Things I Learned at OSCon 2016

Last week I had the pleasure of attending OSCon held in Austin, TX. OSCon has been around since 1999 and is a great conference for all things open source. More information on the conference can be found here. Overall the conference was educational and extremely motivational. I intend to regularly attend OSCon and I would recommend it to my colleagues in the open source robotics community. Below are things I learned from OSCon

  • A Historical Perspective
    Open source is not a new idea. According to wikipedia the idea of open source was hatched in the late 1990s. Before open source, there was free software which originated in the 1970s and 80s. For many of us, this history is unknown. We just accept that open source has been adopted by industry, but lack an appreciation for what it took to get it there. Danese Cooper's talk provided a great perspective on this history. The early trailblazers in the open source and free software movements deserve our admiration and respect. This historical perspective is also reassuring to those of us in the Industrial market. We are fighting some of the same battles that were fought early on in the IT market. While ROS-Industrial enjoys the support of the ROS-Industrial Consortium, there are still many industrial companies that remain unconvinced or unsupportive. The acceptance, and some might say dominance of open source in the IT market, illustrates what is possible when early adopters are relentless. It's also much easier when we can point to examples in the IT space, where open source has had a tremendous impact. I can't imagine the hurdles open source encountered in the early days. Imagine convincing businesses, who valued software so greatly, that giving it away is better for the common good and the bottom line. A sincere thank you to those who blazed the trail before us.
  • Building an Open Source Community
    The "Optimizing your project for contribution" presentation by Josh Matthews was perhaps the single most important presentation for me. Josh outlined 5 steps to build your community and make it easier for developers to contribute. These five steps are:
    1. Prioritizing useful information - Document your software and the contribution process from the point of view of a "newbie".
    2. Reducing friction - Make it easy to contribute. Don't make people jump through hoops unnecessarily.
    3. Making expectations clear - Set the expectations for not only contributions, but the review process in general. Provide a timeline for acceptance.
    4. Responding appropriately - Acknowledge every contribution. Contributions take time, and we should consider this when critiquing or requesting changes.
    5. Following through - Follow your own process. Deadlines in particular are of utmost importance. Responding to contributions immediately significantly increases the likelihood of follow on contributions (which ensures your community will grow).
      In the month's to come we will be implementing these ideas in ROS-Industrial. Great things are coming...
  • Open Source Participation is Still Hard for Companies
    While use of open source software has largely been accepted by companies, participation is still difficult. Participation includes everything from financial support to actively committing source code and interacting with the community. Financial support, as we have found with ROS-Industrial is probably the easiest form of support. While financial support is appreciated, and certainly needed, the greatest value of open source is only realized by participating. Participation has several hurdles, not the least of which are legal and IP related. Companies need processes in place to manage open source contributions. The processes need to protect the company while minimizing hurdles to contributing. How do companies create this the open of course. The TODO group, which stands for "Talk openly, develop openly" was organized for companies to cooperatively develop practices for contributing to open source and sharing experiences.
  • Community Leadership Summit
    This summit is held before OSCon. One of the reasons I attend OSCon was to get ideas for how to lead and grow the ROS-Industrial community. Just about everyone I talked to recommended I attend the Community Leadership Summit. The summit is always held before OSCon. It brings together community leaders across the open source world to discuss strategies for building communities. I won't miss this next year.
  • Thank You Lawyers
    I attended several presentations on the legal aspects of open source. We owe a debt of gratitude to lawyers at the OSI, Apache Foundation, and others for ensuring the open source software will remain open and protected from legal claims. They have ensured that the idea of open source and the true intent of developers is protected.