The lure of open source development – what is in it for you?

There is something about open source development that sounds really cool. In a gathering of software developers, the one who says that he commits to an open source project gains a higher pedestal than the others. People look up to them.

However, for the ones who’re actually doing the programming, there isn’t much in return. Most open source projects run on donations and the developers working on it hardly get anything out of it. For an almost full time work, working for nothing in return is, quite frankly, baffling. And still, there has been an upsurge of Indian developers who are taking to committing to open source projects.

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What are the main reasons behind this? We got in touch with a few developers who are active in the open source scene, to understand what the main drivers are.

Learning is incidental

Many would say they’re in it to learn, but from our interactions with developers, we found out that learning is incidental. Hiemanshu Sharma, who was core developer for liquid smooth, an Android ROM, says, “I think most of the time you are trying to fix something that you found wrong, orboy in playroom adding some feature that you want. In the process you learn.”

Vaibhav Kaushal, a lead developer in the Q-Cubed project echoes the same opinion. He says, “That’s how it started with me. I was using a OSS product that lacked a few functions and in the process of adding it, I learnt more about the project and it wasn’t long before I was contributing to it.”

The open source journey gets you to meet many learned individuals. Badrinath Kulkarni, organizer of Google Developer Groups Bangalore said, “You need people with much greater talents than yourself. Just interacting with these people teaches you a lot.”

Recognition, credibility and fame – A big driver

Ronak Samantray, the co-founder of Now Floats believes that committing to an open source project adds a lot of credibility to a developer. He says, “It adds a lot of credibility to you. Contributing to a big open source project means that your work will be used by so many other Fame and recognitionpeople. Your work is validated at an international level and you can flaunt that.”

Industry sources also tell us that there is a high percentage of independent software consultants who commit to open source projects. Vaibhav Kaushal adds, “When you’re in college, or if you’ve just finished it, having an open source contribution on your resume is a real differentiation.”

Badrinath Kulkarni further adds, “You know when you’re working for free you do expect some recognition at least. But this expertise can be monetized also. For example, instead of investing in an expensive software, people would come to you and pay you to implement a cheaper or free open source alternative.”

The industry angle

Most browsers, like Safari, Chrome etc, today use Webkit. Vested interests from companies like Apple and Google have seen these companies employ a lot of developers whose sole job was to Bartopencommit to Webkit. This was also the case with IBM, where they hired a lot of developers to commit to the Eclipse project, so as to take it in a direction that would be beneficial to IBM.

This is true for many companies in India also. An ex-InMobi employee told us, “Hadoop has a few commiters from India, out of which most of them are from InMobi. This was because InMobi has a great interest in the platform. While it’s still a good thing for the project, it gives you a rough idea as to how important open source is to industry as well.”

Whatever the reason might be, the adoption of open source technologies is a great thing. There are those who say that open source is a way of life and they commit to projects out of principle. While these are few in number, those picking up open source programming for fame and recognition are no lesser. It meets the same end – better, innovative code.


Raghu Mohan

Raghu Mohan

Raghu is an electronics engineer from Anna University who has a keen interest in mobility and consumer technology.He predominantly works on stories for tech entrepreneurs and startups. He is also an active member of the Bangalore Android User Group, a regular speaker at BarCamp Bangalore and is part of many other technology communities. You can follow him on Twitter @Raghum200