Why the enterprise fell in love with open source

Open source is becoming one of the most important sectors in IT. Not only does it underpin some of the most successful technology on the planet, it's increasingly bleeding into other areas of the enterprise, both in and out of the IT department.

GitHub's contribution to the rise of the open source revolution is in providing a platform for people to upload code for others to share and adapt freely. Its vice-president of product management, Kakul Srivastava, spoke to IT Pro to find out more about how open source is finding a home in the enterprise.

When you upload some code to Github, anyone is free to read it, discuss it and suggest alterations, and it is this notion of building a community of programmers that is key to understanding open source, Srivastava claimed.

"It's less about the code and where the code is stored; it's that we're collaborating, we're having a conversation, we're discussing how software should be designed," she said.

Thanks to this sense of community, open source has grown tremendously - according to Srivastava, it is virtually impossible to be a developer without getting involved in it.

"Every software developer I know does some open source work, whether it's on their own, on weekend projects, or as part of what they do at their company. There are few developers who don't touch open source in some way," she said.

Increasingly, these developers are bringing open source into the enterprise, pushing their companies to adopt tools like GitHub. As Srivastava said, "it's the developers who are driving the revolution."

This is partly because working collaboratively makes problem-solving a lot simpler and more efficient - the more eyes you have on a single piece of software, the easier it is to spot bugs before they become an issue.

More importantly, however, open source workflows lead to happier developers. "No one wants to be that one little software development team," she said, but once you start using open source tools, even within the same company, you create a network.

"All of a sudden, there's a whole community of software development, and they're all talking to each other, and they're sharing code, and they're helping each other get better, and it makes it a better place to be a software developer."

Although the increasing accessibility of technology has lessened the social stigma of programming somewhat, the stereotype still persists that coders are solitary figures, hunched over a keyboard in a dark basement.

"That just isn't true," said Srivastava. "Coding happens in a much more social way, and once you get used to that, you want that to happen everywhere. You want that in your chat tool, you want that in how you share documents, you want that everywhere, because it's the better way to work. It's the more human way to work."

There are substantial benefits in adopting open source for businesses too, of course. Aside from the improved efficiency that comes from being able to simply drag and drop pre-existing code into applications, strong open source initiatives are a great way to attract talent.

Open sourcing their technology is a great way for companies to showcase to the community the fact that they're an exciting, vibrant company to work for. "In order to attract the best software developers," Srivastava said, "they need to show that they're doing really interesting software.

"All these companies are increasingly doing open source, as a way to gain efficiency, certainly, but also to show that they're doing some really interesting technology behind the scenes."

Open source is also being adopted by companies that you wouldn't necessarily expect. This change is happening across virtually every industry, Srivastava explains - manufacturing, automotive and retail titans have all felt the shift.

"All of them are actually competing on software much more than logistics or those kinds of things," she said, "and as they do that, they increasingly need to become software companies."

"Everyone knows about .NET and Google's TensorFlow and all of these things, but you're seeing companies like Walmart open source major initiatives, and the reason is because Walmart needs to be a software company."

As major companies place increasing importance on their software offerings, open source has begun to permeate the enterprise. "It's not necessarily because they want to do open source software development, it's because they recognise that this open way of working is a better way to work," noted Srivastava.

"It's fundamentally how people want to work. We're a social generation, that genie is out of the bottle, and it won't go back in. It's about making work and making software development more human."

Adam Shepherd

Adam Shepherd has been a technology journalist since 2015, covering everything from cloud storage and security, to smartphones and servers. Over the course of his career, he’s seen the spread of 5G, the growing ubiquity of wireless devices, and the start of the connected revolution. He’s also been to more trade shows and technology conferences than he cares to count.

Adam is an avid follower of the latest hardware innovations, and he is never happier than when tinkering with complex network configurations, or exploring a new Linux distro. He was also previously a co-host on the ITPro Podcast, where he was often found ranting about his love of strange gadgets, his disdain for Windows Mobile, and everything in between.

You can find Adam tweeting about enterprise technology (or more often bad jokes) @AdamShepherUK.