Open source at your company? 6 questions your manager will ask

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Christian Grail gave a talk at OSCON 2016 titled: "How to convince your manager to go open source."

I thought the perspective was going to be from the user side but it was from the employee side, about convincing your manager to open source the projects at your company.

6 questions your manager will ask

"Isn't the quality going to suffer?"

There is a perception that when we're only depending on our internal team, we can control the quality. The fact is that with open source, you have nice lean code and the quality is usually better because it's being worked on all of the time, regardless of where and by whom. The advantage with most open source software is that you get a community, so you have more than just your team of X developers.

"Who is going to visit our conferences when everything is publicly available?"

People don't go to open source conferences to be surprised by code, they go to network with their peers. There are conferences for nearly every open source project and language, and they are all successful.

"How do we keep vulnerabilities hidden?"

While this might sound bad, it's not. If people know about vulnerabilities they will exploit them. Each project handles this differently, for example at Koha we have a private bugzilla for security issues that only proven members of the community can see. When the fix is submitted we announce a security release instead of announcing the vulnerability.

"How are we going to make money if our software is free?"

Google, Facebook, and GitHub are all companies that make money by supporting open source software (OSS). They did not release their core software but the software around their core. Another way to make money with OSS not mentioned this talk, is to offer services on top of the software.

"Will our developers want to show their code to the world?"

The best developers want to show their code and share it because they are proud of what they've done. This is not an issue with open source, this is an issue with your developers. You can do training internally so that they feel more confident about sharing their code in public.

"How can we handle thousands of contributions?"

Thousands of open source contributors aren't going to flock to your project, more than likely. So, this isn't a major concern, but you do need to make sure that there is documentation on how to participate in your project. Contributors need to be able to use your software, report issues, and fix bugs (in that order). If you're lucky they will escalate to requesting features, implementing features, and becoming responsible for modules. In short, you will really have to work to get contributions in the first place.

Final tips to convince your manager

  • Start contributing to an open source project on your own
  • This about possible business cases
  • Make a pro/con list
  • Don't pick the cash cow of your company
  • Start with a small project
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Nicole C. Baratta (Engard) is a Senior Content Strategist at Red Hat. She received her MLIS from Drexel University and her BA from Juniata College. Nicole volunteers as the Director of ChickTech Austin. Nicole is known for many different publications including her books “Library Mashups", "More Library Mashups", and "Practical Open Source Software for Libraries".

1 Comment

How would you answer a question from a manager about indemnification of said OSS?

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