Open source participation: yay or nay?

 

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 The question of open source participation was brought up in a recent Forbes article, which asked: "Is Open Source Participation Worthwhile?". As any developer knows, every platform has its own issues. In the case of open source, issues arise around ownership and licensing. It can be hard to track where the source code originated, and developers don’t always get the credit they deserve. In another article featured in the Linux Journal, the author declares that net giants are dependent on open source but fail to give credit for the work that developers do. 

Given these issues and concerns, is open source participation worthwhile? Here at Eikos, we certainly think so. 

 

Benefits 

For starters, there are benefits to both the employer and the employee. For the employer, allowing employees to work on open source projects means that they will develop their skills in broader areas and, in using standard open source libraries, they can more easily make the transition from one team to another, as the core open source projects will be the same. So, for the employer, a reduction in code that is maintained internally means less development time and testing time, which should equate to faster delivery of solutions to the business.

Meanwhile for the employee - we go back to the first point about skills. By having the freedom to work on a range of open source projects, employees can develop and broaden their skills. Within and outside of the business, this means more flexibility. These additional skills and confidence can strengthen a developers' resume and make them a more desirable candidate for future employment. It also allows developers to meet other members of the open source community, and with them, discuss ideas, trends, and developments in the field. 

 

Challenges

Now that you understand these benefits, it's time to consider potential challenges that an employer faces with open source projects. The first: How can an employer encourage its developers to contribute to an open source project? Here are a few ideas:

  • Financial renumeration
  • Acknowledgement in reviews
  • Set aside time for the developer’s involvement
  • Allow them to participate in working groups
  • Meet-ups sponsoring and allowing developers to present
  • Allow involvement in open source initiatives
  • Policy surrounding the creation of open source
  • Encourage internal groups to create their own across the enterprise
  • Participate in open source efforts at a company level

As the list suggests, there’s much an employer can do to incentivize or attract developers. Many developers’ resumes now include some discussion on open source involvement, and an astute developer will weigh a company’s involvement in open source and the provisions they make to allow developers to be actively involved. In this way, open source projects become a recruiting tool for the employer to attract talent.

There is, however, one large barrier which is preventing developers from contributing to an open source projects: lack of support from the employers. Many developers will work on projects on their own time, as they are driven by a desire to contribute and see others benefit from their work. However, there are also a large number of developers that are reluctant to participate as employers are reticent to share any of their internal development. In most cases, this is pretty commodity work at the moment.

 

Conclusion 

For all to be able to take advantage of open source, there needs to be an increase in producers, i.e. those that create and enhance open source projects. At the top of that list should be large organizations - those that have been reaping the benefits of open source without contributing so far. Their contributions would certainly benefit all. With an organization, very little of the software development is proprietary and that most is plumbing and could easily be contributed, deepening the reach of open source and allowing organizations to focus on solving business problems and not infrastructure ones. FINOS is a good start to fostering the contribution of open source by FinTech companies, and there should also be a push for this across all industries.

With the creation of FINOS and associated working groups, there is a real chance that the finance industry will embrace open source and not just be consumers, but producers who provide content to the initiative and enrich the group immensely. The more directed solutions there are available that address real business needs and come from the open source community, the more a business will be able to focus on the business needs and not the technology.

 

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Topics: Open Source

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