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It's never been easier and more beneficial to contribute to open source projects. We've got the tips below.
Open source projects can be largely beneficial to most organizations and companies should be encouraging developers to contribute. The growing importance of software in all industries and the increasing demand and lack of supply for developer talent, means more companies are looking to open source to bolster in-house talent. Tech Republic, looking to understand more about contributions to open source, used an algorithm to calculate the companies with the highest percentages of active open source contributors within a company, not just the highest number of registered contributors. The clear winner for the highest number of active contributors in Microsoft, the company that just acquired Git Hub.
When the number of contributors in compared to the overall size of the company, we start to see some interesting insights. Mozilla came in first at 39.9% followed by, Pivotal, SUSE, Red Hat, Unity Technologies and Square, Thoughtworks, Shopify, ESRI, and rounded out in number 10 by Microsoft. Most of these companies aren't strictly tech companies. Unity Technologies is a video game developer, Square is a financial services company, but both understand the importance of software and more specifically open source software.
Open Source Contributions = Increased Competitive Advantage
For newcomers, it might seem that contributing to open source also gives your competitors access to projects and software you are sharing, hindering your ability to innovate ahead of them or maintain a tech advantage. However, it would seem that companies that encourage employees to contribute to open source software actually gain a competitive advantage. Research conducted by the Strategy Unit at Harvard Business School indicates that "paying employees to contribute to such software boosts the company's productivity from using the software by as much as 100 percent when compared with free-riding competitors."
However, open source can't just be fueled by a desire from companies to achieve a competitive advantage. The tech environment is becoming more and more open and the value of shared knowledge is being lauded over the desire to remain secretive. And now, contributing to open source software is a sort of social investment, giving back to the community and improving the company image. Maybe even leading to the recruitment of top talent. Internally, encouraging employees to contribute is a way to spur knowledge and skill development, collaboration and a culture of openness and innovation. Put that way, it makes sense to tell employees to contribute to open source projects.
Tips for Approaching Open Source
While it may be daunting to start contributing to anything. There are a few things you can do as a company or an individual to make it easier for your employees to feel confident with open source right away.
1. Understand that every open source community is different: you might be shocked to find that one project doesn't follow the same structure or word usage or ways of working as another. Communities are different, and while there are similarities running through each project, take the time to get to know the project you choose before contributing.
2. You can contribute even if you aren't a developer or don't know code: one of the biggest misconceptions about open source is that all valued contributions are code. They aren't. In fact, some of the most impactful changes can be a community organization, documenting, curating a newsletter, and so much more. Don't limit the definition of a contribution.
3. Be polite: Some discussions evolve into arguments very easily. Maintain politeness and spend time developing, not arguing. Choosing a community that is friendly and open also goes a long way in improving your knowledge and skills quickly because changes are welcomed.
4. Keep it short and public: First, no one wants to read a novel. Second, in most situations, public information benefits everyone, not just you and the other conversationist - in fact, it's called open source. This rule does not apply for conduct violations or other serious matters that need to be discussed in private.
For more info, Github put together a comprehensive overview.
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