Distill open source from its legal underpinning and look at its value system. You’ll find three core values: transparency of information, symmetry of control, and inclusive participation by a diverse group of people. These values are so deeply ingrained into the open source ethos that failing in these areas lead to project failure. Since open source is based on the notion that participation is voluntary and opportunistic (i.e., libertarian volunteerism), success requires peer-to-peer cooperation. Anything hinting of authoritarianism can ruin an open source project.
Corporate organizations, by their very structure, oppose each of the three open source core values. Transparency? Corporate workers find it easier to find information outside the company than within their own companies. Symmetry? Corporate workers assigned to a project have more authority than others. Managers shut down projects all the time, and they don’t even code. Inclusivity? Corporate code is explicitly exclusive by default. Nonemployees can’t see the code and non-team members are often not given access to change it.
So if the authoritarian and rigid framework of the corporate workplace is designed to be the opposite of what open source projects need, how can InnerSource work? And why, for that matter, do companies feel they need to start with InnerSource before they go to open source?
Gil Yehuda and Ashley Wolf highlight the essential elements of the open source development model that organizations need to adopt in order to succeed with InnerSource. Along the way, they detail some of the significant barriers and enablers and specific organizational practices within organizations that either help or hinder InnerSource success. No doubt open source is easier than InnerSource, but InnerSource is possible when companies fully understand what makes open source really work.
Gil Yehuda runs the open source program at Verizon Media. Gil has been a strong and vocal advocate for open source for many years and is a member of the TODO group. Previously, he was an analyst at Forrester Research focused on workplace collaboration.
Ashley Wolf is a principal technical program manager for the open source program office at Verizon Media. Ashley has experience in developer relations, customer engagement, and engineering community management.
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