Career and Economic Opportunity in Open Source Software
From Anita Borg Institute Wiki
Some people think that all work on free and open source projects is done purely as a charitable donation, to solve a challenge or "scratch an itch", or to support a cause. These people are not entirely correct. These *are* common and good reasons to be involved in FOSS, but they are not the whole story. You can get a job, make money, advance your existing career, and build a start-up - all through working in FOSS development.
- Cat Allman (Google) - Moderator
- Jenny Han Donnelly (Yahoo!)
- Margo Seltzer (Harvard University)
- Sarah Sharp (Intel)
Sarah: Started Open Source development at PSU. Presented at OSCON and Intel hired from there. Open Source Technology Center. Linux Kernel hacker.
Margo: Prof. of Comp Sci. Architect at Oracle Corporation (bought Sleepy Cat software - Berkeley DB). Working on DB and ancestors since 1991.
Cat: Worked on Google Summer of Code Look at code.google.com/open source on October 1
Idea that free and open source means "free" so how do you make money on it. But Monster.com just had new job postings for open source for 593 jobs. There is a lot of money to be made and lot of interesting work that you can get paid for.
Question for Panel: Do you think your experience with working with open source and distributed projects has helped you in your job?
Margo: Imptance of interpersonal skills and collaboration. Open source is one way to get those skills. Open source requires a lot of non face to face conversation, electronic communications. So much is lost in this medium. Open source forces you to be cognizant about your communication.
Sarah: Intel is a big multi-site company, so there is a lot of email, IRC communication. INteraction with open source community helps with that. BUt it's important to have conference and meet face-to-face so that you can learn about other people's personalities.
Jenny: Front end background, not a degree in software. You can "snoop" into software and see how it was written, patterns and strategies that give you a lot of knowledge. You can learn a lot by just observing.
Question: FOSS Development and Academia - do you see it as a positive if you see a student involved with FOSS or is it considered a distraction.
Margo: Someone who have participated in system development is considered a plus. YOu can see a demonstration of self-motivation and interest in the student that makes a person an attractive hire.
Jenny: There are a lot of companies hiring based on familiarity with YUI. So if you've contributed, it's a great plus. A number of hires hired based on their contributions.
Question: There are a lot of statistics bandied about on the few number of women involved in FOSS (1 - 5%). That's a pretty small number. Do you feel that FOSS is a particularly challenging community for women to work in. What are the elements that have made you successful in FOSS>
Sarah: One of the hardest things about FOSS is that your code IS open source. WOmen tend to be hard on themselves and feel that their mistake will be in history forever. Having a support group around you gives you the self -confidence to contribute.
Jenny: Women tend to have to be asked to join a project to do it. FOSS is more a roll up oyour sleeves and dive in and do the job kind of environment. Women need to be fearless and not be afraid. Apprehensive about when the project YUI went open source. But making the mistakes and learning from them make you a better programmer in the long term.
Margo: It's impt not to view open source as all being the same. A particular project has it's own personalities. Project represents a community and that community creates its own norms. So anything here is not a generalization. YMMV. Husband started Sleepy Cat - and said we need women engineers. Oracle DB is 33% women. The flexibility in the project attracts people (women) that may not be able to be hired by other companies - working half time and flex time).
Go find a group that you want to be part of and make sure the culture welcomes you by being a creator of that culture.
Cat: if you are interested in a project then spend some time lurking on mailing lists and IRC to get a feel for the culture of that community. So find a project that appeals to you and spend some time following it.
Audience Questions: 1) How do make a larger impact in OSS? Sarah: Focus on making intelligent contributions (questions and code). Focus on talking about the idea or code instead of getting personal. Step away from an argument. Stormy: If you are not good at responding then find an advocate who can speak on your behalf. Jenny: Dicussion forums that are public
2) How do smaller comapnies make moeny or sustain open source without bigger companies to provide funding? Sleepy cat: no outside investment Open source does not mean free. You can charge money for OSS. It becomes really important that you can read licenses and talk to lawyers.Open source is a marketing mechanism - it is a way to get marketing penetration. License and business model required how to make money from the software.
Cat: Worked at Sendmail. Open source is not just about making it. There is a lot of penetration of OSS components. Gartner says 80% of software will have OSS components by 2012.
3) What about malicious code and can defense
Security through obscurity is no security at all. You don't know what's in proprietary software. The open source community has some power to force credibility in the code.
Cat: Telling that the entire open source track is sponsored by the NSA. Openess makes it easier to control information.
4) How do I get started? And what kind of programming experience do you need to be able to contribute? You don't need to be a programmer to be involved in OSS. If you are interested: - answering newbie questions - developing a logo - proofing documentation - localisation of material - get involved with Google Summer of Code
Jenny: Best way is to use the project. Download the source, see how it's put together. File a bug, reproducible case. Then look in the code and see where the bug might be. Being a member of the forums makes you a part of the conversations. COntribute thoughts on what new features could be added. Start a task and start to unravel it and see where it goes.
Sarah: Don't get discouraged. You learn a lot as you contribute, which is valuable.
Cat: If someone takes the time to respond, it's a high compliment that what you've done is worthwhile.
5) How does salary compare for OSS and proprietary software developers in the same company? And what about a small company?
Jenny: It's the same Margo: It's one scale of the engineering pay within the company. Startups are different, where you have some form equity compensation in lieu of pay. Jenny: Greater skill set in OSS dev - communication and collaboration required. Sarah: As you go up the ladder at Intel, they talk about expanding your influence. Working in OSS automatically gives you a larger sphere of influence. Cat: Working in OSS gives you experience in working in a reputation based system.
6) Work/Life Balance The more women that join the community, the more acceptable flexibility and work.life balance becomes.
7) When you started, how did you decide which community is right for you? Cat: Think about interests you, what matters to you. There is such a vast array of things you can work on. Devices, Open MRS, Sahana, Radio Navigation Systems. Investigate the community to see if it works for you. Margo: A really good way to get involved is to use something. If you use a project, then there is something compelling about it to you. That can be the most motivating emotion you can have - you can have the power to fix it.
Final Comments: Jenny: Codeathon for Humanity: is a great chance to see what OSS development is like. Sarah: Find a mentor - help you figure out if the project is what you want to work on. Help you with the social aspects of the project.