The main purpose of this program is to advance that ideology in our operations. Because it is the right thing to do and will make the world a better place.
Being a company, our motivation, if sincere, is of course not entirely altruistic. We believe that taking the free software movement seriously will help us in recruiting more like-minded people and to keep our own motivated. It could take us towards knowing some of the tools we use more by heart. That would increase efficiency. Hell, we might even get some recognition out of this, if it flies.
But most of all, it is the right thing to do and will help us make the world a better place.
Starting a program like this in a business environment is not entirely unlike crossing the kitchen floor barefooted, after accidentally shattering your spouse’s favorite glass into a thousand tiny glistening sharp pieces. You are likely to hit a few of those, no matter how carefully you navigate. Yes, that is a weak analogy for people getting upset.
Even if you somehow manage to avoid them all, someone is going to be unhappy. If nobody else, then certainly Richard Stallman, if he ever learns of our endeavour.
Because business and social movements do not mix well. Sure, there’s all the fun stuff; hackathons for worthy goals (at company premises with free pizza and beer, but no paid overtime), sending people to related events (networking and scene marketing), arranging those events yourself (brand recognition), sponsoring individuals or projects with a feasible amount (good PR, perhaps recruitment). Even open sourcing something you have built for your own use, to show you can walk the walk. These are all good things and very much on our agenda!
But on the edges of the comfort zone there be dragons and quicksand.
You see, we are in the custom software and consultancy business of hourly wages and utilization rates. Some of our customers look upon open source software favorably; some might abhor the thought. We cannot afford the luxury of choosing our customers on this criteria, nor would we want to. Even in the company there may be people who are skeptical about this hippie nonsense. They are very much entitled to their opinion. Sometimes they are probably right. We are not really even trying to claim that proprietary software has no place in the modern world. We ARE, however, hoping for that place to grow smaller in comparison.
So there definitely be dragons. Can people decide not to work on projects that are entirely proprietary? Probably not. If the contract disallows (or does not specifically allow) open source contributions, even though open source software (with a permissive license) is used, is there anything we can do? Who will do it? How do we sell our projects, what kind of emphasis do we put on the OSS aspect? If some substantial amount of work is clearly outside any particular customer project and hence cannot be invoiced, but it would greatly benefit one or multiple of our projects - what shall we do? Who will decide? How will we report, how will we follow up? That’s a lot of question marks.
Ordering pizza, giving inspiring speeches, writing blog posts, rubbing elbows with the scene celebrities over beer and granting small Gittip budgets sounds much more fun, sexy and the most of all achievable. Definitely worth doing. Done well, we can afford some satisfied nods over celebratory pints of Free Beer.
If we manage to tackle some of the quicksand dragons, we can do a victory dance.
We would really like to dance!