“Systems that optimize for diversity are stronger, faster, smarter, and infinitely more adaptable,” says Gretchen Curtis of Piston.


This post is part of the Women of OpenStack Open Mic Series to spotlight women in various roles within our community, who have helped make OpenStack successful. With each post, we will learn more about each woman’s involvement in the community and how they see the future of OpenStack taking shape. If you’re interested in being featured, please email [email protected].

Our first featured community member is Gretchen Curtis. Curtis has been working with tech companies and start-ups in Silicon Valley and San Francisco for 15 years. Currently co-founder and chief marketing officer of Piston Cloud, Curtis also promotes Marketers Against Waste, runs, recycles, obsesses over tiny homes, drinks a lot of coffee, and dabbles in several creative pursuits. Tweet her at @gretcurtis.

What’s your role in the OpenStack community?

I am co-founder and CMO of Piston, an OpenStack foundation gold member. We make software that orchestrates the bare metal underneath OpenStack, making OpenStack deployment, management and scale-out extremely fast and easy. Before we started Piston, I was part of the team that built NASA Nebula, the infrastructure project that was the precursor to OpenStack. When NASA partnered with Rackspace, I had the great fortune of meeting Lauren Sell, who now leads marketing for the OpenStack Foundation. Lauren and I co-wrote the press release that launched the OpenStack project in 2010, and I have been helping to tell the OpenStack story since those very beginnings. Today I continue to help promote the OpenStack project, and advocate on behalf of Piston’s customers building OpenStack private clouds.

Why do you think it’s important for women to get involved with OpenStack?

Women make up half of the population on earth, but are somewhat missing from the upper ranks of our businesses and technology communities. This is a disadvantage for our entire industry. I think it’s important for women to get involved in OpenStack (or any other project for that matter) because organizations and systems that optimize for diversity perform better. They are stronger, faster, smarter, and infinitely more adaptable. Companies with diverse boards consistently report higher earnings. Organizations that design for different perspectives and world-views have a better chance at surviving and adapting over time. We all want OpenStack to survive and thrive, so it’s important that women participate and have a voice in its future.

What obstacles do you think women face when getting involved in the OpenStack community?

Enterprise technology is historically a male-dominated industry. While discrimination is not always overt and direct, it does sometimes happen in discreet ways, which can be frustrating and demoralizing. I think that being a minority of any kind in a large group can be uncomfortable and stigmatizing. One thing I appreciate about the OpenStack community is that the foundation makes a concerted effort to include everyone – not just women, but all people. It first takes empathy, but then deliberate action from leadership at the very top of an organization to say “we believe in inclusion. Hostility and discrimination of any kind – whether on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, age, marital status, sexual orientation, physical ability, military status, familial status, or political affiliation – will not be tolerated.” OpenStack does that, and it’s inspiring. It makes the community more welcoming and encourages more people to get involved.

What do you think can help get women more involved with OpenStack?

This is a tough question. To solve the problem of women becoming more involved with OpenStack, you have to solve the women in tech problem, and even further back to the subtle ways in which we treat girls vs. boys differently, and society’s core beliefs about female-ness and male-ness. That’s probably a lot for the OpenStack community to solve, and certainly too much for this interview 🙂 However, I think that OpenStack’s stated policy of inclusion, the continued existence of the ‘Women of OpenStack’ group, and creating more opportunities for women to connect with other women in the community will help. Having a support network makes the occasional frustrations of being “a woman in tech” easier to weather.

What do you want to see out of the Women of OpenStack group in the near and distant future?

I like meeting and connecting with the other women in the community. I think that should continue and we should all make more of an effort to build bridges. For the women participating on the technical side, a mentorship program would encourage junior developers to get involved and stay engaged. There seem to be many women in the community, but not as many technical contributors. It would be awesome to see more women participating in all aspects of the project.

What do you think is the single most important factor for the success of OpenStack users in 2015?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help or reach out with your questions. The community is vast and varied. If you have a question, I guarantee that the answer is out there somewhere.

What is the best piece of advice you have received from a parent, teacher, colleague, or mentor?

Focus, and above all – use your time wisely; it’s the only thing you can’t get more of.