Cloud Native / Culture / Development / Contributed

The Power of Community in Open Source

7 Jun 2017 6:00am, by

Open source is based on freedom. That freedom includes access to the source code, freedom to collaborate, and ultimately, the freedom to innovate. In open source, no one person or company owns a project. Open source is a philosophy and a movement, and what makes open source thrive is the community that grows up around it.

It Takes a Community

Code alone doesn’t cause this to happen. As in the proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a community to create a healthy open source project. All participants in an open source ecosystem have the opportunity to shape and improve the software. Users can identify features they need, and contribute code upstream. Everyone has a chance to make a difference.

An open source project has the best chance of growing into a successful ecosystem if the entire community around it takes an active role. This includes everyone from code committers, users, documentation writers, software vendors, platform vendors, and integrators.

Diversity Makes Us Stronger

In the open source world, community is not a construct defined by physical location. It’s defined by sharing attitudes, interests, and goals. By its nature, an open source community spans geography, political affiliations, religion, and life experience. There are no arbitrary boundaries of company, country, or even language. People from all backgrounds with diverse perspectives can participate.

This diversity is what makes a healthy community thrive. Diversity of thought, diversity of experience, and diversity of opinions make us stronger by presenting us opportunities to solve problems collaboratively.

When people are suddenly immersed in this culture of collaboration, it’s sometimes difficult. The world at large often teaches people to distrust or fear others. Many people have a learned “us versus them” mentality. It’s not always easy to communicate, let alone collaborate. We don’t all sing Kumbaya and magically get along and agree with each other.

That’s why we have a code of conduct in the Cloud Foundry community that asks people to be respectful. Our core value is kindness. We encourage community members to be kind when interacting with each other. To show respect. To listen. To be inclusive. We strive to make everyone in the community feel welcome, regardless of their background, or how much they contribute.

Abby Kearns
Abby Kearns is the Executive Director for the Cloud Foundry Foundation. She is a true tech veteran, with an 18-year career spanning product marketing, management and consulting at a mix of Fortune 500 and startup companies. At the Cloud Foundry Foundation, Abby was responsible for structuring and executing operational and strategic initiatives, as well as leading the User Advisory Board and Industry Special Interest Groups. Prior to joining the Foundation, she was part of the product management team at Pivotal, focusing on Pivotal Cloud Foundry.

At Cloud Foundry, we encourage inclusion. At our conferences, we invite speakers from all aspects of our community, ensuring that diverse perspectives are shared. This year, we actually have more women giving keynotes than men at our upcoming Silicon Valley Summit, which sadly, is not typical in this industry.

These community values are not only good for the project; they’re good for you as a human being. Learning to work with others with different and even opposing viewpoints and ideas is an opportunity to practice tolerance and inclusiveness, and even to embrace differences. “Fear needs to reject differences,” his Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa said recently in the Buddhist Tricycle Magazine. “Diversity strengthens us. Diversity is not something to be tolerated–it is to be celebrated. We should welcome it with curiosity, delight, and joy.”

Beyond open source being good for business, I’d argue that being part of an open source community is good for you as a human being. Learning to collaborate, to listen to others, to embrace diversity, can make you a better person. When you adopt kindness as a guiding principle, it makes you reflect on the words you use and the promises you make. It makes you more mindful. And when you can let go of the need to always be right, you might even learn and grow.

Collaborative R&D Strengthens Projects

Diversity is key to moving the industry forward; it helps us foster a sustainable and open community, and enables innovation to flourish. Collaborative R&D is where open source really drives real value.

Open Source fosters collaboration within a project, but also among other open source projects. For example, in the Cloud Foundry community, we have a great relationship with OpenStack, the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), the Eclipse Foundation, and many others. The Open Service Broker API project we announced last year was a way to take the Cloud Foundry Service Broker API, an industry-leading technology, and make it available across other platforms and communities. The collective work of multiple communities, in this case, benefits the greater good of all of them.

When an open source project thrives it attracts users, and over time its collective base of developers can be larger than of its non-open counterpart. One could argue that due to the diversity of thought, open source has an advantage over its closed, proprietary counterpart. Over time, as more people become part of the community around a project, the potential for accelerated problem solving expands even further. When so many people are invested in the outcome, and in the continued innovation around it, a community-led project or platform has a greater chance of success.

If you’re looking to hire developers, take note. Developers list open source as one of their driving factors when deciding whether or not they’ll join a company. What is your company’s level of participation in an open source project? Developers want to be part of something bigger; they want to contribute and influence where that technology is going.

The Cloud Foundry Foundation is a sponsor of The New Stack.

Feature image via Pixabay.

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