Writing open source software on the company\'s dime
Howdy, folks! First, a personal announcement: I have a new job, which I (already) really love. I'm now senior online editor for communities at cio.com and csoonline.com; as a result, I'm leaving DevSource.com.
Naturally, my online communities focus doesn't keep me from writing articles -- and the first one that I decided to tackle is among the rough spots between management and development staff.
I know, from Evans Data research, that a rather high percentage of software developers write open source code, whether on their own time or the company's clock; some meaningful percentage of those developers also contribute the changes back to the open source community. And one of the factoids mentioned in passing at the Gartner Open Source summit in September was that a growing percentage of corporations are paying their own developers to work on open source projects, some of whom do so full time. IBM is probably the easiest example, with several people on the Eclipse project employed by IBM.
I'm looking for other people in that situation -- either the salaried open source developer or that developer's management -- so I can write an article to provide guidance to IT Managers who are contemplating such options.
What I'm hoping to find (or create) are management guidelines for companies who want to take advantage of open source code, and know that they need functions that aren't currently in the software. The easiest solution is to add the features they need to the existing open source code base, then contribute the enhancements back to the development community. But doing so can raise intellectual property questions (such as "what does it mean for 'work for hire'?")... and perhaps several other issues that make lawyers and CEOs uncomfortable. I'd like to get your input on what issues the open source developer and her manager need to deal with. (Feel free to forward this to developers you know who might be able to help.)
Note that I'm NOT looking here for people who are using open source tools at work; that is, I'm thrilled if you write code in Eclipse or you target your site to run on the Apache Web server, but I'm not after the users. Rather, I'm in search of someone who writes the code _of_ the open source software: a committer to Plone, a contributor to Drupal, a programmer who's given code to samba. And who has done so on company time, whether as part of the job description or simply to get the work done or for any other reason. With or without management approval, though I'm most interested in those who can say "with."
So, if you're the right person, here's the questions I'm wondering about:
* How did you convince management that this was a good idea? Or did they approach you?
* What concerns did management have regarding intellectual property issues? How were they resolved?
* People issues: Were there "team" challenges, since the open source developer is sort-of working on corporate applications (but not quite)? Have the needs of the open source community ever presented a conflict with your company identity? Do people in the open source community know for whom you work; that is, does your e-mail sig identify you as @company.com or @myself.com, and does that have any side effects?
* What other problems came up? How have you dealt with them?
* In short, what should a manager know before she decides to say, "Okay, we'll let you work 20 hours a week on the such-and-so project"?
I'm writing for the manager and CIO here; let's help them make the best decisions possible.
I'm hoping to post the article sometime at the beginning of December, so I'd appreciate any advice you can offer me -- publicly or privately -- sooner rather than later. Also, let me know (privately if necessary) about your company and open source community affliations; we can work out the details of "how should I refer to you" one-on-one.
senior editor, cio.com