Open Source

How open source can transform the way a company's developers work together

Open source has done wonders for industry innovation, but it might be even more potent for changing how your company's engineers work with each other.

Open source has been a tech mainstay for decades in large part, as Tilde co-founder and JavaScript veteran Yehuda Katz has argued, because it "gives engineers the power to collaborate across ...companies without involving [business development]."

"The benefits of this workaround are extraordinary and underappreciated," Katz continued. But open source offers something just as extraordinary and even more underappreciated, something that edX community lead John Mark Walker recently pointed out on Twitter.

Namely, what open source does to collaboration among engineers inside the same company.

Getting stuff done

According to Walker, "one of the little known secrets is that [open source] allows eng[ineering] teams in the same company to collab[orate] without management getting in the way." Though this may seem counterintuitive at first—why would developers wearing the same employer's badge need help working together?—anyone who has worked within a larger company will immediately nod their heads in agreement. In large companies, siloed engineering is the norm, not the exception, and it results in teams that often find it easier to work with engineers outside their firewall than with those within the company.

It's ridiculous, but it's true.

SEE: Linux distribution comparison chart (Tech Pro Research)

Though true, this fact isn't necessarily obvious to engineers. Not for those that have spent years working inside large, bureaucratic organizations, anyway. At the macro level, open source has gone from copycat to innovator, driving many of the trends in cloud computing, big data, machine learning, and more.

At the micro level, however, developers are at varying degrees of familiarity with open source. To the extent that engineers in large, staid organizations know about open source, often it's simply as a consumer of great code, rather than as contributors to it. Yet this is changing.

Cloud + open source = developer happiness

It's changing because the cost of engineering in the old ways is simply too high. As enterprises embrace software as a way to drive their businesses, developers are tasked with getting more done, faster. Open source offers a way to accelerate software innovation, even as cloud takes care of the hardware, both without having to get the legal or purchasing teams involved.

SEE GitHub: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

But, again, one of the most important things that open source can do for an organization has nothing to do with access to Linux or TensorFlow, and everything to do with helping provide a framework for developers within the same organization to work together. Through open source processes and the magic of GitHub, engineers can collaborate without waiting on vice president approval or yet another meeting to address integrations, roadmaps, etc.

So, yes, be thankful for what open source has done for the industry. But perhaps you should be even more grateful for what it can do for your own company.

Also see

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Image: iStockphoto/FS-Stock

About Matt Asay

Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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