Open Source - A Discussion
Wednesday I spoke at the Chattanooga Technology Council’s luncheon on open source. It was geared toward the “culture” of open source and why it should be considered for larger companies that have traditionally avoided or ignored these as options.
OPEN SOURCE DEVELOPMENT IS ONE OF CHATTANOOGA’S FASTEST GROWING SKILL SETS. PARTLY BECAUSE CHATTANOOGA IS BECOMING A HOT BED FOR START-UP COMPANIES WHO CAN TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THESE FREE PROGRAMMING LANGUAGES, BUT LARGER COMPANIES ARE SEEING THE BENEFIT TOO. THE AUDIENCE WILL BE INTRODUCED TO OPEN SOURCE DEVELOPERS IN THE CHATTANOOGA AREA. THE DEVELOPERS WILL DISCUSS HOW THEY USE OPEN SOURCE TECHNOLOGIES, WHY THEY USE OPEN SOURCE. IF YOUR COMPANY IS USING OPEN SOURCE TECHNOLOGIES WE INVITE YOU TO COME AND MEET THESE DEVELOPERS IN PERSON.
I really enjoy these forums because of the town hall type enviornment that allows individuals to provide different insight to questions concerning a topic. My fellow panelists provide amazing thoughts, reflections and advice that is at the core of most open source communities.
I was asked what I defined “open source” as. In the simpliest terms I could think of I defined it as both innovation and progress. I got a few laughs in the crowd, but I further elaborated that “open source” as a concept has been around for 1,000’s of years and without it we would be reinventing the wheel every week. Open source is knowledge. While many of the members in the crowd had never really used or contributed to what we know as open source projects I reminded them that libraries are filled with “open source” projects. Cookbooks, IMHO, are one of the earliest examples of open source repositories. Someone came up with an awesome receipe, published it, you bought, traded it, checked it out from the library, learned from it and more times than not tweaked the receipe for your needs and passed that on.
The follow up question was around how open source projects are benefitting apps or companies outside of startups. I love these types of questions. While 2 out of the 5 examples that I gave are startups that have HUGE user base. I first asked members of the audience who had heard or used Mailchimp. 80% raised their hands….I informed them that the Mailchimp iPad app uses DTCoreText/DTRichTextEditor written by Oliver Dropnick. Next example, who uses Pinterest apps, almost 100% raised their hands…informed them that AFNetworking, (written by Mattt Thompson), powers that app. Finally I pointed out that if you browse the web, buy anything off Amazon or stream any Netflix movies then you should thank the open source community. All of those products/services are built on open source software, and in most cases those companies open source many of their services or they contribute to existing projects.
So basically if you use a computer or browse the internet you have benefited from open source technology.
One of the final questions was, “Why open source?”. That question always makes smile a bit because it reminds me of the question, “What is the meaning of life?”. It depends, but it is generally ends up with something centered around happiness as it relates to that individual. Why someone should use or contribute to open source varies as much, but at it’s core (IMHO) it is the best example of community service devs participate in by evangelizing and contributing in projects and communities. Open source community participants are passionate about whatever project they are involved in. We don’t care that we aren’t paid. It is one of the last remaining aspects in any career were you do it purely for the “love of the game”. It is the perfect balance between intrensic and externsic reward.
My closing and unapologic remark on the why was because frankly these projects and solutions are better than many of the paid for vendor delievered solutions.
One of the best questions, and I expected it, was “Are you being a bit hyprocritiacal regarding open source considering you make your living off developing/supporting a closed system?” There is no question that iOS and MacOS are closed systems, but at their core is open source based technology, the language used for Cocoa/CocoaTouch IS open source and the that surrounds and supports these platforms is one of the largest and thriving that I’ve been apart of, especially considering that iOS has only been in extistance ~5 years.
As stated by one of my fellow panelist, open source is the highest form of community service that anyone can participate in if you are in technology, but I would venture that you can apply that same attitude and opprotunity to any field. It is our obligation as technologist to set that example.
Go and play your small part in something big.