Shaping the Culture of Open Source Companies

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With all of the discussion about source code contributions in open source, sometimes we don’t spend enough time talking about the culture. In her keynote at LinuxCon Europe, Stormy Peters points out that when we say the word “culture,” we sometimes think only about diversity or hiring more women, but culture means more than that. Culture is about how we work, how we think, and how we interact with each other. 

It used to be that companies were confused by open source software, and the communities were often skeptical about companies. These days, most of the Internet, most of the web, and most of the world runs on open source software with open source communities and companies working together, Peters points out. She compares the early days of open source to street art. Many people don’t understand why an artist would create a work of art for free, which is something we heard quite often in the early days of open source. Derivative work and building on the work of others is also common in street art along with social norms that a street artist should only make the work better and never deface the work of better artists. This is similar to how we have norms and unspoken ways of working in open source software.

One of the main open source contributions from companies comes in the form of providing careers in open source software. Peters once worried about whether people who are paid by companies to work on open source software would stop doing it when the company stopped paying them. Instead, she found that they might stop working on a project if it doesn’t seem as important anymore, but they’ll probably stay in open source software. 

Peters talked about how companies have helped open source software grow and helped many more people get involved, which has also brought us more diversity. While the technology industry as a whole is not very diverse, companies tend to have a more diverse population than open source software, and when they pay people to work, they bring that entire cohort with them. Anecdotally, she knows quite a few women that have started their careers with a paid job and become involved in open source software that way, which mirrors her experience starting in open source as part of her job at HP. These companies influence open source software, but it is a two-way cultural exchange, and we also influence these companies.

The way that we interact with the companies and the individuals around us shapes our culture, and every time we make a decision about whether to interact over the phone, on a mailing list, or have conversations over drinks, we are shaping the culture and the society that we’re creating. “We are the backbone of society right now, so I think it’s really important that we create a culture that is open, as open as our projects,” Peters says.

Watch the complete video below for more about how the interactions between companies and open source software communities influences our culture.

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