Erlend Sogge Heggen
Location: Oslo, Norway
Name pronunciation: Erlend can be pronounced the same way you’d pronounce “Alan” or “Allen”, but earl-end is also fine!
Work Brief: I've been working in open source, games and web tech for the past 15 years.
- 7 years leading the jMonkeyEngine. We made a fully functional game engine together, which has been used professionally and is still actively maintained today.
- 4 years at Discourse, first as a Community Advocate and eventually VP of Community. We put the final nail in the coffin of closed-source, proprietary forum software.
- 3 years and still actively involved with the Amethyst organisation, the Rust GameDev Working Group and the Rust gamedev ecosystem at large.
Personal Brief: I practice openness to the greatest extent possible, in my professional as well as my personal life. I'm actively trying to decsribe what that looks like in the open source book called Open Source for Everyone. Most of my influences are listed in the Openness Curriculum. I also made a podcast called Value in Open, but it is on hold until I can make time for it again.
In the early 2000s I got my start in the online tech world through the modding community of Warcraft 3 (not to be confused with World of Warcraft which I never got into because I knew it would consume me).
Doing design work, QA and community management I helped a gifted programmer develop a RPG mod called Isles at War. We had so much fun working together that we ended up attempting-and-failing to make a series of stand-alone games, eventually leading us to work on general game tech instead of the games themselves.
That tech was jMonkeyEngine, a game engine in Java that is still going pretty strong today! Most of what I know about open source I learned from 7 years of working on that project. jME competed for my attention throughout several big milestones in my life:
6 months in Chile as an exchange student.
4 months in Ghana as a volunteer worker.
1-2 years of studying psychology and later Norse mythology at the University of Oslo.
2 years of studying Game Design at the Vancouver Film School in Canada.
6 months living in Vancouver, barely getting by as a WordPress contractor.
1 year working my first job at WeWantToKnow / DragonBox
Working on the DragonBox game was a lot of fun. Aside from daily support & website management, I also got to run a nationwide game contest in Norway with 36’000 participants. But the most fun and enriching experience I had with this company was the weeks spent going around to schools to play-test our games. Arriving with a dozen tablets, we’d just let the kids (ages 6-10) play while we hovered over them with our notebooks. I had a whole new appreciation for the classic book Don’t Make Me Think after that.
After a year of this, one of my best friends called me up one day and asked me if I wanted to spend 3 months with her in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. DragonBox was in a bit of a lull at the time with little product or community work to do, so I decided to not renew my contract and headed off to the next adventure.
Rashidieh Camp is a tiny city of 30’000 people living in brick & cement households. It is closing in on being a century old, having been established in 1936 (the Palestinians arrived later, in 1963). As such it is a strange place where time has stood still for generations. One of the best ways for the camp’s (especially younger) inhabitants to get out is by means of the internet, which lets them connect with people and opportunities. The internet was an important grounding force for me as well during my stay there. The web was a reliable reminder of forward movement in a place that was literally forbidden by law to develop itself.
🕊My experience in places like Rashidieh has deeply affected my ethics and worldview. What separates me from the people living under radically more difficult conditions is pure luck. I’m drawn to innovations like open source and remote working because the barrier to entry is relatively low. Given an education, a computer and an internet connection, there’s a way up and out. It is one of my lifelong agendas to be part of companies that provide opportunity to those who have none.
By the time I returned to Norway I had already been getting quite actively involved in the Discourse community. We were using the Discourse forum platform for jMonkeyEngine, and I soon found myself spending more time on Discourse than jME. Eventually I was contributing on such a regular basis that it just made sense to have me join the company as their first Community Advocate. This was a monumental moment for me as I had never before been paid to do this open source thing that had occupied so much of my time and brain cycles on a purely volunteer basis. I quickly learned the crucial difference between an open source project and an open source company and how they’re not mutually exclusive, but rather highly complementary. Some of my favorite projects at Discourse include the Encouragement Fund and our Free Hosting program, as well as a whole bunch of open product development.
Towards the end of my tenure at Discourse I was running a team of 10 community advocates split between me and my counterpart in New Zealand. I was deeply invested in the company with strong opinions on how it should be run. These opinions eventually diverged so far from those of the founders that our paths were no longer aligned, and so we amicably parted ways.
Update: In Q3 & Q4 of 2021 I directed the introduction of chat to Discourse.
The year thereafter was spent getting deeply involved with the Rust game development ecosystem, culminating in me joining the board of the Amethyst organisation and helping to establish the Rust GameDev Working Group. A lot of my time in the Rust gamedev community is spent consulting indie developers on how they can turn their passion projects into a sustainable living.