Chef engineer leaves the company after receiving death threats from its open source community

Seth Vargo

A release engineer from Chef, the company providing commercial support for the open-source Chef configuration management tool, said in a blog post Wednesday that he is leaving the company after being harassed by members of the Chef community for his contributions to the open source project.

Seth Vargo (pictured above) wrote that because he has “received numerous abusive emails and two death threats” in addition to other offensive behavior regarding his open-source contributions to the Chef community that were outside of his official work for Chef, he will not only be leaving Chef but will be taking a sabbatical from software engineering.

From Vargo’s blog:

To that end, and for my own personal safety and well being, I will not be in attendance at the Chef Community Summit. Furthermore, I no longer plan to shoulder the burden of uncivil behavior alone. If you are interested in maintaining (or helping to maintain) any of my personal open source projects, please get in touch when I return from my sabbatical. To all of those who have been supportive and constructive of my software and tooling, I thank you.

Jay Wampold, Chef’s vice president of marketing, told Gigaom that it is “very upsetting and disturbing to hear this news.” Chef is investigating the issue and will take any corrective action necessary to address the matter should the situation warrant it, he said.

“That is a reflection of the world we live in,” said Wampold. “A couple of bad apples say things behind a keyboard and if it’s deemed a real serious issue, we are going to address it.”

According to Noah Kantrowitz, a former Chef colleague and a recent critic of how the company has been managing its open source community, Vargo’s work on the Chef-centric workflow management tool Berkshelf caused some commotion among certain Chef tool users who advocated using a different workflow method; these people supposedly felt that Berkshelf had somehow affected their daily work habits and routines and their frustrations drove them to react harshly. Vargo apparently “ended up at the center of this storm of disagreements.”

“There have been people who have gotten very far over the line and it has made me sad,” said Kantrowitz. “Hurling terrible epithets at people is unacceptable.”

While Kantrowitz has been vocal about Chef’s approach to open source, he said that the company has been taking the right steps in recent weeks in attempting to appease the community and all of its parties and create a “formal way to talk about how Chef is developed.”

The issue at hand can be attributed more to the darker side of the internet and how oftentimes the anonymous nature of the web can breed bad behaviors in people who forget that a human exists on the other side of a computer.

“It is a problem with a lot of communities and Chef is nothing special in this respect,” said Kantrowitz.

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