Open source is a cornerstone of software development that permeates nearly every new piece of technology, and all good software development teams know how vital it is to contribute. With decentralized workforces taking off as well, open source projects are benefiting both employers and developers by making it easier to check code quality of past projects and to showcase skills while giving back to the community. But saying that it’s important to contribute to open source isn’t about normative ethics or gaining moral high ground by giving to the community instead of taking, it’s about deliberately going against the bystander effect to help human adaptability catch up with technology.
Open source defined
Open source software is public source code that anyone can view, modify, and repurpose. The term itself means more than just access to source code, as it’s also a certification mark owned by the Open Source Initiative (OSI). Developers building software that’s intended for sharing, collaborating, and redistributing can use the trademark if the distribution terms of the software fit within OSI’s definition of open source. The distribution terms are a set of principles to follow, similar to a code of ethics. The list is viewable here.
Why do successful development teams contribute to open source?
Over 300 software development companies and dev houses have been evaluated under the Digital Knights tech due diligence process, and there’s a strong correlation between a company’s level of open source contribution and becoming a Digital Knights approved partner. While it’s certainly not causation, it is clear that good teams are contributing, and the leadership at most Digital Knights approved partners encourage employees to participate in open source collaboration on a regular basis as a way to share knowledge, participate in something larger than the company, and gain exposure to new methods and ideas they wouldn’t otherwise get from their day-to-day tasks. But it’s more than just the employees benefiting, as the development companies as a whole are recognizing the benefits that are not always so obvious.
In both the short and long term, open source contributions have a major impact on a software development company’s visibility and the momentum that comes with it. According to Krzysztof Ciesielski, Senior Software Engineer at SoftwareMill, the more a dev house contributes, the more it becomes recognizable for winning clients and attracting new talent. Digital Knights’ approved partners often see increased opportunities for collaboration with other IT companies as well, and because the work is open sourced it’s easy to assess skills and competencies. By open sourcing their own libraries, dev houses can also gain external support for their own projects through outside contributors and feedback that ultimately propels the development process forward.
Internal culture is an important component of the due diligence evaluation process at Digital Knights, and it’s clear that there’s a distinct cultural nuance at the software development companies that contribute to open source. These companies have work environments that naturally encourage sharing, constructive criticism, ongoing learning, and a general sense of positive camaraderie among the staff. This correlation also lends itself to explain why the good dev houses have higher employee retention rate and continue to bring in talented individuals..
Open source platforms are a staple for the advancement of any new technology, as crowdsourced development is the current fastest way to explore possibilities on a mass scale. The rise in popularity of a given technology also coincides with increased demand for experienced developers in those spaces, so it’s only natural for open source contributing companies to be at the forefront of that fast-changing landscape. Not everyone is suddenly an expert in VR, machine learning, and Blockchain, so the more a dev house participates in open source development, the easier it is to stay relevant.
Benefits of working with open source contributing tech partners
The ability to share open source projects on familiar platforms like Github adds a valuable component to the decision-making process when searching for new tech partners and project teams. While it may require a bit of technical know-how, reviewing open source projects ultimately provides an easily accessible way to assess a potential partner’s coding skills and technical knowledge in a more in-depth way than was previously possible. A great deal of Digital Knights approved partners are fielding more and more requests from potential clients, and they’re finding their contributions to open source provides a competitive edge for winning new clients. When a dev house is solid, sharing its open source projects allows clients to verify the company’s reputation as well as observe how the project teams communicate and operate remotely.
How to get started with open source
It’s never too late to participate in open source. As a matter of fact, most development companies start slowly by engaging in conversation around existing code and providing documentation updates before contributing their own code. The only real requirement to get started is a bit of effort, confidence, and discipline. Github has put together some great tips on how to choose your first project here. Once started, contributing to open source is something that is best done frequently so setting aside a designated period of time once or twice a week is a great way to ensure the frequency of your contributions. Approved dev houses in the Digital Knights network regularly allocate time during the week for employees to devote themselves to these projects.
Open source takes advantage of the decentralized workforce and bridges the gap between technological possibilities and reality. Software development companies that contribute are helping the greater good, but they’re also gaining a competitive edge in their own markets. By contributing, it builds a snowball effect that leads to challenging and exciting projects from clients who have a better understanding of capabilities and expectations, resulting in faster completion times, a higher project success rate, and increased client satisfaction overall. The more you give, the more you get!
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