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The future of open source for programmers

Github – the most popular hosting service for open source projects was founded seven years ago. It brought the ideas of free software to a much broader audience, particularly of younger programmers and undoubtedly made a mark on the way we see open source today.

But it’s not the only thing that changed. Open source is now the way software is done. Over 70% of companies run on open source and giants like Facebook, Twitter or even Microsoft release new projects in dozens, unleashing an entirely new set of challenges for the open source world. What will the next seven years look like for programmers?

Code and community

Code is obviously an important part of every open source software project. Particularly in the beginning, it’s the reason why a group of people gets together to start a community.

Programmers are passionate about their work which makes code a source of numerous rows and squabbles that can send shockwaves through communities of thousands. As the father of the Linux Kernel noted himself:

Talk is cheap. Show me the code. —Linus Torvalds (LKML)

But it’s the community that makes open source great. Without it, the code is just code. When no one cares, does it really matter whether it’s open source or not?

We release new open source projects hoping that people will find them useful and maybe jump in and start making them with us. But if the code is the only thing you release, chances are that not many of them will show up.

Having a good documentation ready, quick guides written up, being polite and respond to questions in timely manner are a few things that can help you build and maintain a healthy community around your project. These things used to be the difference between good and bad open source projects. But in the future, they will make the difference between the successful ones and the ones that nobody notices.

Needless to say, managing a community isn’t easy and it might not be what a programmer expects to be doing when releasing code to the public. Whatever the popularity of your project, if your community is unwelcoming or poorly managed, people will just move somewhere else.

Open source software is more of a social enterprise that it seems.

From openness to accessibility

As the opening paragraph hints, companies don’t hold back when releasing their projects to the public. With large players like Facebook (137), Twitter (130) or even Microsoft (206) leading the pack with hundreds of public repositories, the competition for the attention of developers is fierce.

Just a few weeks ago, IBM announced that it will be dropping off 50 projects out in the open. With that strategy, it’s safe to say that they won’t see a heaving rabble of developers, hitting their servers with their spears sharpened and keyboards at the ready to contribute.

The work only begins when you make your project open and it will most certainly take time before IBM’s truckload of stuff builds a following; if at all.

The open source world is moving on to solving the lack of accessibility instead of the lack of openness. Is your project really open source when you’re the only one in the world that can understand it?

Open source careers

Many pieces were written on the subject of technical interviews being broken. Open source is one way to solve this issue over the next few years.

Companies like Workshape already use the applicants’s Github profiles to match them with suitable employers. There’s no reason why this couldn’t go even further to evaluating someone’s abilities based on the work they did within the open source community.

Seeing a person at work on an open source project gives you a much better idea of how good they are than having them reverse a binary tree on a whiteboard.

On the other side, many engineers will recognize the value of working in the open. Contributing to open source projects gives you an opportunity to work outside your team, break the stereotype and learn from great programmers you would have otherwise never met.

As not everyone has the time or wants to hack on projects in their spare time, being able to build a portfolio of open source contributions while on the job might soon become a requirement of jobseekers in the industry.

Summary

The surge in popularity of open source software amongst both companies and individuals in the past few years has brought many changes to the way we see the idea of open source. But it would be foolish to think that the journey is over.

Never before have programmers enjoyed so much power over software vendors and had so much resources freely available to them. But the steep rise in quantity makes it more difficult to succeed when releasing new projects and it will get even tougher in the future, possibly increasing the gap between individual and company backed projects that can actively market them.

What do you think the open source world will look like in 2022? Post your thoughts in the comment section below or tweet at @radekpazdera.