Follow Datanami:
June 9, 2023

Meet 2023 Datanami Person to Watch David Nalley

Two megatrends in big data today involve open source software and the cloud. One person at the intersection of these two trends is David Nalley, who’s the head of open source strategy and marketing at AWS and president of the Apache Software Foundation.

Nalley also happens to be one of our People to Watch for 2023. We recently caught up with him to chat about his work and trends in the cloud and the open source community. Here is our conversation.

Datanami: Community participation is critical to open source. How would you characterize the level of community patriation in open source software today?

David Nalley: Community control varies widely from project to project today. Some of that comes down to governance structure or even the relative level of velocity of a project. What’s telling to me today is that open source has become the de facto standard for building new software. When I look at the open source community’s impact on the overall ecosystem, this shift is the most impressive.

Datanami: You have roles at the Apache Software Foundation and at AWS. How do you balance those roles? Are they ever in conflict?

Nalley: I am very fortunate to get to work on open source at AWS, and also serve as the President of the ASF. The biggest constraint and point of conflict is time. In both roles, there are always so many opportunities to work and improve things; far more opportunities than I will ever have time for. To balance that, requires a lot of prioritization, figuring out what’s really important, and asking for help.

Datanami: Some companies and communities have been critical of AWS’s work in open source. What has been the biggest misconception about AWS’s open-source strategy?

Nalley: People don’t always realize that there isn’t a single strategy that encompasses all of AWS’s work in open source. One of the powerful things about AWS is that service teams have a lot of independence which helps them innovate quickly for customers. AWS engineers regularly contribute to thousands of open source communities, but the main thing they share is their focus on helping customers.

This leads engineers down a lot of interesting paths, whether it’s creating net-new projects like Bottlerocket and Firecracker or contributing to established communities like Containerd and Rust. For example at re:Invent 2022, we launched Trusted Language Extensions for PostgreSQL. This was one of the most exciting announcements of the week for me because it not only solved a significant security and compliance pain point for our customers but also for anyone who is using PostgreSQL at any kind of scale today.

Ultimately, everyone benefits far more from open source that they are able to give back. How we work with open source communities can vary widely by team, but as a whole, we recognize that open source is important to our success, we’re investing in it, and we will continue to do so in the future.

Datanami: How will AWS support open source software in 2023?

Nalley: Open Source is vital to AWS, our customers, and the world. Our support focuses on investments in healthy code and healthy communities that make open source projects sustainable over the long term.

We will continue to contribute to a large and ever-increasing number of projects that are strategic to our customers. Some of my personal favorites are our contributions to Jupyter, the Rust programming language, and Apache Airflow. We also recognize that many projects need infrastructure, and we provide cloud credits via the AWS Open Source Credits program to help cover the costs of performance testing, CI/CD, or storage. Finally, we recognize the importance of vendor-neutral open source foundations for the world’s most critical open source software, and we sponsor or are members of a number of Foundations. In addition, we’re working with organizations like OpenSSF to ensure that critical open source dependencies can get the resources that they need to remain vibrant and secure.

I’m incredibly excited for the open source contributions and innovations we will support in the year ahead and look forward to our continued collaboration with the projects and communities we are involved in.

Datanami: Outside of the professional sphere, what can you share about yourself that your colleagues might be surprised to learn – any unique hobbies or stories?

Nalley: I have a lot of hobbies and interests, but two of the most divergent are collecting fountain pens and exploring backroads and forest service roads on my motorcycle.

You can read the remainder of the interviews with the 2023 Datanami People to Watch at this link.