The Shining Path of Least Resistance


Why I Do Open Source

Posted by mattray on August 9, 2010

Inspired by Robbie’s post My Motivation for Doing Opensource, I thought I’d write down my own thoughts.

When I first became aware of Open Source software (late 90s) I recognized that the evolutionary aspect of development would eventually transform the way we think about software. I immediately had the realization that Open Source software worked the same way that Science works, that everyone was standing on the shoulders of giants and that the way to create the most progress is to share your findings and your work.

In the realm of Science there is a strong culture of publishing your research, sharing your results and working with your competition; knowing that everyone is moving the ball forward to expand knowledge in all directions. Some people work in academia and can work on whatever they want, others work under the direction of grants or for private employers. If you’re not publishing you may have a short-term advantage if you’re monetizing your results, but eventually your results will be duplicated. There is tremendous specialization and projects that make it difficult to grasp practical ramifications; but hopefully they’re doing something they feel passionate about and when that research is needed it’s available. Science is Darwinian in the fact that good ideas take root and beat out failed theories, and everyone continues to make progress with the shared knowledge of discovery.

Open Source software works in almost the same way. Developers participate in a marketplace of ideas, where experiences and results are shared and good ideas gain traction and expand the horizon of what is possible. Some developers are thought leaders, publishing their code and findings and swaying the direction of other software developers. Other developers validate those results by using them in their own work and giving feedback. The more work you do in Open Source, the more influence you have. With very few exceptions, there is almost no software development being done today that doesn’t incorporate some aspect of Open Source. The great thing about Open Source software is that thanks to the Internet and sites like SourceForge, Google Code and GitHub it becomes easier and easier to publish and explore new ideas. The barriers are even lower than those in Science because the results are source code and can be independently analyzed.

I do Open Source because I want to push the boundaries of what people can do and I want to help them get there faster. I may not be the greatest developer, but I can maximize my influence and further progress by working in Open Source software.


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