The success of open source continues to grow; surveys show that the majority of companies use some form of open source, 99% of enterprises see open source as important, and almost half of developers are contributing back. It's important to note that companies aren't contributing to open source for purely altruistic reasons. Recent research from Harvard shows that open source-contributing companies capture up to 100% more productive value from open source than companies that do not contribute back. Another research study concluded countries adopting modern open source practices saw:
"a 0.6%–5.4% yearly increase in companies that use OSS, a 9%–18% yearly increase in the number of IT-related startups, a 6.6%–14% yearly increase in the number of individuals employed in IT related jobs, and a 5%–16% yearly decrease in software-related patents. All of these outcomes help to increase productivity and competitiveness at the national level. In aggregate, these results show that changes in government technology policy that favor OSS can have a positive impact on both global social value and domestic national competitiveness."
In the end, there are many ways for a company or organization to sustain open source. It could be as simple as training your organization to contribute to open source projects you depend on or hiring engineers to work on open source projects. Here are eight ways your organization can contribute back to open source, based on examples in the industry.
Hire open source maintainers to work on open source
Companies with strategies to leverage open source often find the highest returns from hiring a maintainer of the projects they depend the most on. It's no surprise if you look at the Who Writes the Linux Kernel report that the top contributors are all employed by companies like ARM, Google, Facebook, Intel, Red Hat, Samsung, and more.
Having a maintainer (full time or part time) on your staff can help your organization learn how to work within the project community and enable prioritization of upstream contributions based on understanding of what the community is focused on. Hiring the maintainers also means that the project will have people with enough time to focus on the details and the rigor that's needed for a project to be useful; think security reviews, bug cleanup, release management, and more. A more predictable and reliable upstream project can benefit many in your organization while also improving the overall project community. As a bonus, maintainers can also become advocates for your organization and help with recruiting too!
Develop an open source award program or peer bonus fund
It is common for companies to have internal employee recognition programs that recognize individuals who go above and beyond. As an example, Red Hat has a community award program through Opensource.com. Some other companies have expanded their recognition programs to include open source contributors. For example, Google has an open source peer bonus program that recognizes external people who have made exceptional contributions to open source.
Start an open source program office
Many internet-scale companies, including Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter and more, have established formal open source programs (colloquially called OSPOs) within their organizations to manage open source strategy along with the consumption and contribution of open source.
If you want to increase your contributions to open source, research has shown that companies with formal open source programs are more likely to contribute back. If you want to learn from organizations with formal open source programs, I recommend you read the TODO Group Open Source Program Guides.
Launch an open source fund
Some organizations contribute fiscally to the open source projects that are important to them. For example, Comcast's Open Source Development Grants "are intended to fund new or continued development of open source software in areas of interest to Comcast or of benefit to the Internet and broadband industries." This isn't just for big companies; small companies have open source funds, too. For example, CarGurus launched an open source fund and Eventbot is supporting open source with a small percentage of its revenue. Another interesting approach is what Indeed has done by democratizing the open source funding process with its employees.
Contribute a portion of your company equity to open source
Consider donating a portion of your organization's equity to an open source project you depend on. For example, Citus Data recently donated one percent of its equity to the PostgreSQL community. This worked out nicely; Citus Data was acquired by Microsoft recently, so the PostgreSQL community will benefit from that acquisition, too.
Support and join open source foundations
There are many open source foundations that house open source projects your organization depends on, including the Apache Foundation, Eclipse Foundation, Cloud Native Computing Foundation (home of Kubernetes), GraphQL Foundation, Let's Encrypt, Linux Foundation, Open Source Initiative (OSI), OpenStack Foundation, NodeJS Foundation, and more.
Fund and participate in open source internships or retreats
There are many open source internship programs that you can participate in and help fund. Google Summer of Code (GSoC) is the largest, and it requires mentorship from employees who work on open source projects as part of the program. Or you can sponsor internships for underrepresented minorities in open source through Outreachy and CommunityBridge.
Another approach is to host an open source retreat at your company. For example, Stripe hosts open source retreats to contribute to open source projects it depends on.
Include open source in your corporate philanthropy initiatives
If your organization has a corporate sustainability or philanthropic arm, consider working with that team to include open source as a part of its work. For example, Bloomberg has a software philanthropy budget for projects it depends on, from Git to Eclipse to Python and more. In the future, I hope to see more corporate sustainability and philanthropy efforts—like Pledge 1%—that focus on funding critical open source infrastructure.
In conclusion, sustaining open source is not only the right thing to do, according to research, it's also good for your business. To make sure open source continues to thrive and is sustainable in the long run, we all need to ensure that companies find ways to sustain the open source communities they depend on.