9 Reasons to Contribute to an Open Source Project

Posted March 6, 2017 By  Cynthia Harvey
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    9 Reasons to Contribute to an Open Source Project

    Why do developers spend time and effort writing coding that they plan to give away for free?
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    1. To Improve the Code

    Most organizations and individuals contribute to open source projects that they themselves use. And their primary reason for getting involved is because they want to make the software better. In the Black Duck survey, 67 percent of respondents said that they participate in open source in order to fix bugs or add functionality to a project.

    Of course, developers are free to modify the open source code they use without submitting their changes back to the community as a whole. However, many find that it is in their best interest to share their work because they want to continue being able to use the functionality they have added after the project is updated. If they don't contribute their code, they run the risk that their modifications will no longer work when the project releases a new version of the software.

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    2. To Gain Competitive Advantage

    In the Black Duck study, 59 percent of those surveyed said that their organizations participate in open source in order to gain a competitive edge. That seems a little counter-intuitive because anyone can use open source code. However, organizations say that when their developers are writing code for a project, they get to know the software better than those who only use it. Some companies are able to leverage that expertise in ways that benefit their bottom line.

    In addition, being known as a company that contributes to open source can boost the organization's reputation, particularly among developers. That can help firms recruit and retain talent, and in some cases, it helps their brand image.

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    3. To Reduce Development Costs

    In the 2015 version of the Black Duck survey, the number one reason why organizations said that they contribute to open source was to reduce development costs. In 2016, lower development costs had dropped to number three on the list, but it was still important.

    When organizations open source an application that originated in-house, they are able to access a much larger community of developers. Instead of relying only on their own team members, they get contributions from many different people who are all interested in making the software better. By joining together into a community, companies can access work done by hundreds or thousands of developers even if they only have a few developers on staff.

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    4. To Support Open Source Values

    Some enterprises place a commitment to open source and free software among their core values; some even include it in their mission or vision statements. In the 2015 Black Duck open source survey, "alignment with company mission and values" was the third most popular reason respondents gave for contributing to open source projects. Some company leaders believe that openness and freedom lead to better products and can even make the world a better world. As previously mentioned, these organizations sometimes experience ancillary benefits such as a better brand reputation or better employee recruitment and retention.

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    5. To Promote Industry Standards

    Many organizations have discovered that industry-wide technology standards can be like the proverbially tide that lifts all ships. When their products conform with industry standards, they achieve better interoperability with related products on the market, which can make their offerings more attractive to users.

    The technology industry has literally dozens of organizations committed to creating and maintaining open standards. Many of the world's largest technology organizations have led the way in funding and participating these organizations with the goal of improving core technologies used throughout the industry.

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    6. To Make the Software More Usable

    You don't have to be a developer to contribute to an open source project. Projects also need technical writers to create documentation, translators to convert text to other languages and designers to make interfaces more intuitive and attractive. In fact, many open source projects are actively looking for contributors who have these skill sets.

    Contributing in these ways can make it easier for other people to use open source software. Better usability often means a bigger user base, which results in more contributors, which in turn can lead to higher-quality software in the long run.

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    7. To Further Your Career

    In a 2016 report from the Linux Foundation, 86 percent of technology professionals said that open source had helped them in their careers. Many companies are looking to hire talent with skills related to specific open source projects, and there are few better ways to demonstrate your expertise than by actually having written some of the code for a project.

    In addition, working on an open source project can also help you improve your skills. Also, by interacting closely with other members of the community, you can also expand your network of contacts who might help you further your career in the future.

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    8. To Give Back

    When asked why they work on open source projects, many developers express an altruistic desire to give back. These days, most developers leverage open source code for their own projects. It doesn't make sense to start a project completely from scratch when much of the hard work has already been done by others. Developers who have benefited from that open source code often want to "pay it forward" so that other programmers in the future can experience similar benefits.

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    9. To Have Fun

    Last but not least, many developers participate in open source projects because they find it enjoyable. In fact, when Linus Torvalds wrote a book telling the story of how he created Linux, he titled it "Just for Fun." Many, many of the most popular open source projects started out as a labor of love for their creators. They frequently say that they enjoy the freedom of being able to create whatever they like with their open source hobby projects. Really, it's the fun that keeps many people involved in open source over the long term.

More individuals and organizations than ever before are contributing to open source projects. According to the Black Duck 10th Annual Future of Open Source Survey, "65 percent of companies are contributing to open source projects, up from 63 percent in 2015." In addition, 67 percent of enterprises actively encourage their staff to work on open source projects.

Similarly, the most recent report on Who Writes Linux found that 5,062 developers had contributed to the open source operating system in the past 15 months, and since 2005, 13,594 developers have written code for the project.

But why do all these people take part in open source projects?

By definition, open source code is available to anyone who wants to use it for free. Creating and maintaining a widely used open source application can take thousands of hours every year. Why are so many individual developers willing to give away the results of their hard work for free? And why are so many enterprises willing to have their staff write code that any organization — including their competitors — can use?

This slideshow examines nine of the most common motivations for getting involved in an open source project. And if you've never contributed to the open source community yourself, these reasons just might convince you to give it a try.



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