December 3, 2014

Samsung's Open Source Group is Growing, Hiring Developers (Video)

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Almost two years ago, Samsung's open source team was just one person: Linux and FOSS advocate Ibrahim Haddad. The new Open Source Innovation Group at Samsung is now 40 people strong, including 30 developers, devoted full-time to working on upstream projects and shepherding open source development into the company. And it's growing.

The open source group is hiring aggressively and plans to double the size of the group in the coming years. Their first targets are project maintainers and key contributors to 23 open source projects that are integral to Samsung's products, including the Linux kernel, Gstreamer, FFmpeg, Blink, Webkit, EFL, and Wayland. But they plan to eventually start hiring more junior open source developers as well, said Haddad, head of the open source group at Samsung Research America, an R&D subsidiary of Samsung. (For job descriptions, see the LinkedIn Jobs page under Samsung Electronics America.)

“When Samsung approached me about starting the open source group I thought there was a big opportunity there to create a success story,” he said. “This is a huge company, there's a lot of potential to unlock for the open source community.”

Just about every Samsung product, from phones and tablets to home appliances, uses open source software, said Guy Martin, senior open source strategist at Samsung, and the former head of open source consulting at Red Hat. But until now the company hasn't had a strategic commitment to upstream development.

The mission of the open source innovation group is to contribute to, and eventually gain influence and leadership in, all of the open source projects the company relies on.

“We've done a good job of consuming open source and that’s not surprising... that's usually where a lot of companies start,” Martin said. “Most organizations that are at the evolutionary stage we are with open source, realize they have to contribute upstream. If you want to have a voice... you have to do the work.”

Open Source Developer Jobs

Developers in the open source group at Samsung are guaranteed to spend at least 50 percent of their time working on upstream projects. The other 50 percent is spent helping other product and R&D teams within Samsung, including a mentorship program to introduce other developers outside the core group to open source practices. They also travel to several open source conferences a year to present and participate.

Transforming Samsung into an open source company is an ambitious goal, and the group will face challenges. The open source group is in its infancy compared to dedicated open source efforts at IBM and Intel, for example. Much work remains in evangelizing open source within the company as well as in becoming meaningful contributors in the open source community.

“There will be challenges, I won't lie, but the opportunity to help build something really cool at Samsung and have ability to influence the company's future direction and collaboration with open source is really interesting,” Martin said.

To help ease open source culture into the broader company, Haddad and Martin have effectively created a bubble within Samsung for open source developers where the tools, infrastructure, and processes are like those used in any other open source company. Everything is different,but integrates as necessary with the rest of the company. (See our article on How Samsung is Bringing Open Source Culture Inside the Firewall.)

The open source group is among the only areas in the company in which employees work remotely. And it's focused on improving technologies, rather than products; developers often work on projects that span multiple product lines.

They also look to hire developers who are a good cultural fit, in addition to having technical capability and open source experience. They will be ambassadors who help bring the open source mindset into a Korean company that employs more than 40,000 software engineers, and has more employees total than Google, Microsoft and Apple combined, according to ArsTechnica.

The bubble will slowly expand.

“We want to get to the point where we're not the anomaly in the company, but mainstream to what the company does,” Martin said.

Paid to Contribute

The open source group is admittedly a small team for such a large company. But it indicates a significant shift in the company's approach to development – and one that is gaining in popularity among enterprises, in general. Companies start by using open source software, then advance to participating in open source communities, contributing upstream, and adopting open source practices internally.

“You already see this in the Linux kernel, where most people who contribute are paid to contribute. And you'll see that more and more,” Martin said. “The changing face of open source is going to be more corporate.”

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