Here’s why I spend so much of my time—including evenings and weekends—on GitHub, as an active member of the open source community.
I’ve worked on everything from solo projects to small collaborative group efforts to projects with hundreds of contributors. With each project, I’ve learned something new.
That said, here are seven reasons why I contribute to open source:
- It keeps my skills fresh. As someone in a management position at a consultancy, I sometimes feel like I am becoming more and more distant from the physical process of creating software. Working on open source projects allows me to get back to what I love best: writing code. It also allows me to experiment with new technologies, learn new techniques and languages—and keep up with the cool kids!
- It teaches me about people. Working on an open source project with a group of people you’ve never met teaches you a lot about how to interact with people. You quickly discover that everyone has their own pressures, their own commitments, and differing timescales. Learning how to work collaboratively with a group of strangers is a great life skill.
- It makes me a better communicator. Maintainers of open source projects have a limited amount of time. You quickly learn that to successfully contribute, you must be able to communicate clearly and concisely what you are changing, adding, or fixing, and most importantly, why you are doing it.
- It makes me a better developer. There is nothing quite like having hundreds—or thousands—of other developers depend on your code. It motivates you to pay a lot more attention to software design, testing, and documentation.
- It makes my own creations better. Possibly the most powerful concept behind open source is that it allows you to harness a global network of creative, intelligent, and knowledgeable individuals. I know I have my limits, and I don’t know everything, but engaging with the open source community helps me improve my creations.
- It teaches me the value of small things. If the documentation for a project is unclear or incomplete, I don’t hesitate to make it better. One small update or fix might save a developer only a few minutes, but multiplied across all the users, your one small change can have a significant impact.
- It makes me better at marketing. Ok, this is an odd one. There are so many great open source projects out there that it can feel like a struggle to get noticed. Working in open source has taught me a lot about the value of marketing your creations. This isn’t about spin or creating a flashy website. It is about clearly communicating what you have created, how it is used, and the benefits it brings.
I could go on about how open source helps you build partnerships, connections, and friends, but you get the idea. There are a great many reasons why I thoroughly enjoy being part of the open source community.
You might be wondering how all this applies to the IT strategy for large financial services organizations. Simple: Who wouldn’t want a team of developers who are great at communicating and working with people, have cutting-edge skills, and are able to market their creations?