By Patrick Masson
It may be the best time ever for open source development and developers: both are in high demand.
Large and small businesses now rely on open source software across the enterprise. Advocates tout open source as a competitive advantage for startups, and a key driver of innovation for established companies. Open Source Programs Offices are now standard across industries. Beyond business/corporations, governments and non-profits are also leveraging open source to reduce costs, extend services, and support their missions.
With such tremendous growth, open source developers are in high demand, and organizations are now working hard to attract and keep open source coders. It’s now common to find Developer Advocates working within companies to recruit and retain open source talent.
For emerging or competitive businesses hoping to leverage open source to enhance and expand their products and services as quickly as possible, the focus is on technology skills, for developers, the focus is also on technology because it pays.
Skilling up job seekers with the desired technologies has become a bit of a cottage industry. Dozens of “coding boot-camps” offer courses that claim to prepare students in as little as nine weeks. More formal programs are also available, some even offering college credits. All of these programs will vary in their quality and commitment to students. I am sure many schools offer excellent services and support to help people develop the skills they need to land the jobs they want.
But “open source technologies” is not enough: not enough for the companies that hope to realize the benefits of open source software projects and not enough for students seeking career advancement through open source development.
In addition to technology skills, companies and developers need community skills, like:
Open source software development is all about collaboration, contribution, and co-creation. To share, understand, and resolve issues, to design and develop features, and to report and fix bugs, developers must be able to effectively communicate (both verbally and in writing). Communication means explaining issues and ideas to the wide variety of stakeholders who might be involved in a project. Communication means advocating–even arguing–for ideas and ideals. Maybe most importantly, communication means listening. Communication is just one of the non-technical skills a developer will need, and a company will want.
Open source developers do not work alone, and open source projects are not build alone. Both companies and developers will need to find peers, identify experts, promote participation, and foster collaboration to ensure projects enjoy the greatest levels of success. No developer has all the talent; no company has all the resources. Filling the gaps of a company, developer, and project requires building communities of practice to leverage the powerful potential of the network effect. There are many ways to develop and maintain a network of practice: attending or host events or a conference; join or moderate a social forum; participate in a user-group, etc. None of these activities require those technical skills a developer or company may typically desire in a coding boot-camp, but building relationships is vital for the success of both.
Business Process and Practices
Many new to open source have an idealized impression of both project management and governance. Self-motivated, self-organized, and self-directed communities find consensus through shared values of “many eyeballs,” rapid feedback, meritocracy, etc. Such practices are indeed essential to, and in, open source communities and differ tremendously from traditional development environments. But they do have specific meanings, developed over years of practice, with expectations (even standards) shared across communities. Understanding community norms, best practices, references, standards, and the vernacular of open source software, development, and communities is critical.
Open source technology skills are vital for those looking to work in open source software, and they are critical for companies’ hoping to compete in today’s technology-driven economy. However, non-technical skills are just as necessary and should be included in anyone’s educational efforts toward a career or advancement in open source software development. When assessing coding schools, learners should consider how they will learn about and engage with non-technology skills. When considering developers for open source positions, companies should review applicants’ experience with non-technology skills.
And after both developers and companies are working together, all must keep up their technical and non-technical skills to ensure they remain productive participants in the open source projects and communities they both value and rely on so much.
Patrick Masson is the general manager and board director of the Open Source Initiative.
Brandeis Graduate Professional Studies is committed to creating programs and courses that keep today’s professionals at the forefront of their industries. To learn more, visit www.brandeis.edu/gps.