What makes developers happy? Contributing to open source

Commentary: One of the best things for your business and your developers is to encourage them to write open source software.

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Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Senior executives may not know much about open source, and that's OK--or, it was. What they do know is that software is an increasingly critical component of their businesses--whatever those businesses may be--and that developers write that software. So let's connect some dots.

SlashData recently surveyed over 16,000 developers to see what makes them tick... what they care about. The data is collected in SlashData's State of the Developer Nation, though let me give you the tl;dr: 59% of developers contribute to open source software today. Why do they contribute? The top two reasons are: To improve coding skills and because they believe in open source.

Want to keep those developers happy and employed with you? Let them contribute.

SEE: How to build a successful developer career (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Open source developer youthquake

Though open source has been a core aspect of enterprise computing for at least two decades, the age group that seems most dialed in is the under 24 crowd, according to the SlashData survey. More than 33% of open source contributors are under the age of 24. This makes sense because for years as the developer population has swelled, it has demographically skewed younger and younger

In tandem, this increasingly open source savvy workforce is twice as likely to be active on Q&A sites like Stack Overflow, sharing and gaining knowledge. That's knowledge that doesn't come at the price of a maintenance contract with [insert the name of your least favorite proprietary software vendor]. So your employees want to contribute both code and knowledge--they want to be part of something.

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Image: SlashData

Talking to Bert Hubert, founder of PowerDNS, a supplier of open source DNS software, services, and support, he stressed that an open source project must be "a fun place where people feel that they are learning things, that they're contributing things, that they're being valued." Perhaps not surprisingly, these are the same elements developers expect from their employers. By making open source a valued part of workplace expectations, employers tick both boxes.

Keep the developer satisfied

Is it an absolute requirement that you encourage your developers to contribute to open source projects? No. But many of your best developers will chafe at keeping their talents locked up behind the firewall, and other developers simply won't apply if you have a reputation for being an open source scrooge. 

SEE: Learn Python: Online training courses for beginning developers and coding experts (TechRepublic)

LIke who? Like Thomas Caswell, the maintainer of the broadly adopted Matplotlib, a comprehensive library for creating static, animated, and interactive visualizations in Python. In an interview with Caswell, I asked what motivates him. "I love building the tools...for scientists [to use in data science]. That's the thing that keeps me going. Thinking about the grad student alone in their lab two stories underground at 11:00 PM on a Saturday. Supporting that person is what keeps me going."

Your business might not be providing data science tooling to grad students, but you definitely want a Thomas Caswell, or a Bert Hubert, working on your payroll. And to attract and retain them, you're going to have to let them contribute open source code. 

Disclosure: I work for AWS, but nothing herein relates to my employment there.

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