Why Open Source is Professionalizing, and How to Stay Ahead

Jim Zemlin, Executive Director, The Linux Foundation
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If it is true that software is eating the world then it is also true that open source is eating software. The very fabric of our digital society increasingly runs on software built and supported collectively by hundreds of thousands of people around the globe. And not just traditional technology companies. As we move towards a world defined by digital experiences carmakers, retailers, banks, hospitals, movie studios and so many more are becoming involved in building and underwriting this work—in reality they are becoming software companies themselves.

A recent internal analysis found that the value of the code in the open source projects hosted only by The Linux Foundation is over $14.5 billion. For companies to replicate this themselves would require hundreds of thousands of person-hours; leveraging open source simply makes more sense. But these projects, the world’s greatest shared technologies, must meet the level of professionalism and sophistication companies expect and on which they are investing their futures.

If open source is ubiquitous, community and industry must work together to prepare for how we support it for the long term. The best open source projects form a positive feedback loop of good code and community which are used to create interesting products and services which in turn create value or profit which is then reinvested back into the community who then makes the code even better. This is how open source scales to meet the needs of a software driven world. Linux, Hadoop, Apache: they all fit this mold.

  ‚ÄčIn order to manage the complexity around licensing, hiring, retention and more, when it comes to open source, organizations need to be strategic 

The problem is that not enough companies have learned how to manage open source technology development at massive scale. To be sustainable in the long term at this scale, open source software requires professional, sophisticated support in the form of tools, licensing and compliance, project governance, training, certification and events that bring development communities together.

A support system similar to that which exists for most proprietary software is needed, but based on open source principles such as collaboration and open licensing. It also requires a lot of people, qualified to manage and advance these technologies. This of course includes system administrators and engineers to deploy and manage systems, as well as developers to actually write the code, but also teachers to ensure professionals are up to date on the latest tools and to train new professionals in these technologies, attorneys to ensure compliance with open source licensing regimes, executives that determine which projects they should use, contribute to and invest in, and many others.

At the same time that all these professionals are needed, the 2016 Linux Foundation and Dice Open Source Jobs Report found that identifying open source talent is not easy—87 percent of hiring managers reported difficulty finding qualified individuals for these positions, while demand continues to be high, with 65 percent reporting they are expanding open source hiring more than other parts of their businesses. And it is important to understand that the priorities of open source professionals are often different than other employees, with only 2 percent stating money and perks to be the best part of their job—instead they are driven by the chance to work on interesting projects (31 percent) and with cutting edge technologies (18 percent) in a global, collaborative community (17 percent).

In order to manage the complexity around licensing, hiring, retention and more, when it comes to open source, organizations need to be strategic. Bring in individuals and teams who are part of the open source community, and empower them to take the steps necessary to bring the organization up to speed. Reward these professionals for success, while giving them room to experiment, teach and grow. Do more than simply use open source, but contribute back to it. If you see a technology gap somewhere, start a project to fill it. Don’t be afraid of working with others, including your competitors, to improve open source technology that benefits all of you and the world at large. And if you need help, ask for it; The Linux Foundation provides everything from tools to licensing, certification, training, events and consulting services to scale any open source project.

Together we are working to solve the hardest technology problems in the world by creating the largest shared technology investment in history, which will deliver an economic impact never seen before. Join the movement, and be part of the future.

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