Contributing to the open source community is a win-win-win

The future for open source is looking bright, argues WhiteSource CEO Rami Sass

The open source community has played a key role in the software development industry ecosystem, promoting open collaboration and often maintaining a very low tolerance for compromise. While many enterprises initially snubbed their noses at the gang disrupting their cozy world of software commerce, the open source community has changed the way that the game is played.

An editorial post celebrating the Open Source Community’s 20 year anniversary on the Open Source Initiative's site, stated that “whenever you start a revolution first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then they join you.” Today, when it comes to open source, that statement is ringing truer than ever.

Digital Ocean’s most recent seasonal Currents Report on developer cloud trends joined into the celebrations and put the spotlight on open source to honor the movement’s anniversary. The report shares the results of the survey conducted among over 4,300 respondents from around the world about the state of open source, including how they and their companies use it and how they are inspired to support the community.

While the report provides some encouraging data, like the fact that over 70% of respondents say that their employers encourage developers to use open source components in their day to day work, it also highlights some of the challenges that still lie ahead for the open source ecosystem. For example, when asked about barriers to contributing to open source projects, nearly a third of the respondents said that their company doesn’t allow them the time to contribute.

Considering the fact that most developers rely heavily on open source components, and that open source components make up a substantial part of the software products that we develop, it’s extremely important to make sure that the open source projects that we use get as much TLC as we can provide, and it’s up to the organizations that use open source components to encourage their developers to give back and participate in their maintenance.

Contributing to open source projects gives developers a leg up

Regardless of how innovative the products a developer is working on are, stepping outside of the box and working in the open source community broadens their horizons. Contributing to an open source project can help developers learn new tricks, code in different languages and frameworks, and open up to a variety of agile project management practices.

Being an active member of the open source community enables developers to keep up with the most interesting and innovative technologies, where they can help shape the future of software development. Sometimes stepping out of their own headspace and shaking things up can be a good way to approach existing projects from a new perspective.

What’s keeping developers from contributing to open source projects?

Time is our biggest adversary. We dash from sprint to sprint, hoping to deliver the most innovative products to eager users. Sometimes, this doesn’t leave much time for developers to invest in open source projects.

When we look at the younger and less experienced crowd, confidence also plays a part. Two of the top barriers to participating in open source projects, according to DigitalOcean’s report are that developers don’t know where to begin and that they’re not confident in their skills.

Many would like to get involved in an open source project, but simply don’t know how. When you’re a newcomer, the innovators and OGs populating the open source community can seem intimidating, and some don’t know if they have the chops to get their foot in the door.

That’s why it’s important to cultivate an open source culture in-house where experienced developers with community know-how and connections can help guide the new generation.

Encouraging developers to contribute to open source projects

Most seasoned developers would love to enhance their toolset with an open source project, they just need the opportunity to do so. So the first thing we as employers can do to encourage our developers to be more involved in the open source community is simply to help them carve out the time to tinker with a project that they’re interested in.

Younger developers, or those that have less experience in the open source community, often need someone to show them the ropes. They may need help finding the open source project that interests them, as well as help figuring out how to get involved.

In my experience, more seasoned open source contributors on the team are often happy to lend a hand, especially when they get acknowledged as open source pros. Nurturing this process requires time and resources, and it’s up to employers to provide that.

Participation in open source projects is a win-win-win

Considering how much all of our products depend on open source components, it’s important to be a part of that cycle and give back to the community. It also helps ensure that the software products we build and use are stable, innovative, and top quality.

Developers contributing to open source get to hone their skills and tinker with projects that are different than the ones they typically work with inside the organization's, enabling them to come back with a more varied toolset to build innovative, state of the art tech.

Beyond helping to cultivate ninja developers in-house, companies that put their name and brand behind an exciting and popular open source project gain a lot of street cred across the software development industry, which helps them hire more top development talent. Depending on your audience, it might even help you snag and keep some great customers.

The open source movement is still leading the way to innovation

For years, developers have known that open source is where innovation is happening. Enterprises are finally catching on and now we see that open source is also where big investments are going.

The future for open source is looking bright.

In the coming years, we hope to see the open source development community growing and becoming even stronger. We’ll be seeing even more companies doing everything they can to ensure that the open source community has the resources it needs to continue creating and maintaining the software components that entire industries rely on.

Hopefully, more developers will get the opportunity to contribute to the community and invest their time in the frameworks, platforms, languages, and APIs that they need in order to create the future.

Rami Sass is CEO and co-founder of WhiteSource, an open source security, and compliance management platform.

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