Some of the world’s largest and most successful companies gathered this week at Open Source Leadership Summit in Lake Tahoe to share best practices around open source use and participation. Companies from diverse industries — from healthcare and finance, to telecom and high tech — discussed the strategies and processes they have adopted to create business success with open source software.
Below, are five lessons learned, taken from a sampling of talks by engineers and community managers at Capital One, Google, and Walmart, which have all adopted a strategic approach to open source.
1. Give developers freedom to contribute
Walmart has worked hard to develop a culture that embraces open source. Key to this cultural transformation has been convincing managers that it’s beneficial to devote developer resources to open source contributions — and to give developers the freedom to contribute however they wish.
“We’ve found that the team members that have a choice of what (open source projects) to work on are the most passionate about really diving in,” said Megan Rossetti, senior engineer, cloud technology, at Walmart.
2. Always be evaluating open source options
Walmart has also created an open source management structure and process to help institutionalize and enable open source participation. The company has an internal open source team to find and shepherd new open source projects and contributions.
“As we onboard new projects, we are always evaluating where does it make sense to bring in open source and to contribute back to open source,” said Andrew Mitry, a senior distinguished engineer at Walmart.
3. Use the right license
Capital One has also made significant strides to become a good open source partner in a way that doesn’t compromise customers or violate financial industry regulations. The company sees a great benefit in releasing open source projects that encourage broad use and participation from other companies. They’ve learned that this means projects must be structured in a way that encourages openness.
“If you want to make sure your code can be used, you really should pick a license written by someone who knows what they’re doing, preferably one of the ones approved by the FSF (Free Software Foundation) or OSI (Open Source Initiative),” said Jonathan Bodner, lead software engineer, technology fellows at Capital One.
“Also, if you want to encourage companies to join the community for your software you probably should pick one of the permissive licenses.”
4. Lead from behind
Kubernetes, an open source project hosted by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, is one of the fastest growing open source communities on GitHub. Despite massive participation, the project always needs good leaders – those willing to “chop wood and carry water,” said Sarah Novotny, head of the Kubernetes Community Program at Google.
“Being a leader in the open source community is not always about control and it is not always about making sure you have the most commits or the only viewpoint or the only direction,” Novotny said. “We need people willing to do work that is not as glamorous, that’s not as much in the fore. This is very much leadership from behind… It’s making sure that you have influence in the community that is longstanding and promotes the health of the project long term.”
5. Let go of IP
By releasing its Kubernetes container orchestration technology as open source and donating it to The Linux Foundation (under CNCF), Google opened up the project to outside contribution and increased enterprise participation. That, in turn, helped the technology become ubiquitous and profitable for Google which built cloud services on top of the project. Letting go of the project’s intellectual property was ultimately what created that success, said Craig McLuckie, CEO and founder of Heptio, and founder of Kubernetes at Google.
“Nothing poisons an ecosystem faster than playing heavy with trademark,” McLuckie said. “One of the first things we did with Kubernetes was donate it to the Linux Foundation to make it very clear that we were not going to play those games. And in many ways that actually opened up the community…
“It would have really held us back if we had held the IP. If we’d held that trademark and copyright on the project it would have hurt us.”
Want to learn more about open source in the enterprise? Recorded keynote talks from Open Source Leadership Summit 2017 are available now on YouTube. Watch now!