Open source at scale

Technical leaders at Microsoft, Kickstarter, DigitalOcean, and Red Hat answer questions about when and why to opt for OSS, how open source has influenced their organizations, and its future role in corporations.

Part of
Issue 9 May 2019

Open Source

Mark Wunsch

VP, engineering, Kickstarter

Company size: 150

Tim Falls

Director, developer relations, DigitalOcean

Company size: 475

Denise Dumas

VP, operating system platform, Red Hat

Company size: 12,000

Jeff McAffer

Director, open source programs office, Microsoft

Company size: 135,000


How do you choose when to adopt open-source software for your organization’s infrastructure and products? What are the key properties of the best open-source tools you use?

It largely depends on the problem at hand and the maturity of the software. Every time we adopt a third-party technology, regardless of whether it’s proprietary or open source, it creates a dependency that will only entrench further with time. So we need to be really intentional about what we adopt: How active is the community around it? How articulated is its governance model? How much training does it require?

Mark Wunsch, Kickstarter

Some properties that are common to the best open-source tools and are factors in our decision to adopt open source include: a vibrant, active community of project contributors; project maintainers who are proactive in fostering a healthy community around the project; and measurable and meaningful adoption by engineering teams within established companies.

Tim Falls, DigitalOcean

Open-source projects [are] where much of the innovation happens. But innovation can also mean constant churn and experimentationnot something stable enough for production. Without security, supportability, and ease of use, very fast-moving code is useful for prototyping but not wide deployment. Another factor is the overall viability of the seller: Will they be there to support us when the application goes down at 3 a.m. in Dubai?

Denise Dumas, Red Hat

Since desirable project characteristics vary by scenario, each product team looks at its goals and needs and finds the projects in the community that fit best. For example, some teams are looking for stable, mature, widely adopted projects, while other teams are looking to get deeply engaged in up-and-coming projects or to release projects. The key thread: We can do more together than individuallywhether it’s delivering great products and services or creating awesome communities and ecosystems.

Jeff McAffer, Microsoft

How have open-source projects influenced what your organization is building today?

Our user interfaces [use] React and TypeScript and associated toolchains, and we’re rapidly adopting GraphQL and Apollo. These UI technologies are really evolving how we think about client-server interactions for our applications and how to leverage the contributions of a single team. Kickstarter has a small engineering organization relative to our scale and impact, and open-source technologies like this really enable each individual engineer’s work to reach the entire organization.

Mark Wunsch, Kickstarter

Three of our recent major product launches have been centered around open source: the DO Kubernetes offering, built entirely on top of the open-source K8s project; DO Managed Databases, launched with PostgreSQL as its primary initial DB offering; and our Marketplace, opened with several open-source offerings from featured vendor partners. We also leverage open-source software when building internal tools, such as our proprietary community platform. Finally, for the past five years, and with the help of a global community of open sourcers, we’ve been [organizing] Hacktoberfest, a monthlong celebration of open-source software that draws more than 50,000 people and celebrates coders of all levels for their contributions to open-source projects.

Tim Falls, DigitalOcean

Because Red Hat creates products from open-source projects, we participate heavily in open-source communities. Understanding customer expectations allows Red Hat engineers to influence design and direction, [as well as to] always contribute to stability and scale.

Denise Dumas, Red Hat

Open source forces us to discover and focus on our unique value. It is not enough for us to aspire to world class when everyone else starts there. We all have access to great databases, UI frameworks, server infrastructureand creating yet another does not generally add value for our customers. Open source enables us to contribute to and release software for others to use, while also building communities, ecosystems, and platforms.

Jeff McAffer, Microsoft

What role do you see open source playing in corporations in the future?

Open source is such a huge part of our tools and way of workingit’s hard to imagine a corporation where open source is not critical to its infrastructure. As AWS and other cloud providers build out more and more managed solutions, I think they will eat business models predicated on open-source software. Ultimately OSS can only thrive if there are active means of sponsoring and governing the work. My hope and desire is for Kickstarter’s platform to provide some means of financially supporting open-source projects.

Mark Wunsch, Kickstarter

According to our latest Currents data highlighting trends in open source, nearly three-quarters of respondents said their company expects them to use open-source software as part of their day-to-day development work. The increased ability to collaborate and share projects leads to faster iteration and improved products. Additionally, open source offers a faster way for people to immerse themselves in the developer community and improve their skills with help from their peers.

Tim Falls, DigitalOcean

Corporations are already heavily reliant upon products derived from open-source projects. (Developers incorporate open-source libraries in most modern applications.) Innovation, transparency, and vendor neutrality make open source very attractive.

Denise Dumas, Red Hat

We will innovate on new business models around open source and new social dynamics will emerge: Open-source ideas of collaboration and shared ownership will spread to adjacent spaces, from content production to law and government. Already we see governments putting all of their laws on GitHub as part of a push toward opennessand this will have a profound influence on how organizations in general drive innovation and outcomes.

Jeff McAffer, Microsoft*

* McAffer has since been named senior director of product management at GitHub. His answers reflect his former role at Microsoft.

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