Friday, February 3, 2017

NumFOCUS past and future.

NumFOCUS just finished its 5th year of operations, and I've lately been reflective on the early days and some of the struggles we went through to get the organization started.  It once was just an idea in a few community-minded developer's heads and now exists as an important non-profit Foundation for Open Data Science, democratic and reproducible discovery, and a champion for technical progress through diversity.

When Peter Wang and I started Continuum in early 2012, I had already started the ball rolling to create NumFOCUS.  I knew that we needed to create a non-profit that would create leadership and be a focus of community activity outside of any one company.  I strongly believe that for open-source to thrive, full-time attention needs to be paid to it by many people.  This requires money.  With the tremendous interest in and explosion around the NumPy community, it was clear to me that this federation of loosely-coupled people needed some kind of organization that could be community-led and could be a rallying point for community activity and community-led financing.  The potential also exists for NumFOCUS to act as community-based accountability to encourage positively re-inforcing behavior in the open-source communities it intersects with.

In late 2011, I started a new mailing list and invited anyone interested in discussing the idea of an independent community-run organization to the list.  Over 100 people responded and so I knew there was interest.    We debated on that list what to call the new concept for several weeks and Anthony Scopatz's name "NumFOCUS" stuck as the best alternative over several other names.   As an acronym, NumFOCUS could mean Numerical Foundation for Open Code and Usable Science.   I created a new mailing list, and then set about creating the legal organization called NumFOCUS and filing necessary paperwork.

Fernando Perez
John Hunter
In December of 2011, I coordinated with Fernando Perez, Perry Greenfield, John Hunter, and Jarrod Millman who had all expressed some interest in the idea and we incorporated in Texas (using LegalZoom) and became the first board of NumFOCUS.  We had a very simple set of bylaws and purposes all centered around making Science more accessible.   We decided to meet every-other week.   We all knew we were creating something that would last a long time.

Perry Greenfield
Jarrod Millman

In early 2012, I wanted to ensure NumFOCUS success and knew that it needed a strong, full-time, Executive Director to make that happen.  The problem was NumFOCUS didn't have a lot of money. A few of the board members had made donations, but Continuum with its own limited means was funding the majority of the costs for getting NumFOCUS started.   With the legal organization started, I created bank-accounts and setup the ability for people to donate to NumFOCUS with help from Anthony Scoptatz who was the first treasurer of NumFOCUS.

Anthony Scopatz
I had met Leah Silen through other community interactions in Austin back in 2007.  I knew her to be a very capable and committed person and thought she might be available.  I asked her if she would come aboard and be employed by Continuum but work full-time for NumFOCUS and the new board. She accepted and the organization of NumFOCUS began to improve immediately.

With her help, we transitioned the organization from LegalZoom's beginnings to register directly with the secretary of state in Texas and started the application process to become a 501(c)3.   She also quickly became involved in organizing the PyData conferences which Continuum initially spear-headed along with Julie Steele and Edd Wilder-James (at the time from O'Reilly).   In 2012, we had our first successful PyData conference at the GooglePlex in Mountain View .  It was clear that PyData could be used as a mechanism to provide revenue for NumFOCUS (at least to support Leah and other administrative help).

Leah Silen

We began working under that model through 2013 and 2014 with Continuum initially spending a lot of human resources and money organizing and running PyData with any proceeds going directly to NumFOCUS.   There were no proceeds in those years except enough to help pay for Leah's salary.   The rest of Leah's salary and PyData expenses came from Continuum which itself was still a small startup.

During these years of PyData growth in communities around the world, James Powell, became a drumbeat of consistency and community engagement.  He has paid his own way to nearly every PyData event throughout the world.  He has acted as emcee, volunteer extraordinaire, and popular speaker with his clever implementations and explanations of the Python stack.

James Powell

Andy Terrel had been a friend of NumFOCUS and a member of the community and active with the board from its beginning.  In 2014, while working at Continuum, he took over my board seat.  In that capacity, he worked hard to gain financial independence for NumFOCUS.  He was instrumental in moving PyData fully to NumFOCUS management. I was comfortable stepping back from the board and stepping down in my involvement around organizing and backing PyData from a financial perspective because I trusted Andy's leadership and non-profit management instincts. He, James Powell, Leah, and all the other local PyData meetups and organizations world-wide have done an impressive thing in self-organizing and growing the community. We should all be grateful for their efforts.

Andy Terrel

I am very proud of the work I did to help start NumFOCUS and PyData. I hope to remember it as one of the most useful things I've done professionally. I am very grateful for all the others who also helped to create NumFOCUS as well as PyData. So many have worked hard to ensure it can be a worldwide and community-governed organization to support Open Data Science for a long time to come. I'm proud of the funding and people-time that Continuum provided to get NumFOCUS and PyData started as well as the on-going support of NumFOCUS that Continuum and other industry partners continue to provide.

Now, as an adviser to the organization, I get to hear from time to time how things are going. I'm very impressed at the progress being made by the dedication of the current leadership behind Andy Terrel as President and Leah Silen as Executive Director and the rest of the current board.

If you use or appreciate any of the tools in the Open Data Science that NumFOCUS sponsors, I encourage you to join and/or make a supporting donation here:  Help NumFOCUS continue its mission to support the tools and communities you rely on everyday.