Last week I attended Microsoft’s Build Conference in Seattle. I was helping at the .NET Open Source booth which promoted the .NET Foundation and all things open source. The conference was very nice, and the energy level was high. I had conversations with a wide variety of people during the conference and it is obvious that Microsoft’s strategy of embracing open source is welcomed by developers.
During one of my discussions a gentleman told me that his organization uses open source software (OSS) and he wants to allow his developers to contribute to OSS, but he needed to be able to justify it to his corporate leadership. His organization is a large, global organization so he needed solid and clear reasoning for why contributing to OSS is something his company should support.
He asked me if I knew of any blogs or resources that could provide insight into this topic. I thought about it and while I’m sure there is info somewhere, I wasn’t aware of any specific blogs or content about this subject. I am obviously biased about this topic, but let’s consider some reasons why a business should support OSS… especially if their organization is using OSS-based products.
Before we list out reasons we should first define what “support” means. When business people hear the term “support” they generally think about money, cost, or financial implications. Though, in the open source world it’s not necessarily about money as support can come in many different forms. Of course, the obvious need for any OSS project is code contribution, but there are more ways to contribute than one may initially think. As examples outside of the code, organizations could allow their developers to assist in marketing and promotions of sub-projects, conferences, user groups, GitHub repos, project documentation etc. Developers could also volunteer in any area of the OSS project as well as exchange knowledge online via forums, blogs, StackOverflow, and others. Organizations could also open up their offices for user group meetings, donate swag & door prizes, or sponsor the food at meetings. Any step taken to help move the the OSS project forward is a form of support.
Now that we know that support can come in forms outside of financial contributions let’s get back to the subject. If you are faced with the need to justify supporting open source software to your business leadership here are some thoughts and ideas to consider:
In this blog I’ve summarized my thoughts around why it’s important for organizations to give back, be active in, and support OSS projects and communities. As one considers justifying OSS participation to the business side of an organization much of the conversation will center around educating the business-side on how OSS ecosystems function. Communicating the potential positive benefits will be what’s needed to help bring on a change in perspective or cultural shift within the organization.
In my mind there are only positives to gain from contributing to OSS projects. Your developers will learn more, be empowered, meet new developers of all ages and skillsets, and your organization will be more efficient, and will likely be viewed as a great organization to work for.
If you don’t want to jump in head first then just try this one small thing to get your feet wet - if your developers have “down time” then simply encourage them focus their energies and time to assisting with the OSS project in any area they choose and watch what happens to your company in the months ahead. Be sure to pay attention to job satisfaction levels, quality of incoming new hires, general passion for work, and the perception of your organization among developers in your space.
After all, have you noticed that OSS projects that thrive are the ones with active community support? Who doesn’t want the project they use to not thrive? From my perspective the benefits of contributing to open source software far outweigh the drawbacks of not contributing.