Technology leaders in every organisation need to understand the value and disruptive potential of open source code, and encourage their developers to work across different projects, according to Sam Hunt, APAC VP of GitHub, Microsoft’s US$7.5 billion open source hosting company.
Hunt told Which-50 open source software has become fundamental to digital transformation, allowing organisations to reuse code and innovate on top of it – where organisations generate value – allowing developers to move faster and innovate more.
“Compare it to the car industry,” Hunt said.
“A car manufacturer in this day and age doesn’t go back and redesign every single piece of a car. They might put it together physically, they might innovate on some safety features or on some performance features, but they are not reinventing the wheel.
“Code is the same and open source is that global OEM library for organisations to not reinvent the wheel.”
According to Hunt, open source code can make up as much as 80 per cent of a typical piece of software, and he notes most organisations today “are a software company in some way, shape or form.” Developers can pull that code, usually for free, and spend more time on the remaining 20 per cent, or as Hunt calls it, the “secret sauce”.
And the collaborative, community approach – GitHub is the largest repository with over 40 million developers – is being implemented by nearly every business, Hunt says, even if technology leaders aren’t always aware.
GitHub research found open source software is relied on in 99 per cent of new software products and more than 3 million organisations are using GitHub as a repository to access it, including around half of the Fortune 500.
Multinationals like Ford, SAP and Spotify use GitHub’s enterprise tools, while locally, REA group says GitHub is also proving a valuable recruitment tool.
By 2025, GitHub says the number of developers using its platform will reach 100 million.
“You want to leverage that,” Hunt says of the millions of developers sharing and improving open source code.
“It’s got more eyes on it, it’s got more input from its community that could potentially benefit your organisation. And you really focus and hone in on what that core business value is that you’re delivering within your development.”
Open source roadblocks
According to Hunt, organisations leveraging open source usually run into a cultural challenge.
While developers are typically comfortable with the collaborative, community culture of open source it does not always transfer to business projects, particularly in large IT projects where innovation and contributing elsewhere are not always encouraged.
“If [developers] don’t think that the work supports that sort of openness, then obviously [there is] a fear of condemnation for input to something that they don’t necessarily own.
“And when you tie it to your job or your income, that’s something that maybe shuts people down from actually taking that growth approach.”
Business leaders should, therefore, nurture the open culture and try to breakdown organisational silos, encouraging developers to contribute to other areas.
“Developers want to work on cool stuff. They want to write the next great thing that’ going to deliver something fantastic in a product people want to consume – they don’t want to get stuck in the mundane.
“So that’s where you want more eyes on it and that’s why the culture is so important.”