Rust Foundation interview: ‘We need more maintainers. We need more contributors’ 

Rust Foundation interview: ‘We need more maintainers. We need more contributors’ 

The Rust ecosystem needs more maintainers and contributors, according to Rust Foundation Executive Director and CEO Dr Rebecca Rumbul.

Dr Rebecca Rumbul, Executive Director and CEO of the Rust Foundation, at the State of Open Con in London

We spoke to Rumbul at the State of Open Con under way in London this week. “We need more maintainers. We need more contributors. In Rust we have some amazing people that do heroic amounts of work on all the teams. We can’t expect them to do it forever. We can’t expect them to do it to the point where they’re burning out or making themselves ill,” she told us.

“The other thing we need is people with a more diverse set of skills. Open source tends not to attract the people that are really good at organizing stuff, or doing project management, but these are skill that are needed,” she added.

What steps is the Foundation taking to address this shortage? “Not a lot, unfortunately. We try to do as much advocacy as possible. Some of our fellowships are earmarked for people who are curious about becoming a maintainer, to mentor them into that pipeline. This year, for the first time, we’ve joined Google Summer of Code to try and attract people. We’d love to do more work with colleges, universities and training bodies,” she said, “and encourage those courses to have an aspect of, this is how you become part of the project. That would be useful.”

One of the issues is that mentoring new people increases the immediate burden on the existing team, she said, and she would like organizations which have people working on the compiler team or language team to have training newcomers as part of their roles, “paying it forward to get people in.”

Another issue is that Rust is not well established in academia. “I’ve heard a lot of people saying, I was allowed to do my project in Rust but we didn’t actually have any classes in Rust,” Rumbul told us.

Perhaps it does not help that the Rust team has had more than its share of issues such as governance problems in May last year and in November 2021 when the entire moderation team resigned.

“I don’t think many of the issues in our community is ever because people are acting in bad faith,” Rumbul said. “There sometimes communication breakdowns. There’s a terrifyingly small number of people that are involved and people burnout or don’t have time to do things or they write things in haste. They get misinterpreted … I think these are the similar kinds of niggles that happen in every open source project sometimes.”

Another issue was when the Foundation itself provoked community concern with a draft trademark policy. “As a Foundation, it was a very steep learning curve for us,” said Rumbul. “We realised we had done things a bit backwards. We hadn’t consulted publicly as widely as we should have before we came up with a draft. It was a good learning experience and one we won’t be repeating.”

There is still discussion regarding the trademark policy but Rumbul is “confident that next time around it won’t be quite as bad.”

Moving on to more positive news, Google is investing in work on C++ interoperability. Google joined the Rust Foundation in 2021 and Lars Bergstrom, Director of Android Platform Tools and Libraries, is also chair of the Foundation’s board. Yesterday Bergstrom posted about a new grant of $1 million to improve Rust interoperability with C++ code, to include “ABI changes, tooling and build system support, wrapper libraries, or other areas identified.”

The deal in essence is that the Foundation will set up and fund the team, but exactly what it will do is not yet determined. “First priority is to hire someone to lead this,” Rumbul told us. “That person will be in charge of starting to have conversations with stakeholders figuring out where they’d like to start, there’s probably going to be either contracting out specific pieces of work or potentially hiring in another dev or two.” She is careful to avoid being too specific. “We don’t know where those conversations are going to go yet, so we will hire the team for the role as the role emerges.”

“C++ is not going anywhere,” Rumbul told us. “No one is going to rewrite entire codebases in Rust. So we need to work with organizations to find good Rust solutions to do things with with their C++ code.”

The work will not be Google-specific. Microsoft, for example, who donated $1 million to the Foundation this year that “didn’t have any strings attached,” is, according to Rumbul, “very excited about this particular initiative.”