Just like the 90’s was the Big Mac generation, we are definitely the Open Source generation. More startups in the mid 2000’s were built on top of Open Source technologies than ever before. Most of these companies grew into becoming some of the largest IT enterprises in the world. Obviously I don’t need to name the companies I am thinking about, but just because I like to name drop… Think about Facebook, Google and Netflix, just as a start. But what is this post about? It’s about the question… Do you want fries with that? Or will you be boiling your own…
All your code are belongs to us!
I’d like to start off the body of this post by dispelling a common misconception.
Open Source software cannot be used on an enterprise level because there is no proper support.
This is a very nasty rumor started by the White Coats in the Big Blue and Windowed laboratories of yore. It was a grieves attempt at getting enterprise customers to spend more money on proprietary software and service license agreements so that they could become increasingly more influential and duh.. rich…
This simply isn’t the case and as we will discuss a little later on, the Open Source community thrives on support. In fact, at the heart of this Blog post lies the answer to how you can become a part of this process.
Living la vida loca
What a lot of people don’t understand is that Open Source isn’t just a way of developing or licensing your products. It’s a way of life. Or maybe, a way of thinking. Open Source contributers have a very strong belief that information and knowledge should be shared. This doesn’t stop with their last git commit to Github, but in fact extends to the way they live. You will often find that individuals who follow and support the Open Source community can be identified as people who like to share and improve in real life. By sharing, I mean, it’s the guy at your office who is willing to help you figure out a complex problem on your spreadsheet. The girl that comes up with a bootstrap idea that speeds up the way the coffee machine works at the office. Doing all of this without expecting recognition or money, but rather investing in the common advancement of their immediate environments.
The final frontier
I’m definitely not saying that all Open Source community members are Trekies, but to drive this idea home I want to use a reference from the Star Trek film “First Contact”. At one point, Cpt. Picard tries to explain to a woman from the early 2000’s what the economy and drive force behind the Human race is in the 21st century. He goes on to explain.
We have found a unifying, singular ambition. The advancement and betterment of all mankind
It would be very hard to convince me that this ideal did not include the complete availability and freedom in sharing of information and technology. To them, the goal is to make all of humanity better, and to collectively pursue this goal.
Tie a yellow ribbon
The Open Source community loves welcoming new members. Members that truly contribute in they way that they can. I will be very surprised if any open source project will show away an individual that is truly willing to commit their time and energy to helping that project. Look, this doesn’t mean that difference of opinions don’t happen. Thats just part of human nature but usually these get sorted out after a few heated forum threads or pull comments.
If you have been anywhere near the Internet for the last decade, you would know that the lingua franca for the Internet is flaming. Some thick skin required. That said, the benefits and the feeling of being a part of a project that releases and gets adopted and used by thousands of people around the world, has no equal.
Ahh, but my Dev Kung Fu is Weak!
Another common myth is that you need to be a developer to contribute to an open source project. This is also simply not true. Any project requires a bunch of people to make it really great. This includes guys with ideas, developers, testers, debuggers and even people with no technical skill but who are willing to write documentation or help organize the logistics of the project.
A great example of this is the Apache Web Server project. In the beginning, this project was mainly contributed to and used by developers. You can imagine that because of this the documentation and even the feature set of the project was in quite a horrible state. After a while, more people started to join the project. Contributing to the documentation, finding bugs and suggesting new features.
Today, the Apache Web Server is the most widely used web server on the Internet. If you have ever used it, you will also know that the documentation is amazing and new features get added quite regularly. You can also look up a list of all the contributors and it will include the document writers and testers who never even made a single commit to the master branch.
We Need You!
At the fear of sounding like Uncle Sam, We Need You! Go find a project you can be passionate about and start contributing to it in any way you feel you can help with the best. If this means posting encouraging emoji’s in the mailing list every now and again. Do it! There is no contribution too small that isn’t valuable. Don’t get frightened off by the idea of needing Ninja Dev skills. Live by the Nike slogan and just do it.
Do you want fries with that?
I’ll lock down this post by asking the question again… Do you want fries with that? Or will you be heating up the oil and throwing in some spuds yourself?
— Edit —
Thanks Ruan for pointing out my typo.