Niki Acosta of Cisco on how on the cloud computing platform is good for job security and her hopes for a “Jetsons” future.


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’d like to be featured, please email [email protected].

Niki Acosta is an OpenStack "evangelista" who came to Cisco by way of the Metacloud acquisition in late 2014. Her OpenStack journey began when she joined Rackspace in 2008, eventually becoming an OpenStack evangelist for the Rackspace Cloud, and later, the private cloud business. As a frequent speaker and blogger, Acosta has become a recognized name in the cloud industry both on cloud topics and as an outspoken advocate for women in tech.

What’s your role in the OpenStack community?

I’m an OpenStack evangelista at Cisco, which means organizationally, I sit somewhere between product/engineering teams, sales and marketing. Functionally, however, I spent a lot of time shaking hands, presenting, connecting dots and evangelizing for OpenStack (the project) and Cisco OpenStack Private Cloud, Metacloud’s OpenStack-based private cloud as a service offer. Along with my co-host, Jeff Dickey of Redapt, I host a weekly OpenStack-focused podcast where we interview OpenStack thought leaders, users and vendors. I also participate in the Women of OpenStack group that meets during each summit.

Why is it important for women to get involved with OpenStack?

Research shows that diverse teams are more innovative. Gender diversity, I believe, is crucial to the long-term success of any project. Women make up a majority of the online market, and a Nielsen study from 2013 predicts women will control two-thirds of consumer wealth in the next decade. So if you’re building a super-scale web platform or your revenue depends on a good online presence, you need to make sure it’s appealing to those buyers. And what better way to appeal to buyers than to have those buyers involved at every layer of that process?

OpenStack also presents a tremendous amount of opportunity in terms of career growth. The demand for OpenStack expertise is so high, that employers are willing to pay top dollar and do everything they can to retain top talent. If you’re a woman looking for financial security, tech— in general— is a good bet, and that applies to non-technical roles in marketing, HR, and finance, too. Personally, I love working with OpenStack because I fundamentally believe it’s the underpinning for some really cool stuff that’s going to change how we live, work and play.

The community is global, the code base and capabilities are moving incredibly fast, and the community really cares about women. The women in OpenStack really want to help other women. This is evident by things like the Women of OpenStack Open Mic Series, the Summit networking events, working groups, the outreach programs and things like the recent webcast on How to craft a successful OpenStack summit proposal. Lots of people talk about inclusion, but OpenStack isn’t just talking about it, we’re making it happen.

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

Tech is still a male-dominated field, and you’ll still be a minority. I participated in a Gender Diversity Panel at the last summit where women discussed specific examples of how they felt ostracized or victimized. There was an undertone of anger towards men, which made the men in the room uncomfortable. That was unfortunate, as the men in the room were there to understand the female perspective and find real solutions they could implement to make it easier for women to find and stay in tech roles. Some of them have daughters and they really want to make sure their daughters will have the same opportunities as men when they enter the workforce. Adopting the “men versus women” perspective is an obstacle for women, and it’s also an obstacle for men. “Us versus them” attitudes are rampant in tech communities, and the attitude is contagious. I’m not saying women are unjustified in feeling anger, but in order to get to a place of equality and inclusion, you have to be willing to take that anger and channel it into determination to find solutions. There are no winners in “us versus them.”

If you’re not a code contributor or engineer, there might also be times where you feel like you’re not as important. I’ve heard technical women in the community express their frustration when they’re mistaken for a marketer in a conference booth. If it weren’t for brilliant female marketers, I’m convinced OpenStack wouldn’t be where it is today. Sure, it’s frustrating when someone assumes you can’t answer their question before they’ve asked it, but I think in most cases, that assumption is based on unconscious bias, not ill intent.

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

The annual Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing sets the bar for attracting women to conferences. They have daycare services, and targeted events for subgroups, like women of color and women in leadership roles. As the mother of a now four year old, I love the idea of having daycare services at a conference. The conference floor fare consists of healthier options, and you can find women-sized t-shirts at every booth. I’m crossing my fingers some of our OpenStack sponsors will offer womens’ sized shirts in Vancouver! The Women of OpenStack do a great job with outreach programs, networking events and working groups, but it would be great for OpenStack–and other organizations and projects for that matter–to make conferences more attractive to women by asking what women want and need to attend and making it happen.

There are many efforts to get women involved in, what are some of your favorites and why?

I have to give “Lean In” some credit here. While I may not agree with everything Sheryl Sandberg wrote, I think we’ll all be able to look back one day and see her book as a turning point for issues regarding women in the workplace. It created a much larger dialogue and continues to drive change. I love that the book was solution-focused and had this sort of grassroots appeal. The book kind of said, “Hey, don’t wait for something to happen for you, put your fear aside go and make it happen!” I’m also a big fan of the Grace Hopper Celebration I mentioned earlier. It’s absolutely inspiring to see passionate women of all ages come together and have real and honest dialogue that’s backed by research and data.

What publications, blogs, mailing lists, do you read every day?

Aside from a host of OpenStack mailing lists, and some of the larger tech news sites, I get my daily dose of news from folks I follow on Twitter, which I filter through Tweetbot. I have columns right now for OpenStack, DevOps, containers, platform-as-a-service (PaaS), and some for home automation.

I’m following the home automation space closely because I find it absolutely fascinating. I used to watch “The Jetsons” and I grew up with “Back to the Future,” and to see this stuff really starting to happen seems so surreal.

Cover image of "Jetsons" book by James Vaughn // CC BY 2.0