The new workspace currency is open source
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Open source can be more than just a technology: it can be a hand up. The transparency and the community all come together to create a unique software experience. In this article, Tracy Miranda explains how she got her start in open source and how these skills have proved to be irreplaceable in her career.
The first time I worked with an open source project seems like a long, long time ago. A time before selfies, a time before standing desks and definitely a time before distributed version control systems. (Anyone else uses one of those systems where people could ‘lock’ a file so no-one else could edit it? Really, it was the dark ages of version control.) The open source project itself was the Eclipse IDE — specifically Eclipse CDT — and my boss had just told me my new remit was to extend the IDE with a custom plugin for the company toolchain. Incidentally, this was also his way of letting me know that the previous project I had spent months working on had just been canceled without ever seeing the light of day. Turns out that was the best thing that could ever have happened to my career.
My favorite part of open source software: The community
It did not matter that I did not know any Java. Neither did anyone else in our team. I got to learn on the job. That was when I had my first appreciation for open source code. I was working with a huge code-base, written by developers with tons more experience than I had – and it was all just there: every widget, every listener and every piece of code I needed I could find a well-written example in the Eclipse IDE codebase. I discovered you could go a long, long way with copy-and-paste with Java (while still respecting the license & attribution requirements, of course). It was once I reached the end of the problems I could solve with copy-and-paste that I discovered the next dimension of open source software, and my favorite part of it: the community.
First, there were the forums and mailing lists. Sending off my very first request to these lists was like a leap of faith: reminding me very much of my childhood and launching off that hopeful letter to a pen pal you had never met. And just like with the pen pal, getting a response came with an instant dopamine hit. Secondly, there were the conference calls, where I could dial in to talk to these developers, several time zones away and put some voices to the names. It was amazing to me how helpful people were being and in doing so making me better at my job. After the first such call, I went to tell my boss all about it – but he had another surprise up his sleeve.
SEE ALSO: The advantages of open source tools
The open source route
I discovered that there was another group in the company also working on this project – but rather than using the open source, they were implementing an IDE from scratch. I guess this shouldn’t have come as a massive surprise; it was a company which definitely suffered from ‘Not Invented Here Syndrome’ — actually they probably had their own name for it. Nevertheless, it was all going to be settled by management who would review demos of the work to date and come to a decision. Sitting through the demo meeting, the main thing I remember was that the in-house IDE did not have any support for docking or resizing views and windows. I knew that if we didn’t go with the open source option my future would be reinventing code to resize and dock views and other tedious things Eclipse IDE already did. I held my breath until the powers that be came up with a decision. Fortunately, even with reservations about using this new-fangled open-source software, the decision was made to go the open source route: the benefits were too huge to ignore. I breathed a huge sigh of relief!
I got to keep working on the project, and importantly interacting with the community, even getting opportunities to put some faces to names by attending the open-source conferences. I still had not fully appreciated how valuable the work I was doing with the open source projects would be. When the time came that I was ready to move on from that company, I discovered my open-source work was what was most transferable and desirable in the job market. Open source projects are a great currency for any developer’s CV. Once I came to appreciate that, the next leap was to specialize in one platform and that was the key to setting up on my own as a freelancer.
Open source software is about fulfillment and flexibility
About seven years after my first open-source voice conference I dialed in again. By this time, selfies were in, still no standing desks, and git was slowly taking over. The big difference for me was that I was now a mother with a young baby. Yet thanks to open-source, I was still able to work with some of the best, brightest and most generous developers, while still in my baby-drool covered pajamas. Open source not only saved me from a tedium of reinventing the wheel but in the bigger picture gave me a freedom to craft a career in tech that could work around the needs of my young family and not the other way round.
This is one of the most exciting times in the history of open-source software. Never has software been so focused on openness, communities, and making the world a fairer place. Although I didn’t know it when I first started out, open source software was about fulfillment and flexibility. And if you want to get those things in your career you can, just choose open source!
To read more about open source, download the latest issue of JAX Magazine:
Open source skills are a boost for career prospects — if you don’t believe it, it’s time to bring out the big guns.
We invited the Eclipse Foundation, The Apache Software Foundation, Cloud Foundry, Red Hat, Hyperledger and more to show you why open source is important. You’ll surely learn a lot from their experiences!
But don’t take my word for it! Open the magazine and allow their passion to “infect” you.