Author Chen Ravid, head of product at xs:code (https://xscode.com), discusses how to make open source financially viable.
The COVID-19 crisis has hit the global economy hard, and the software industry has not been spared. The long-term effects on the industry are still unclear, but it has become widely acknowledged that the negative impact is going to be massive, and recovery will be slow.
But the world is not going to stop spinning. Ideas will keep flowing, code will be written, new products will launch and existing ones will get new releases. The industry is going to survive, and will eventually bounce back. During this period of recovery, software companies are going to need to learn to do more with less.
Development tasks are not going to get smaller, and there has been a rise in demand for many DevOps positions. However, with 2009 as a blueprint along with tell tales from today, it is pretty evident R&D budgets will shrink drastically. Software teams are going to be short-staffed but will be expected to deliver the same quality and scope of work as before, perhaps even in shorter time frames, to compensate for time lost.
Despite all the metaphorical lemons, there is also lemonade. This transitional period presents a unique opportunity for the corporate software industry and the open-source community to finally collaborate. The relationship between software companies and open source developers has always been one-sided. Companies use open source components freely, mostly ignoring the people behind the code. 90% of software developed today uses open source components so extensively, that in some cases these components make up almost 70% of an applications’ codebase.
This means that more than half of the code in a software project is written by developers who are not considered a part of the development team. We all use their code, but the developers behind it are completely transparent. Little thought is given to the fact that they are an incredible, untapped resource. Open-source developers are so much more than the code they post on Github, and software companies must realize that.
Significant development time could be spared if companies choose to consult the open-source developer who wrote one of their project’s dependencies. After all, who is better equipped to fix a bug in a component than the person (or team) who wrote it? Furthermore, companies could ask for a customized version of the component that they need which would be tailor-made for their requirements. The companies’ in-house coders will save countless precious man-hours by not having to integrate and maintain the open source components their team did not write in the first place.
There is a whole world of possibilities in harnessing open source developers to optimize and speed up development processes, but still, almost no one is doing it. This seeming inefficiency raises the question of why is there no original open-source coder integration.
Incorporating open source developers into a commercial R&D pipeline can be a challenge. The developers are individuals, not companies, that are contributing to these projects and providing their expertise voluntarily. It may take time for them to respond to requests. Companies cannot afford to wait for an open issue to be closed when time is of the essence. Software companies also cannot easily pay open source developers. While many of them would appreciate your donations via Github Sponsors or Open Collective, donations are voluntary and not connected to any commitment from the developer. This is uncharted territory for most software companies, who are used to working with incorporated entities.
Still, times are changing and there are solutions to help remove these friction points and work smoothly with open source developers. It is important to remember that their code is free but their time is not. Many companies are already adjusting to WFH requirements, and there is no reason not to include ad-hoc, highly specialized external workforce when needed. Companies who will learn to harness this powerful mindset are going to get a competitive edge in days to come.
Everyone is going to need to adapt to a new, post-COVID reality. Teams are going to get smaller, timelines tighter, budgets slimmer. Companies that do not optimize and learn to maximize their budget and resources to get the best results will perish. Incorporating open source developers into the R&D pipeline is still not common practice , but it can make a world of difference in the months to come.