Open source communities are different

Via Althouse, Farhad Manjoo argues in the NYT that Brendan Eich had to resign because:

Mozilla is not a normal company. It is an activist organization. Mozilla’s primary mission isn’t to make money but to spread open-source code across the globe in the eventual hope of promoting “the development of the Internet as a public resource.”

As such, Mozilla operates according to a different calculus from most of the rest of corporate America.

Like all software companies, Mozilla competes in two markets. First, obviously, it wants people to use its products instead of its rivals’ stuff. But its second market is arguably more challenging — the tight labor pool of engineers, designers, and other tech workers who make software.

When you consider the importance of that market, Mr. Eich’s position on gay marriage wasn’t some outré personal stance unrelated to his job; it was a potentially hazardous bit of negative branding in the labor pool, one that was making life difficult for current employees and plausibly reducing Mozilla’s draw to prospective workers.

A commenter or Manjoo’s piece adds:

I wonder why this man was given this position in the first place if his views are so counter cultural at Mozilla. Or, if the views were unknown, what does that say about management of the company?

A reply points out that Brendan Eich, as a cofounder of Mozilla, might be in a better position to be familiar with the culture of Mozilla than Eleanor from Augusta Maine. There’s a basic problem with this argument: it presumes that the labor pool is contains more talented people who object to Mr. Eich’s private political activity than talented people who now will avoid working for Mozilla due to concerns about working for a project where outside activities are a litmus test. The idea that programmers and engineers are homogeneously enlightened progressives is… let’s just say counterintuitive. Eich is himself the counterexample to political homogeneity of talent. He’s not a John Scully from Pepsi going to Apple. The man invented Javascript, which runs a large fraction of the current web.

In my view Manjoo and Mozilla’s management have it exactly backwards. Depending on a community makes it even more important to defend the right of people you disagree with on extracurricular matters to participate. Importantly to this question, as far as I can tell, there have been no reports that Eich’s political beliefs manifested as creating a hostile work environment beyond those who are sensitive to the existence of those beliefs per se. It’s not like I’m seeing reports that Eich did anything like the infamous Larry Summers talk about women in science (I find this story interesting in part because of parallel issues in academia and science).