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From Marvin Humphrey <mar...@rectangular.com>
Subject Liberal corporate open source policies
Date Thu, 17 Mar 2011 20:44:43 GMT

There's a fair amount of information out there on establishing corporate open
source policies, but not much that seems appropriate for the company profile
I'm interested in:

  * Web startup.
  * Software based around an open source ecosystem.
  * Actively recruits open source contributors to staff the engineering

It doesn't have to be a "web startup", but that's a good example.

Here's an article which is typically ill-fitting:


  Companies often start drafting an open source policy when somebody in
  management realizes they don’t know how much their IT department or
  software products depend on open source software. 

If management is shocked to find that the company is reliant on open source...
well, then it's not the kind of company I'm talking about -- and not the kind
of company I'd want to work for!

I'd like to see some example policies that establish guidelines for ongoing
open source participation that feel unencumbered to suitably trained
employees.  Of course compensated participation in open source will never be
as freewheeling as solo participation, and employees have to expect clearance
processes and to educate themselves thoroughly about IP and licensing
concerns.  Nevertheless, many, many developers participate in open source
without causing problems for their employers, and open source contribution
policies should be crafted so that safe, responsible common practice places
the employee in compliance rather than in violation of the policy.

The first objective of this more liberal open source participation policy is
to secure a business advantage by attracting and retaining the best and
brightest engineers from the open source community.  It's common knowledge
that open source hires are low-risk:

  * Success within an open source community is highly predictive of success
    within an organization.
  * It is easy to evaluate the code and social interaction of candidates who
    have an open source track record.
  * Participation in relentless meritocracy hones technical skills.

In a competitive recruiting environment, companies that liberate such
individuals while still providing sufficient IP safeguards enjoy an edge over
companies where employees must overcome significant institutional friction to
make open source contributions.  

The second objective is to encourage open source participation by existing
employees for the same reason that companies pay for conference attendance or
subsidize continuing education: open source collaboration is a great way to
polish your skills, to get unfiltered feedback on your code, and to keep
up-to-date with evolving trends and techniques.  

Any pointers towards sample policies or articles that help achieve these
objectives?  Or commentary on what aspects of typical open source polices
noticeably constrain or don't constrain participation?


Marvin Humphrey

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