forward, Fastly's $50 million commitment to support the open internet through open source projects and nonprofits like the Scratch Foundation, Kubernetes, and the Rust Foundation (you should apply!). I also serve as a core organizer for the CHIditarod, a nonprofit organization fighting food scarcity in Chicago. If I were a bird, I'd be a roseate spoonbill — I might already be one.