Thoughts on Keynote Speakers at Seneca’s Free Software and Open Source Symposium

On Friday October 24th I attended Seneca’s Free Software and Open Source Symposium. Bob Young and Chris Aniszczyk were two keynote speakers for the symposium. Both speakers are industry experts who provide a great deal of insight into the world of open source in successful businesses.

 

Red Hat Linux Creator – Bob Young

Friday’s first keynote speaker is Bob Young, founder of Red Hat Linux, which is now a 1.5 million dollar revenue Company that creates a distribution of the Linux operating system. His talk focused on the idea of open source, and it’s development from his perspective over the past 16 years. Mr. Young started by creating ACC Corp, which sold books and disks for Linux and realized the potential of the public domain and open source. After this venture, Young decided to create Red Hat and risk his children’s education funds in order to pursue his dreams of an open source based business.

Young discussed how previous to the GPL there was no such thing as public domain in software. Programmers would have their work traditionally copy written and allow people to use it. This promissory method of sharing software is risky as a business, as they could pull its free status, legally, at any moment and dismantle a business or project that uses the technology.

GPL and open source represents a bartering system. For example, if you contribute 1MB of code at a couple hundred thousands of dollars as was the case with the developer of some of Linux’s early network drivers, in return you receive a full operating system for free created by likeminded individuals. By sharing, we share not only the wealth, but also our knowledge by writing code. This is why open source is not altruistic per-se. You gain more than the work you put into it, it’s just not monetary.

Bob Young, although not exactly active in the community anymore, provides insight into the history of open source and the ideals of why it began. Bob represents the beginning of a movement, and an achievement that few can find. His speech was a history lesson, which helps us define purpose, and a lesson for staying mindful of open source’s humble beginnings.

 

Head of Open Source at Twitter – Chris Aniszczyk

Chris Aniszczyk is head of Twitter’s open source department. He previously worked with Red Hat and porting Eclipse to Red Hat Linux.

At Twitter, Aniszczyk has seen large movements in how Twitter handles its development. At Twitter, they started a movement to always consider open source options before “reinventing the wheel” and proving creating a new method will be more viable. This has lead to Twitter using a large amount of open source libraries. In order to handle the large amount of traffic that Twitter sees, it has been important to segment from a monorail schema and separate responsibilities while maximizing use of resources through open source means.

Aniszczyk’s keynote speech punctuated something Twitter is famous for: acquihires. Often companies that acquire a company for the talent forget about the companies code because the actual project is not needed for the company. Open sourcing code obtained through acquihires and having that discussion with the creators can keep it alive, which may be important in the future and help people.

In addition to this discussion, the importance in contributing to existing projects and compounded the ideal that you truly gain more from open source than what you put into it. Publically publishing features or fixes helps better the product for others and you gain the value of many more people contributing in a like-minded fashion.

Chris suggested following what he calls the “open source craft”:

  • Use Open
  • Assume Open
  • Define Secret Sauce
  • Measure Everything
  • Default Github
  • Default to Permissive
  • Acquire and Open
  • Pay it Forward

These points are a valuable checklist to approach open source development within a business.

The one interesting point that seems to be maligned is “defining the secret sauce”. In terms of Twitter, the secret sauce is its code base that is not revealed to the public. However, this is the point in which a business gains its advantage and is able to compete in the industry.

 

Comparison

The two keynote speakers revolved around the lack of altruism around open source development and the idea of open source likened to a bartering system. However, this is actually a positive aspect of open source.

Contributing to a project or open sourcing your own project provides you with much more return than the time you spend on the project. This is an interesting view on the open source directive, as it’s commonly viewed as an altruistic venture that benefits others.

Young focused on the beginnings of open source development and how it led into the creation of Red Hat. Aniszczyk discussed the modern day applications of open source and allowed us into the world of how companies, in his case a very large company, views and utilizes the open source paradigm.

 

Conclusion

The most resonating message from the speakers was the realization that open source truly is a bartering system, but one where you often receive more than the value of what you contribute. Throughout my time developing software, I have always enjoyed the extensive amount of open source software and libraries available on the Internet. They have helped me learn and grow my programming skills. The benefits I have gained far outweigh the contributions I have made to the community, as is the case with most developer. But by continuing to contribute, I can continue to add more to the value of bartering in open source.

Further, Aniszczyk’s “open source craft” is a valuable checklist for beginning development on a project and I will be considering it in my future projects in order to best align them with a modern companies views on approaching the open source paradigm.