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Published on 04/04/2024
Last updated on 06/18/2024

Unleashing open source innovation at Outshift with Severin Neumann



Severin Neumann

Job Title:

Open Source Architect


Fürth, Germany

Joined Outshift Team:


After Severin Neumann joined Cisco following their acquisition of AppDynamics in 2017, it would set him on a path to explore the open source landscape. 

Neumann is an Open Source Architect in the Open Source Program Office (OSPO). He and his team serve as the point of contact for all open source matters within the organization. They play a key role in fostering communities, providing guidance to teams, and pushing the discourse forward. 

Neumann is actively involved in the OpenTelemetry community. In 2022, he was invited to maintain one of their repositories. For Neumann, the ask was not just an offer, but a testament to the community's trust in him. Embracing this new opportunity, he took charge of the documentation, blog, and website alongside another maintainer. The role was no small task—it meant managing a vital resource that countless people depend on. The following year, he was elected to serve a two-year term on the OpenTelemetry Governance Committee.

Neumann’s work as a maintainer and committee appointment for the OpenTelemetry repository showcases his deep-rooted passion for open source.  His role transcends the conventional confines of a job; it truly is his passion. 

Diving deeper into Neumann’s story, we’ll uncover which aspects of his role he cherishes most and the key elements that drew him to join Outshift. 

Describe your role at Outshift.

As part of the Open Source Program Office, we provide guidance, best practices, and strategies to help teams navigate licenses, artifacts, and repositories. For example, teams come to us who want to use open source but are unsure about how to publish their packages on an open source repository like GitHub. We help with those kinds of things and also shine a light on other open source happenings within Cisco by connecting people and communities. 

What drew you to join the team?

The people. When I was in AppDynamics, it started to become obvious that open source was going to be important for us in the future. Around 2021, I started contributing to OpenTelemetry. By doing that, I got in touch with a few folks who were at Outshift, which at the time was called Emerging Technology and Incubation. 

At the time, I ran the OpenTelemetry community within Cisco with Shannon McFarland, Head of Developer Relations, and had some interactions with the OSPO. I said to myself, I’d love to work with those people. It sounds like something that fits me. I’m always drawn to people who I can learn from. I don’t want to be the smartest person in the virtual room. I have my expertise, but at the same time, I share my day with people where, with every conversation, I can learn something. That’s what made me want to apply to Outshift and I was very happy when everything went through. 

What’s your favorite part of working at Outshift?

Again, the people that you can work with. They are experts in whatever they do. This is something rare. I’m passionate about the things that I do, and I get to do them every day. My interests align with the things that add value here at Outshift and at Cisco. 

What aspects of your role do you find the most meaningful?

I had a moment where I helped a team with an open source project publish their code on an open-source platform. I thought, hey I can do this every day. I can do anything open source, every day. It’s something I highly enjoy about my current role. It’s part of the innovation story of Cisco, and I believe that open source is a key element to being innovative these days, in any space. 

How have you grown professionally since joining the Outshift team?

When I joined AppDynamics, it was already a big shift for me. I was going from being a software engineer to a pre-sales engineer. I did that for a couple of years, and then, at some point, you’re in your own routines. The OSPO really helped me get into the mindset of letting me do something new and ask a lot of questions. Over the last couple of years, I had spent way too much time giving answers all the time. I’m getting really good again at asking questions and finding answers. 

I’m also challenged to think about open source, not only from a technological perspective but also from community and legal perspectives. We need to have a lot of discussions about the impact all of this has, like what’s the legal impact of doing an open source project or not doing one? You wouldn’t normally think that much about it before.

Can you share one of the most significant moments in your career journey so far?

When I was at AppDynamics I worked as a sales engineer in pre-sales. It was my daily job to go to customers and give them a demo to show them AppDynamics. I was annoyed that those demos were really standardized. We always told the customer the same story. 

Over the Cisco holiday break shutdown, I sat down and figured there was a way to do this better. So, I created a tool that I made open source that helped us tailor demos. Instead of telling every customer, “Hey, imagine you have an e-commerce platform, and we can help you find issues in your platform,” you could customize it for the customer, For example, imagine you’re an event platform and want to sell tickets for a big concert coming up and your platform is crashing, we can help you to identify that. The tool spread like fire through AppDynamics. At one point, a pre-sales leader was on stage telling people to use this tool for every demo we were doing.

Over time, some people left AppDynamics and went to other teams in Cisco and outside of Cisco. Because I made it open source, they came back to me and said, we use your tool in our new teams; here’s some feedback for that. With that experience, you built something that can only get bigger by people being passionate about it and using it. It was a huge lesson. 

It’s really something I’m proud of and it’s part of my story here at Cisco. It was a huge lesson for me. It pushed me to realize how important open source is and how much it can help things grow.

What sparked your interest in emerging tech?

What excites me about open source and emerging technologies and how fast we’re moving here at Outshift is always needing to be on top of it. There’s something new every day and you’re not settling. 

We’re in uncharted territory. A lot of things we do here at the OSPO and Outshift, no one has done before. Maybe there are patterns we can get from previous things that have been done or where we can learn from different companies, but at the end of the day, you have to find your own way and that’s very exciting. 

What excites you about the future of tech?

I like being in the center of it and tinkering around with tech. It is completely outside of our imagination of the technology we will have in 10 years. 

I started to write code 20 years ago when laptops were the most mobile things we had. Then we had mobile phones and nobody could imagine anything more. Now we’re experiencing the same thing with AI. Everybody’s making predictions, and probably some of them will be right, and some of them will be wrong, but how much of it will be interwoven into our lives, like smartphones? That’s something we can’t really grasp.

We can make some predictions, but how will we feel? And how will make our lives different? And what impact will it have on the different parts of our lives, like education or how we drive our cars?

In the end, we will see a lot of change we can’t really anticipate. On the one hand, it’s scary, but on the other hand, it’s hopefully exciting.

If you hadn’t embarked on a career in tech, what industry could you see yourself working in today?

When I decided on what studies I wanted to go for, I was thinking about doing psychology. 

This Q+A is part of an ongoing series called, Team Member Spotlight, which highlights individuals at Outshift. Search for open positions and join visionaries like Severin Neumann who predict and plan for the challenges of the future. 

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