On June 7, 2022 Tidelift hosted an event called Upstream, a one-day celebration of open source, the developers who use it, and the maintainers who make it. All of the talks are available to watch at upstream.live.
“Giving back, the spirit of being a good open source citizen, it’s so important, it’s so essential to this community in continuing to exist and continuing to flourish,” said Tim Klever to start his Upstream talk, Unleash the potential in your organization: Socially responsible contribution, earlier this summer. Tim, a developer advocate, currently works at American Express trying to foster an extraordinary software community inside and outside the organization.
So why is it important to give back to the open source community? Because open source is everywhere. It’s hard to do or send anything over the internet without touching open source software in some way—and why would you want to? Open source makes everything easier. If it’s something we are benefiting from, it’s just the right thing to do to give back to it.
But how do we give back to the community? There is not just one way to go about it. Tim outlines four ways an organization can help out the open source community.
#1: Direct sponsorship
Our rallying cry at Tidelift is, “Pay the maintainers!” The first and most direct way to give back is for an organization to pay the maintainers of open source. An organization can hire or employ maintainers to work at their company to work on their open source projects.
#2: Indirect sponsorship
If direct sponsorship is not viable at your organization, you can do an indirect sponsorship. You can contact a maintainer and offer a monetary sponsorship, or participate in a software foundation like the Linux Foundation, or use services like Tidelift that support maintainers.
If you are unable to do a type of sponsorship, you can help give back by just having conversations and talking about open source. “We can take solved problems and add to the great wells of open source software and put it out into the world,” said Tim.
The last way you can give back is by actually contributing to open source. We are talking about moving code around and working together, collaborating, building new features, knocking down bugs, and everybody chipping in to make all these projects better.
American Express knew they wanted to make a meaningful impact to the open source community as an organization but they weren’t sure how to best contribute. They knew they couldn’t join every open source foundation or sponsor every project. However, they knew they had a huge resource they could implement to truly make a difference: the people that work at Amex. As Tim said, “Of course, it’s the people. The people that work with you in your organization, commercial nonprofit social group, whatever collective of people you have assembled and are trying to move in a direction, those people are the magic.”
So, American Express looked inward and asked how they could make the biggest impact using their people. They realized that contribution would be the best place for them to give back. Once they decided on contribution, they narrowed that goal down to something doable and quantifiable. They came up with the goal that every software developer at American Express would contribute to third party open source projects every year. They set up distinct, detailed parameters on exactly how each developer would contribute and to what open source projects they would contribute to.
Contribution in this way is a win-win for both sides. It helps open source projects continue to grow while also allowing for skill and career development for the developer contributing.
Tim says that you need to be abundantly clear about how to give back when looking at contributing to open source. So what is the big payoff? According to Tim, “With a well defined and achievable goal, your organization can unleash its best asset, its people, to use their most valuable skills, to build reciprocally beneficial and meaningful relationships with open source communities.” Once giving back has started, it is something that can compound on itself, making the possibilities endless.
“If every company adopted something like socially responsible contribution, I can’t even imagine the beautiful world of open source and giving back we would live in,” Tim said.