The Art of Open Source: Who, How, and Why
Read on to see why this developer considers development to be more of an art than a science, and the role open source plays in that art form.
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One of the classic tropes that gets rehashed time and time again is that open source is free. It’s such a shortsighted expression. Sure, you can download and utilize certain open source software without exchanging currency, so in one sense it is ‘free,’ but as the old adage goes — you never get something for nothing. Hence, I thought I’d take a moment to explore the art behind Open Source.
For starters, I’m so glad we’re seeing a resurgence in Open Source. But, more importantly, I am excited to be in the midst of a software development renaissance. The convergence of cloud, data/analytics, artificial intelligence, transactions, and blockchain have revolutionized and elevated the developer’s role in an organization. Never before has this job title held so much power, which is why there has never been a better time to call yourself a software developer. As a leader in this space from the beginning, fostering innovation, growth, and partnerships that have helped push forward some of the most popular open source projects in the world, it’s been our mission at IBM to continuously elevate the profession to be seen among the world’s most respected and sought-after occupations — and now, to be at the center of the renaissance to continue helping build the future together with our partners in the community every day to advance developers.
Although many view our profession as a science, I also classify it as an art — and the art of development relies heavily on the science of collecting, organizing, and analyzing information in order to produce the most relevant code possible. So, for this piece, I want to focus on the three big groups who are investing, and paying for, Open Source to expand our capacity of innovation: Citizens, Corporations, and Consortia. Let’s break that down.
Citizens are the dreamers, the philosophers, the warriors in the arena creating amazing work every single day — sometimes on the clock, and a lot of time for free. These are the people getting into the thick of it, those who are staying up way later than they should, in order to fix that one last bug before heading to bed. This is why being a part of Open Source is much more than being an individual. It is a cultural existence born from the desire to create something amazing and sticking to it — not about doing a drive-by commit and vanishing. It is about showing up, being counted, and contributing to the on-going success of a project or helping another developer fine-tune their skills. Ultimately, Open Source is a platform for developers like you to acquire an enormous amount of relevant information to fuel your next creation or use the tool of programming to make a difference in the world. One such example is Call for Code, a new global initiative that is the largest and most ambitious effort to bring start-up, academic, and enterprise developers together to solve one of the most pressing societal issues of our time: preventing, responding to, and recovering from natural disasters. Indeed, citizens pay for Open Source by (usually) giving up their free time, helping their fellow comrades and personally investing in innovation.
Corporations are… well, ok maybe these are a little self-explanatory. As the VP of Open Source for IBM, I actively encourage my developers to participate in contributing to the community, whether that’s helping our clients by building Open Source Code Patterns, working with Google to bring Istio to v1.0 or building and maintaining functionality of the Open Source software we use. Also, having learned from experience, open, well-governed communities encourage a wider range of voices and cross-pollinated ideas resulting in innovative development reflecting the balance of both technical skill and creativity. This way, everyone wins. And corporations pay for Open Source by paying in code written on ‘company time.’
Consortia is the collection of communities who’ve created organizations such as The Linux Foundation, Eclipse Foundation, etc. These groups elevate projects and communities, providing useful implicit information to millions of developers by, in some ways, ‘legitimizing’ software. There’s a big difference between a fully maintained Linux Foundation project, and a lot of what you may end up discovering in the bowls of GitHub. It’s ok to say that not every Open Source project deserves the same amount of your time – however you decide to spend your time on projects is an investment in Open Source contributions today, resulting in unimaginable advancements tomorrow. It’s one of the reasons why IBM is working with The Linux Foundation in Call for Code: the winners of this incredible challenge, as well as winning $200,000 USD, will also have their project brought into the community, so developers from all over the world can use this software to help save lives, knowing that it’ll be maintained to the highest standard.
So, who pays for Open Source? The short answer is, everyone. But the great thing about Open Source is that every well-maintained project is a work of art that is nearly always greater than the sum of its parts. So while we all pay for Open Source, we all win — and win big time. To get involved with the latest Open Source projects, visit: https://developer.ibm.com/open/.
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