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Open Source / Tech Life

Awakening a Latent Superpower

How an open source program office can help an organization manage its open source portfolio.
Mar 17th, 2020 1:59pm by and
Featued image for: Awakening a Latent Superpower

VMware sponsored this post.

Suzanne Ambiel
Suzanne is the director of open source marketing and strategy for VMware. She’s been with VMware since 2011 traversing, the company landscape:  from VMware View to vSAN and now, Open Source. 

Editor’s note: This is Part Three of VMware’s “Getting to Great” series on its Open Source Program Office. Read part one and part two.

The benefits of an Open Source Program Office (OSPO) is best summed up by Joe Beda, principal engineer at VMware: “Open Source is a growing force for every company that deals with software — and today, that is pretty much every company. Smart organizations turn open source from a source of stress to a competitive advantage. This involves consuming open source to improve products and processes and contributing to assert that the organization’s needs are being met and they are seen as a leader when recruiting. Establishing an OSPO can further this in multiple ways. It can both ensure that engineers engage with open source software (OSS) in a responsible way whereby the company’s interests are protected while also evangelizing the enormous opportunities in building open source relationships. When done well, the OSPO activates a latent superpower for the company.”

Part one of this series focused on the “Rationale Behind the OSPO,” referencing current study results as discussion points. We then followed with “The Core Tenets of the VMware OSPO.” Once your organization has decided it needs to move beyond ad hoc participation and into more deliberate and strategic open source software use and contribution, creating an OSPO may be in order.

Thoughtful and precise steps will begin the process. Dirk Hohndel, chief open source officer for VMware, said at the launch of the VMware OSPO: “My goal is to find the projects where there is an agreement to be found, to make things better for them, for us, for the customers.” Pragmatically organizing a primary set of developers to create a project and encouraging organic growth, while keeping an eye on the long-term objective, is the best way to solve a common problem. To best learn the culture of any community in which you would like to participate, listen and watch. Once you begin to collaborate, remember the “we, before me.”

Leveraging the enormity of adjacent open source projects is another way to mature an OSS strategy. Bridging resources within your own marketplace is obvious, but harnessing technology collaboration with those outside of your domain can propel your output to a new level. It’s easy, yet dangerous, to confirm market bias while working in an echo chamber. Those who share your marketplace may have some of the same prejudices. Migrating beyond natural borders is where a new source of answers can be found. Those who might validate technical components you’ve created while deploying them for completely different applications will help to fortify your discoveries. Applying creativity and innovation from environs that are, by nature, cross-pollinating, will yield a higher level of idea spread. When SoundCloud open-sourced Prometheus, both Docker and Boxever applied developer-strength. The results are a monitoring system with ingenuity beyond that of a proprietary software package developed in a silo. For non-tech companies with smaller development resources, reaching outside into a wider talent pool is an option as well.

Rhonda Edwards
Rhonda is an open source marketer with a passion for innovative technologies contributing to the fourth Industrial Revolution. She is an electrical engineer by training. @rhondanet

In the interest of streamlining company-wide protocols and executing ever-evolving policy around OSS usage and contributions, the OSPO can take the lead. Case studies in support of opening an OSPO for a variety of business types are available on GitHub. Laying out the foundation may seem daunting, but the availability of sample constructs and helpful advice is as accessible as the OSS itself. The Linux Foundation (LF) hosts the TODO Group, a gathering of leaders from LF member companies. The TODO group members collaborate on practices, tools and provide insights on how to create and run successful and effective open source projects and programs. TODO has published a catalog of helpful guides. From how and why to establish an OSPO to measuring impact and establishing metrics, these guides will inspire and inform.

While each company’s path to the establishment of an OSPO is unique, most begin with the identification of an internal champion. When possible, enlist and leverage the expertise from within existing ranks in the company. Legal, brand or the more OSS advanced teams are likely to be interested in the process. That focal point can begin to coalesce the rules of engagement, working across all stakeholders, that will become the internal policies for OSS compliance and best practices. If you don’t already have a champion, the TODO Group provides a list of job descriptions to help you recruit.

“By adopting and publishing guidelines around open source use and contribution, teams will be enabled to participate with confidence. Knowing where the boundaries lie — what’s in and what’s out — also encourages experimentation. For each interaction, experience is gained, and skills are built. Encouraging dialogue and collaboration along the way are critical.  That experience can be repeated and duplicated, soon becoming a standard practice. OSS muscle will start to flex and will grow stronger with each engagement.

For VMware, open source participation pivoted from tactical to strategic with the formation of an Open Source Program Office. Four years in, and while our OSPO journey has covered significant ground, we know there’s more work to be done. Hohndel summed it up nicely:

“You have to create an ecosystem in which the individual companies, the individual players, all have an opportunity to create positive business outcomes.” 

At VMware, that means a constant focus on compliance, developing and modeling community best practices, and fostering a keen eye for innovation beyond our badges — all to deliver better outcomes for everyone.

What is your experience with open source programs? The New Stack is conducting its third annual open source program survey this spring, in partnership with The Linux Foundation’s TODO Group and VMware. Watch for a link to the survey when it goes live.

The Linux Foundation is a sponsor of The New Stack.

Feature image via Pixabay.

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