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This post was updated in November 2017 with new information.

It’s hard to come by a technical CV or portfolio without seeing some mention of a developer’s open source contributions. In fact, 75% of developers we surveyed said they work on open-source projects in their free time. So what exactly is open source development and why does it matter when hiring developers?

What is Open Source Development?

According to OpenSource.com, the term refers to “something that can be modified and shared because its design is publicly accessible. While it originated in the context of computer software development, today the term "open source" designates a set of values. Open source projects, products, or initiatives are those that embrace and celebrate open exchange, collaborative participation, rapid prototyping, transparency, meritocracy, and community development.”

Why Do Developers Participate in Open Source Projects?

Andrew Carr, an Enterprise Architect at Rogue Wave Software, says he participates in open source projects because “Open source is the way of the future. Yes, there will always be software companies that make money from software; however, open source is an excellent way to get a quality product.”

Tim Perry, Tech Lead and Open-Source Champion at Softwire, says he contributes heavily to open source for a variety of reasons, including, “Because I want better tools. The majority of my open-source contributions come about not because I'm looking to contribute, but because I'm looking for a feature, or I've hit a bug, and I want it fixed. Unlike proprietary software, where this would mean a protracted reporting process, and a hopeful wait for a future release, I can just change open-source software. In the short-term, it's fun, educational and looks great on paper, but in the long-term I get to use better tools every day.”

What Companies Should Know About Open Source

There are a variety of benefits of companies participating actively in open source projects. For starters, it can help reduce development costs, fix bugs, and give them a competitive advantage. Steve Hill, Technical Director and Co-Founder of Opendium, sums up the benefits well, saying, “As our products evolve, we continually fix bugs and add enhancements to the underlying open source software on which we rely. We feel that, having benefited so much, it is only right that our work is open for others to use, too.”

Some companies even give their development teams a certain amount of time per day/week during their work hours to contribute to open source projects. Ernesto Tagweker, Founder of Ombu Labs, agrees with that last sentiment, saying, “I wish companies truly understood the value of paying for their developers' open source time. In the long run, they will benefit from their contributions, added value and the developer's acquired knowledge.”

If you’re thinking about getting more involved in open source projects, it might be best to have a formal policy. This policy should include items such as how to approve open source code, as well as a few specific use cases.  

Open Source Projects and Career Advancement

A study by the Linux Foundation found that 86% of open source professionals said that knowing open source has advanced their careers. The developers we spoke to agreed about the importance of open source. Corey Ballou, CEO of POP.co, says, “Sharing my expertise via open source code has most assuredly helped land me jobs. When I walk into a job interview, it's much easier to sell them on my past performance when I can show a track record of major code contributions that occur outside of the workplace. It shows I am passionate about my job and demonstrates my level of expertise. In many cases, this has led to skipping much of the interview process altogether.”

Ann Gaffigan, CTO of National Land Realty, attributes open source to helping her out in her career as well, saying, “It is the number 1 way I’ve been able to keep myself continuously learning. Writing code can be so isolating. The open source community balances that out.”

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