Thinking open source: How startups destroy a culture of fear | Opensource.com

Thinking open source: How startups destroy a culture of fear

Posted 03 May 2011 by 

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Software engineers of corporate America are wired in a way that promotes fear. It hurts creativity and growth. And open source is finally changing that.

Let’s try the following exercise: Write down three things that come to mind when you see the following email subject from your company’s CEO in response to your new open source project announcement.

From: CEO
Subject: Immediate action required (RE: Our latest open source project)

I got such an email after my team had open sourced Heroku-Bartender, a small Rails deployment system. I started sweating and complaining about the lack of network coverage in the New York City subway–because I couldn’t open the email on my phone.

My imagination had fifteen minutes to run wild before the Brooklyn Bridge. I knew that I chose not to inform my boss and CEO about such a minor project being open sourced. I feared that the announcement or the source code included confidential information about our business or an incompatible license. I was convinced that I missed something very big and important and dreaded the consequences for my team and my job.

My email synchronized before the Q train entered Manhattan. The content was nothing like I expected.

"Team,
The Engineering team just open sourced an awesome tool called Heroku-Bartender. It was mentioned on Hacker News with a link to its Github repository. It made it into the top posts. I want everyone to check it out and read through the comments. Open source is a great way for us to establish engineering credibility while contributing to the community-at-large.
-Thank you and congratulations to Engineering."

My education as a programmer was heavily influenced by hackers trading very expensive pirated software, including entire development environments, compilers, and linkers. I could certainly never afford to buy any of it. Those stolen and shared tools were eventually replaced by free and open source projects, created by my generation of programmers as we grew up into law abiding adults. I worked for corporate America through much of this time, but I have recently pushed the reset button to run the engineering team at a small startup. I now find myself surrounded by a new generation of entrepreneurs that are defined by what my generation created: open source.

My CEO has made giving back to the community and building karma part of our company culture. Investors look for this because it attracts those top engineers who will ultimately execute the company’s vision. Open source is no longer the way of the future—it is the way the new CEOs are wired.

These young startup entrepreneurs will soon graduate to executive positions at large U.S. corporations, and will bring their trusted like-minded soldiers with them to radically evolve the culture of the business. In less than ten years we will witness open source software coming out of Goldman Sachs or Bloomberg. The companies that don’t embrace these open movements will simply fail, because the culture of secrecy and fear is a thing of the past.

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10 Comments

fenesiistvan

Yes, and the next year will be the year for the linux desktop :)

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jhibbets
Open Sourcerer

Last year was the year of the Linux desktop, it just wasn't on our desks, it was in the palm of our hands.

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JenMasterson
Community Member

"Not on our desks". That's a really good point.

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Juan Botero

We witness how new jobs are created just to talk with communities, the start of open government, and open sourced projects is a great way to improve the engineer.

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craigharffey
Open Source Evangelist

Great to see but having come from a corporate IT background I have to say this kind of thinking is very rare. The more people "banging the drum" the better and I love hearing stories like this and the now classic Ernie Ball pioneering switch: http://news.cnet.com/2008-1082_3-5065859.html. Whilst I have no doubt the end state is very encouraging, we all get impatient with the slow progress !

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Unidentified

"trusted like-minded soldiers with them to radically evolve the culture of the business. In less than ten years we will witness open source software coming out of Goldman Sachs or Bloomberg"

Giving the hackers exactly what they need to break into them. while we are at it, why change for any thing at all. why charge for support? why not give

    that

. why it is ok to charge for advertising or support , but not for software. why not publish your pricing , marketing, confidential business meeting, or

    anything

that counts as a competitive advantage. why not disclose and share all of your assets. and while we are at it, why stop at software. how about buildings, company cars and material. why not share those with the competitors and public alike. what makes software so unique. don't tell me about the zero marginal cost. cost is not relevant. what is important is the value to the community. I argue the value of buildings, cars and yes, even profits, to the "community" is much higher than yet another software that no one probably will use.

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craigharffey
Open Source Evangelist

Having worked for investment banks will tell you we won't see anything open ever leave their doors. They have no problem using open source though to save £££.

I run my own consultancy business and it took a while to understand the value (competitive advantage) of the business is not in the material we produced for clients, but the experience of our consultants and their ability to execute. A person may have a tool but still not be able to use it.

We have seen examples of documentation, processes etc being taken by contract consultants we have hired for their new jobs. At first this was a concern but now we start to worry if people don't do it!

If we had some more time and resource we would be opening some of our work up and in the future we see this as a good opportunity to introduce the company to prospective clients.

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craigharffey
Open Source Evangelist

Having worked for investment banks will tell you we won't see anything open ever leave their doors. They have no problem using open source though to save £££.

I run my own consultancy business and it took a while to understand the value (competitive advantage) of the business is not in the material we produced for clients, but the experience of our consultants and their ability to execute. A person may have a tool but still not be able to use it.

We have seen examples of documentation, processes etc being taken by contract consultants we have hired for their new jobs. At first this was a concern but now we start to worry if people don't do it!

If we had some more time and resource we would be opening some of our work up and in the future we see this as a good opportunity to introduce the company to prospective clients.

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craigharffey
Open Source Evangelist

Sorry for the double post, blaming the iPad

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Unidentified

“I run my own consultancy business and it took a while to understand the value (competitive advantage) of the business is not in the material we produced for clients, but the experience of our consultants and their ability to execute. A person may have a tool but still not be able to use it.”

“A person may have a tool but still not be able to use it.”
True enough, but a person who knows how to use the tools plus the tools is greater than the same person without the tool.

“I run my own consultancy business and it took a while to understand the value (competitive advantage) of the business is not in the material we produced for clients, but the experience of our consultants and their ability to execute”
That is natural and is as it should be- you run a consulting company . My point is not an open source vs closed debate. My point was really a response to this:
“These young startup entrepreneurs will soon graduate to executive positions at large U.S. corporations, and will bring their trusted like-minded soldiers with them to radically evolve the culture of the business. In less than ten years we will witness open source software coming out of Goldman Sachs or Bloomberg. The companies that don’t embrace these open movements will simply fail, because the culture of secrecy and fear is a thing of the past.”

In the future we will be subject to the same law as we are now : the law of supply and demand.
You run a consulting company which means you compete for the same budget with the product guy. Software products are really complementary to your services and it is to your advantage that they be commoditized. It was not long ago (during the client server era) that consultants were commoditized to the advantage of MS or Oracle, etc..
You don’t mind letting the contract workers use some of you material , but I am willing to bet you probably get them to sign some sort of non-compete with them.(at least most consulting firms do with their contract workers)- you protect your interests. Does that provide a culture of “secrecy and fear’?

With open source frameworks now the consultants can be more differentiated while the horizontal products are getting commoditized.
There is nothing wrong with either party trying to commoditize their complements to their own advantage. It is called the market and it is good for the consumer (most of the time).
But there is nothing new here. Competition is still competition. Supply and demand is still at work. I highly doubt that a chemist/pharmacist ( the consultant if you will) can start handing out free drugs or an R&D scientists can decide to “open source” the formula for the latest drug coming out of Pfizer on the internet while in testing phase. If they do, they will certainly end up bankrupt or even behind bars.
The fact is software as a “tool” has been over-supplied for a long time now. It no longer has the value it did. Some even say that it no longer matters.
http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CCcQFjAB&url=http%3A...
to take piracy and decline of software and conclude that the “culture of secrecy and fear” is over is really non-sense. Also if the OP had taken a mortgage on his house and gambled on creating a new drug for the past seven years , would have a different view on why the investor/inventor might want to “keep it a secret and be fearful”. He would not look kindly if one of his employees who was used to piracy because “well I couldn’t afford it any other way”, went ahead and posted the research all over the internet and bankrupted the little R&D
startup.( notice I didn’t even say manufacturing, I said R&D).
internet and IT is still subject to the laws of supply and demand. Every generation follows their self-interest and is subject to the same as law of supply and demand. The rest is just non-sense.

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