December 29, 2020 | 5min read
Open-source Software—What Is the Future of Development?
In this new series, we ask our top tech leaders for their take on the future of development. In the first episode, we sat down with Polidea’s Head of Cloud & Open Source Services, Karolina Rosół, to answer some of the questions circling around open-source and its relation with the business world. So what is the global state of open-source? Can it function without funding? And finally, what the future holds? Karolina is the right person to ask as her journey with Polidea started in the role of a Project Manager coordinating open-source projects. Still in the middle of the action, closely connected to the open-source community, she is now the go-to-person for Cloud & Open-source Projects. We’ve also had the opportunity to ask Jarek Potiuk—Principal Software Engineer at Polidea & Apache Airflow PMC Member and Committer—to add his insights. Dive in!
Karolina Rosół: I would say that what we witness now is a global shift in thinking about open-source projects. It used to be about developers working on features they were passionate about—mostly in their free time. As the open-source matured, big companies and top players in the tech world such as Microsoft and Google realized that it’s a great idea to invest in solutions that are already available—created and maintained by the international community of developers. By working with them, big companies fuel the existing initiatives, use and improve the tools that are already out there and may focus on other areas of activity instead of creating solutions from scratch. Open-source is used by Facebook, Google, or Microsoft because it has great potential. It’s like recruiting a highly skilled and motivated team with specialists scattered around the globe. Still, to keep the projects running, you need to pay the experts to do their job. In my opinion, modern open-source doesn’t exist without the financial support provided by the biggest players. I remember this quote from the Open Source Connect—a virtual event organized by Accel. “Open source thrives when there are great, enduring companies behind them.” I totally agree!
Karolina Rosół: I would say that enterprises and startups may need to include OSS strategy in their plans. As we read in The Future of Open Source: Launching the Open100 article by Accel, in 2019, over 1.3 million first-time committers joined the open-source community. This is the force we can’t ignore!
Karolina Rosół: First and foremost—the community. Open source projects have this additional layer: communicating with the community, keeping track of all the news and changes, following the code of conduct, aligning with the community’s plans for the future. Apache Software Foundation’s motto is “community over code.” That tells it all. I would say that open-source projects require engagement—this means being active in the community of fellow developers and all stakeholders involved.
Karolina Rosół: I guess that the open-source world remains democratic in the sense that all the interested parties can benefit from the solutions generated by the community. My biggest lesson was that tools like this are super-complicated, and only a few people are ready to develop them successfully. Obviously, there are not many volunteers who would maintain and support it after hours. Therefore, big companies invest in open-source tools and use them in their projects, but others can use them too. So if you are a startup and want to use Apache Beam or Apache Airflow, you can fork whatever is available and develop your product using the existing knowledge. Personally, I find the open-source projects characterized by freedom: freedom of idea and freedom of speech. Next comes the ownership—you need to own your ideas and pursue them till the end. And finally—mentorship. The community offers the support that you won’t find anywhere else. Learning these principles and acting according to them was a great lesson.
Jarek Potiuk: Here at Polidea, we are in a unique position of connecting various stakeholders— Companies that want to contribute and improve the products (our customers), users of the software (who are also our customers), our tech team, and the open-source community. The projects are unique since they’re not only about developing one product but rather about a general, broad concept of driving to the common goal while maintaining vendor neutrality. We have to consider the motivations and expectations of all the stakeholders—commercial customers, users, contributors, maintainers, developers, and our company board. All with great respect for the people involved. I think that to succeed in this environment, you need to reach a certain level of maturity on many levels—engineering, business, management, people, communication. But above all, transparency and honesty must be the center and front for all your actions.
Karolina Rosół: Open source is a perfect bridge between big companies, startups, and SMEs. But it also connects people from different professional backgrounds. The developer who has just started his adventure with coding can broaden his portfolio, learn and contribute to the solutions that are maintained by super-experienced tech teams. It is also a place for non-technical people, who can help in other ways—by correcting the documentation, reviewing READMEs, checking grammar, etc. The tools that we develop are later used by data scientists. It’s exciting! You can check the project, learn more about it, join the devlist, and look for issues. If you don’t have any knowledge—you can ask for help, advice, or contact someone directly. What rules is a meritocracy—people who truly contribute in any way they can are the ones who can voice their opinions. As for us, we are most active in the Apache community—there is a code of conduct and “Apache Way” that we need to follow, plus the variety of projects is impressive.
Jarek Potiuk: Hard to say. This is such a dynamic area that it’s really difficult to foresee the future. And quite recently, it’s been accelerated by the COVID pandemic— now everyone in our industry works in the distributed and remote fashion. The OSS has already been there for years, and people are thriving because they’ve already learned how to work this way efficiently. This also means that more people will eventually learn and embrace this way of work and that when they start contributing to the OSS project, they will find a very familiar and friendly environment. But, as the famous quote attributed to Steve Jobs goes—the best way to foresee the future is to shape it. We are working hard in Polidea to shape the future of OSS—making it easier for new contributors to start, sharing our experiences and thoughts from working on the OSS projects. And—yes—educating our customers about the benefits of working with companies like ours to make the best of their OSS involvement. We are also continuously looking around and trying to spot the areas and projects that seem promising. There is one thing we’ve learned—change is inevitable, and being open to it is the only viable strategy.
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