55 Percent of Cloud Developers Contribute to Open Source, Says Survey


In presenting the results of its survey of 4,300 cloud developers, DigitalOcean seemed surprised that only 55 percent of respondents contribute to open source projects. Yet to tech outsiders — or old-timers — it may be more surprising that more than half of developers do contribute. There are relatively few professions in which companies and their employers regularly offer pro bono services for the greater good of the industry.

DigitalOcean, which provides cloud infrastructure software and services, has timed its “Currents” survey release in conjunction with the conclusion of its fifth annual Hacktoberfest program. Co-hosted with GitHub and twilio, Hacktoberfest invites developers to collaborate during the month of October on a smorgasbord of open source projects.

Corporate leaders appear to be sending mixed messages to their developers about open source. Although 71 percent of respondents to the DigitalOcean survey said that their employers “expect them to use open source software as part of their day-to-day development work,” employers are less supportive of their developers contributing to software that doesn’t directly benefit the company. Only 34 percent of respondents said they were given time to work on open source projects not related to work.

Younger developers more willing to contribute

The report reveals some encouraging signs, as well. Some 37 percent of the developers said they would contribute more to open source if their companies gave them the time to do so. In addition, despite some 44 percent of respondents saying they don’t contribute because they feel they lack the right skills and 45 percent saying they don’t know how to get started, the less experienced, and presumably younger, developers appear more open to contributing. A total of 60 percent of developers with five or fewer years of experience contribute to open source, while the number is “significantly less” for developers with more experience, says DigitalOcean. This bodes well for future contribution levels.

Developers in India were more likely to contribute to open source projects (68 percent) than any other nationality. Although DigitalOcean did not speculate, this may be due in part to the younger average age of Indian developers.

Motivations to contribute include the opportunity to improve coding skills, learn new technologies, and advance one’s career. Also noted was the less tangible benefit of being part of a community.

Among the many other findings in the survey, the leading programming language for open source projects was JavaScript (62 percent) followed by Python at 52 percent. The only other languages over 20 percent were PHP (29 percent), Java (28 percent), and CSS (25 percent). When asked which open source projects have “excited you the most” over the last three years, the React.js JavaScript library for building UIs took the top spot with 468 mentions, followed by Kubernetes (335), Docker (252), Linux (240), and Tensorflow (226).

Companies are failing to lead the open source charge by example. Only 18 percent of employees said their companies actively participated in open source organizations such as the listed examples: Apache Foundation, Node.js Foundation, and Cloud Native Computing Foundation. Three out of four respondents said their companies have donated $1,000 or less to such organizations over the last year.

Not surprisingly, high cost was the leading reason (38 percent) why companies skimp on open source donations and labor contributions. This was followed by a preference for in-house development (33 percent) and lack of knowledge of the listed organizations (27 percent). More promisingly, 29 percent said their companies plan to contribute to such organizations in the future.

When asked which of the five leading tech companies were doing the most to support open source, 53 percent listed Google, and Microsoft came in second at 23 percent. Next came Facebook (10%), Amazon (4%), and Apple (1%). Although IBM does not appear on this list, its $34 billion acquisition of Red Hat this weekend — the second largest software acquisition in history — should boost its already extensive open source contributions in cloud software.

For more survey results, check out ActiveState’s survey of 1,407 open source developers, which focuses on open source runtimes, and the open source programs survey from The New Stack and The Linux Foundation, which looks at the role of open source programs within organizations.