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Getting paid to write open source software

Esther Schindler
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Joined: Sep 03, 2005
Posts: 34
Howdy, folks! I have a new job, which I (already) really love: I'm now senior online editor for communities at cio.com and csoonline.com. Naturally, that doesn't keep me from writing articles -- and the first one that I decided to tackle is among the rough spots between management and developers.

(This may be in the wrong message section, but I couldn't find one with a better fit. Moderators are welcome to move it elsewhere.)

I know, from Evans Data research, that a rather high percentage of software developers write open source code, whether on their own time or the company's clock; some meaningful percentage of those developers also contribute the changes back to the open source community. And one of the factoids mentioned in passing at the Gartner Open Source summit in September was that a growing percentage of corporations are paying their own developers to work on open source projects, some of whom do so full time. IBM is probably the easiest example, with several people on the Eclipse project employed by IBM.

I'm looking for other people in that situation -- either the salaried open source developer or that developer's management -- so I can write an article to provide guidance to IT Managers who are contemplating such options.

What I'm hoping to find (or create) are management guidelines for companies who want to take advantage of open source code, and know that they need functions that aren't currently in the software. The easiest solution is to add the features they need to the existing open source code base, then contribute the enhancements back to the development community. But doing so can raise intellectual property questions (such as "what does it mean for 'work for hire'?")... and perhaps several other issues that make lawyers and CEOs uncomfortable. I'd like to get your input on what issues the open source developer and her manager need to deal with. (Feel free to forward this to developers you know who might be able to help.)

Note that I'm NOT looking here for people who are using open source tools at work; that is, I'm thrilled if you write code in Eclipse or you target your site to run on the Apache Web server, but I'm not after the users. Rather, I'm in search of someone who writes the code _of_ the open source software: a committer to Plone, a contributor to Drupal, a programmer who's given code to samba. And who has done so on company time, whether as part of the job description or simply to get the work done or for any other reason. With or without management approval, though I'm most interested in those who can say "with."

So, if you're the right person, here's the questions I'm wondering about:

* How did you convince management that this was a good idea? Or did they approach you?

* What concerns did management have regarding intellectual property issues? How were they resolved?

* People issues: Were there "team" challenges, since the open source developer is sort-of working on corporate applications (but not quite)? Have the needs of the open source community ever presented a conflict with your company identity? Do people in the open source community know for whom you work; that is, does your e-mail sig identify you as @company.com or @myself.com, and does that have any side effects?

* What other problems came up? How have you dealt with them?

* In short, what should a manager know before she decides to say, "Okay, we'll let you work 20 hours a week on the such-and-so project"?

I'm writing for the manager and CIO here; let's help them make the best decisions possible.

I'm hoping to post the article sometime at the beginning of December, so I'd appreciate any advice you can offer me -- publicly or privately -- sooner rather than later. Also, let me know (privately if necessary) about your company and open source community affliations; we can work out the details of "how should I refer to you" one-on-one.

Esther Schindler
senior editor, cio.com
eschindler@cxo.om
Jeanne Boyarsky
internet detective
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Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 29249
    
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Esther,
Congratulations on the new job. Since you were wondering, this post is in the correct forum.


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Esther Schindler
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Joined: Sep 03, 2005
Posts: 34
Originally posted by Jeanne Boyarsky:
Congratulations on the new job. Since you were wondering, this post is in the correct forum.


Thanks -- on both counts!
Ilja Preuss
author
Sheriff

Joined: Jul 11, 2001
Posts: 14112
We are using a lot of open source software at work - tools like XPlanner, and libraries such as Jakarta Commons and dozens of others. We've provided dozens of bugfixes and small enhancements to those projects.

Doing so basically was a no-brainer - the investment in making the patches available to the community are paid back manifold by not having to care about patching the software again and again every time we get a version update.


The soul is dyed the color of its thoughts. Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny - it is the light that guides your way. - Heraclitus
Ilja Preuss
author
Sheriff

Joined: Jul 11, 2001
Posts: 14112
Additionally we are in the process of preparing our own OS project for going public.

This was initiated by the developers, induced by problems with questions of intellectual property.

Basically, developers were bringing helpful classes from hobby projects to work, where they got enhanced and polished. Now the question arose whether it was ok to let those changes flow back into the hobby projects again.

Since this is code that isn't about our core competency, we could convince management to open source it. This leads to a win-win situation - the organization benefits from code developed in leisure time, and the developers get more benefit from code developed at work. Additionally, we hope for some publicity for the organization coming from publishing a high quality open source project.
Esther Schindler
Ranch Hand

Joined: Sep 03, 2005
Posts: 34
Originally posted by Ilja Preuss:
Additionally we are in the process of preparing our own OS project for going public.

This was initiated by the developers, induced by problems with questions of intellectual property.

Basically, developers were bringing helpful classes from hobby projects to work, where they got enhanced and polished. Now the question arose whether it was ok to let those changes flow back into the hobby projects again.

Since this is code that isn't about our core competency, we could convince management to open source it. This leads to a win-win situation - the organization benefits from code developed in leisure time, and the developers get more benefit from code developed at work. Additionally, we hope for some publicity for the organization coming from publishing a high quality open source project.


Oh, cool!

What were your managers worried about, before you were able to convince them this was a good idea for everybody? What rules did they put in place -- and how formal were they about it?
Esther Schindler
Ranch Hand

Joined: Sep 03, 2005
Posts: 34
Thanks to everybody who contributed -- my article is now online!

The Enterprise Committer: Employees writing FOSS code on the company's dime

http://www.cio.com/technology/development/opensource/open_source_on_company_time.html?CID=28487
Ilja Preuss
author
Sheriff

Joined: Jul 11, 2001
Posts: 14112
Sorry for not answering your last questions - must have missed them...

Is there an easy-to-print version of the article available? Didn't see a link on the site, but might just have missed it, too...
Esther Schindler
Ranch Hand

Joined: Sep 03, 2005
Posts: 34
Originally posted by Ilja Preuss:
Is there an easy-to-print version of the article available? Didn't see a link on the site, but might just have missed it, too...


I'm afraid not. :-(
Stan James
(instanceof Sidekick)
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Joined: Jan 29, 2003
Posts: 8791
Thanks for that article! It was very timely as a group of us are trying to figure out how to integrate OS components into the company and maybe even run OS like projects entirely within the company.


A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of the idea. John Ciardi
 
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