Joanna Hodgson, Director, Presales for UK & Ireland at Red Hat 

tech woman handsOpen source technology has seen widespread adoption over the past ten to fifteen years as organisations cross-industry have caught on to its undeniable benefits.

As the largest open source company in the world, at Red Hat, we believe in the power of open source and its ability, from both a software and cultural perspective, to push the boundaries of technological capabilities. Here’s why.

What is open source and why does it matter?

Open source refers to technology designed to be publicly accessible and open to modification by anyone. It’s designed to be a collaborative and community-driven effort, whereby developers from all around the world can look into the source code, detect any flaws, and make iterations and improvements. By virtue of being ‘open’ and freely available for anyone to work on, it tends to lead to more reliable software and bring products faster to market.

What are the benefits of open source?

Open source software is by definition ‘open’, offering companies full visibility and transparency of the code – this means bugs and defects can be identified much more quickly than in proprietary software, leading to enhanced security. As Linus Torvalds, the founder of the open source operating system Linux, once said: “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”.

Secondly, it doesn’t include many of the costs associated with proprietary software, such as licensing fees – this is a big perk for businesses, allowing them to significantly reduce operating costs. Then there is the added cost of wanting to switch to a different software provider down the line; using open source software helps to avoid the pitfall of getting locked into using an expensive proprietary vendor.

Open source also enables companies to better customise their software. Unlike proprietary software that is developed within the four walls of the company and based on limited input, open source software is typically better tailored to the customers’ needs, as the users themselves can add their preferred features while the technology is in development.

Who gets to contribute to open source?

A common misconception is that you need to have existing coding knowledge or expertise to contribute to an open source community. This isn’t necessarily the case, since the philosophy of open source goes beyond just the source code or software. There are a wide variety of general skills that can be applied to an open source project, such as documentation, testing, running a website, handling issues, promotion, writing and graphic design.

The barrier to access is far lower than with proprietary software models, where you’ll likely need to be working for the software provider and have specific expertise. Regardless of who you are or what your professional background is, if you’re passionate about a project and have the time and relevant skills, then you will be welcomed onboard.

The fact that you don’t need to be invited to start contributing to an open source project can be daunting to begin with, and that’s why mentoring new contributors is an important part of the process. Existing community members are encouraged to walk new joiners through their first ‘commits’ (a developer term used when committing the initial code to a repository), whether that’s fixing someone’s documentation or even just correcting a typo. All forms of collaboration, no matter how small, will help to move the project forward.

It’s worth adding that the experience gained from working on an open source project is invaluable to an IT career. Employers will see this type of contribution outside of someone’s day job as clear evidence of their passion for technology.

How do open source communities encourage female contributors?

Female contributors are definitely becoming more widely recognised. And even though there is still more work to be done, throughout my career I’ve encountered more women in the context of open source than in proprietary software, and I’ve witnessed more inclusive meritocracy within open source companies. Besides the fact that open thinking is an essential part of supplementing the open source, open communities, by their design, make it much easier for individuals from all backgrounds to participate, have a voice, and share their experience and skills.

It’s been proven time and again that the more diversity you can bring to a project, the better the outcome is, as you’re benefitting from a greater variety of perspectives, ideas and experience. For this reason, I’d argue that open source is both the fastest and most inclusive way to innovate.

About the author

Joanna HodgsonJo is a technologist at heart and is fascinated by how technology can be applied to business and social challenges. She has worked in the IT industry for 24 years, mainly in technical presales and professional services, including senior business and technical leadership roles.

At Red Hat, Jo leads a team of solution architects helping clients solve business problems with open source software. She is a busy coach and mentor to many technical professionals and loves this part of her role.

Jo believes the IT industry must attract a more diverse workforce to deliver its full potential and actively encourages women to enter and remain in technical careers.

Would be great to hear your thoughts – Jo would be able to write an article about a technical topic relating to open source and cloud, or a more advice-led piece for women in tech.

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