From the Linux operating system to the Apache web server application, much of the Internet has been built on open source technology. Today, as we witness unprecedented disruption and opportunity in cloud computing, open technology is helping organizations address the ever-growing challenge of igniting and maintaining innovation to stay competitive and relevant.
If disruption is the poison, open source is an important part of the antidote.
For me, open technology is about code, community, and culture. No application or innovator is an island. My experiences across numerous projects and years has proven to me that profound digital transformation requires us to work together to drive the art of the possible.
[ Seeking fresh tech talent? Read 10 Tips For Hiring Top Tech Grads. ]
In 1998, I had the privilege of co-chairing and co-authoring the first XML standard, an initiative to enable the broad dissemination of mathematics information — an academic exercise that relied on open source technology.
Similarly, HTML was created as a way to disseminate physics information, a distinctly different role than it has today as a vital component of e-commerce. If we had known that HTML would be useful to facilitate online shopping, we may have done things a bit differently — such as incorporating the input of end users early in the development process, as is commonplace today.
We've Come A Long Way
The work being done in open source now looks nothing like it did 20 years ago. We’re far more connected, and even end users are involved in the process. The good news is that the open source of today provides choice and consistency, which is an attractive proposition for anyone working in IT.
One of the biggest reasons to celebrate the merits of open source within cloud development – and why we are today undergoing an open source Renaissance — is the role it plays attracting and retaining talent.
What I’m observing, inside and outside IBM, is that top-notch developers are being hired by companies that are embracing open source to develop cloud solutions and applications. These developers are inspired and retained because they're able to do work that is personally satisfying, as well as organizationally valuable. From a business standpoint, creating that environment can fast-track the next great innovation and position the organization competitively.
My experiences and interactions with thousands of developers from across the spectrum have shown me how big an effect open source communities have. We can look to the OpenStack Foundation, Cloud Foundry Foundation, Linux Foundation, Cloud Native Computing Foundation, Open Container Initiative, Open API Initiative and many others as examples. Open source centers of gravity create and foster skill sets that developers crave. In fact, developers view their status in an open community as a merit badge, and the more communities with which they have status, the prouder they are.
This is one of the main reasons why the OpenStack Foundation, for example, has grown to 30,000 members across 170 countries in five short years. It’s also why IBM Bluemix, which is based on Cloud Foundry, attracts about 20,000 new developers each week.
In my view, Cloud Foundry is the molten core of digital innovation. It allows developers to use any language they want and deploy across many clouds. This enables them to rapidly iterate application development while freeing them to focus on creativity and innovation. In 2015 alone, the Cloud Foundry Foundation grew to 55 enterprise members and 173 self-organized local groups, attracting more than 33,400 individual members from 105 cities in 48 countries across six continents.
Thanks to these communities, today’s emerging cloud software developers have a clear view of the future. A developer without access to open source is like an artist without a palette. The new generation is simply unwilling to work in non-open environments. This is critically important for organizations to consider, given the shortage of qualified developers, which has created a highly competitive market for attracting and retaining top talent.
Nuturing Open Source From Within
In an effort to foster an open source culture within IBM, we created the Open Technology Team more than 15 years ago. Our mission was to establish processes by which we inspire and manage open source internally. We also sought to create processes for how we, as a company, consume open technology and give back to the external communities. Because of this legacy, we now find ourselves in a place where partners, customers, and even competitors ask us for advice on how to nurture open source from within.
While the Open Technology Team has evolved over the years, our core principals remain the same – advocacy, education, and recognition. We travel the world on a regular basis, meeting with developers in our labs. We hold all-hands meetings to discuss the latest trends in open source, recognize achievement, and ensure that we are fully engaged and contributing to emerging and existing open source domains.
Although patents have traditionally been the mark by which developers size one another up, we are now finding that their standing within open source communities has become equally important. For that reason, we have created plateau and award programs that recognize developers for their contributions to open source and their rank within those communities.
Developers love to collaborate and build off each other’s vision. This requires a space and access to tools and communities that enable them to express the all-important artistic side of development. From this has come the latest evolution of social coding and the garage method, by which we provide developers with open physical spaces and the ability to do pair programing. We also provide methodologies and tools to easily collaborate with teams in-person or across the globe. We deploy teams of developers and coaches to teach the garage method, and in the last few years have interacted with more than 4,000 developers.
When it comes to open source and cloud, my focus is on building vibrant communities that work toward a common mission. One of the most fulfilling aspects of my job is these types of interactions with our developers. As a company, we partner with open communities, working with them to help create open governance to ensure that everyone has a common voice.
Warning: Culture Change Ahead
I’m not suggesting it’s easy. On the contrary, organizations new to the open source environment can face significant challenges when transitioning to the methodology and mindset of open source, many of which are cultural.
For example, one potential stumbling block can occur when attempting to establish a process that grants developers the freedom to create and collaborate within the bounds of a disciplined system. To do it, organizations must set and refine policies that ensure developers and their employers are fairly acknowledged and compensated for code innovations that result in patents and/or licenses.
And then there’s the conventional infrastructure — organizations are typically mired in departmental silos and led by people eager to retain control of their fiefdoms. Such environments can discourage the collaborative intra-enterprise relationships that open source facilitates and requires. In my experience, addressing these types of issues early in the transitional process is necessary to avoid turf battles that can seriously sidetrack open adoption and its resulting innovations.
One way to curb these challenges is to create customized open source boot camps for executives, developer managers, and the developers themselves. This is a regular part of the onboarding process I am involved in at IBM. It serves to eliminate confusion and foster understanding long before any development collaboration begins.
The world is a lot different now than it was when I worked on XML in the late 1990s. People and even “things” are connected in ways we couldn’t have imagined in the early days of open source. This digital transformation requires speed and agility, which are clearly in the open source domain.
Open technology is the linchpin that helps facilitate and accelerate innovation. It brings new visions to life. At the same time, open technology is a key to attracting and retaining the developers that every organization needs to stay competitive.