3 Tips for Forming Your Company’s Open-Source Strategy

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Technology is always moving forward, but in this day and age, most technological breakthroughs are supported by software. And the software of the future depends on open source, but it will require a lot more collaboration. 

Loads of large companies use open source as a way to add expediency and the latest technology to their innovations, among other reasons. According to OpenLogic’s 2023 State of Open Source Report, around 80% of those surveyed said their company’s open source use increased over the last year, over 41% significantly so. So why do only a small portion of them practice basic open source management like code maintenance and community development? Just under 37% report contributing to open source projects and organizations.

Needless to say, this doesn’t bode well for sustainability. Any good, company-wide open source strategy should involve contribution and maintenance plans as well. But let’s start at the beginning. 

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Analyze the big picture

How will your company engage with open-source software? What will your processes for contributing be like? Answering these two questions will put you in a position to understand how your work with open source connects to your overall goals and how you’ll get there. Amp up the efficiency and minimize risk.

Better yet, write everything down for anyone to reference. Get people psyched to be involved and be sure to get buy-in at different levels in the company. Consult external sources of information. Google has laid their strategy out for the world to see. The Linux Foundation also has a comprehensive guide to help with the finer details.

Make sure everyone understands how you’ll use open source as well as how you’ll contribute. Where will you invest in open source and where will you focus on value added differentiation? This promotes innovation and will get people excited to create. Devs should know how to engage with open source, how to make decisions using the guidelines, and how the work fits into the overall mission. And they should feel that the company’s support is behind them.

Survey respondents also said the top two biggest challenges involve security and compliance issues as well as lacking engineers with the skills and experience with open source. How will you deal with this in your strategy? Can you upskill your team? Do you need to hire someone new? A comprehensive plan for how to address possible issues on the front end will save time and frustration later. 

The main idea here is to preemptively answer questions and concerns that will inevitably come up by answering the what, why, and how questions. Be specific about best practices after you’ve connected your plan to your overall goals. It’s also worth keeping a list of Q&As devs ask along the way so that when someone has the same one, the answer is already available in text.

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Set up an office

Create an open source program office to aid growth. This office will work with teams from all departments of the company to lower barriers from, for example, legal or HR. It’s the office developers will go to for support when they have questions that relate to open source. It’s also the office that will signify to everyone in the company the commitment and confidence in the idea and invite them to reaffirm their own.

Offering internal resources that offer these explanations can also be useful in helping your teams see the big picture. Will a developer need approval to contribute? How long will that take? Make it easy. Adding basic guidelines will help expedite the process and set up good maintenance and governance expectations. 

Remember, staff who run this office should be knowledgeable in business and legal governance as well as technical. It can be multiple people, but together they should be able to streamline and optimize in a way that makes it easy for devs to participate. Above all, they should have a passion and enthusiasm for open source and everything that means.

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Give back

Give back to the open source community. Sponsorships and investments go a long way to support developers and the open source community. As previously mentioned, if you rely on the community, you have a responsibility to give back. There are dedicated developers addressing vulnerabilities and fixes in code libraries that you rely on. They should be recognized and appreciated. 

Providing a sponsorship to support their work–something easily done through places like GitHub Sponsors or OpenJS–can really make a difference. And while they’re probably donating their time and skills because they believe in the ideals of the community, providing support can be encouraging and appreciation.

Next time you use open source materials, think about the “leave a penny, take a penny” trays that used to sit at every cash register in America. Someone helped you out, so you should do the same. Together with the open source community, companies can build the future better and faster, but it all starts with a plan.

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