The Re-Rise of Open Source

Kevin Kelleher’s article on GigaOm this morning titled 2009: Year of the Hacker made me think back to the rise of open source after the Internet crash of 2001.  In the aftermath of the crash, many experienced software developers were out of work for a period of time ranging from weeks to years.  Some of them threw themselves into open source projects and, in some cases, created their next job with the expertise they developed around a particular open source project.

We are still in a tense and ambiguous part of the current downturn where, while many developers are getting laid off, some of them are immediately being picked back up by other companies that are in desperate need for them.  However, many other developers are not immediately finding work.  If the downturn gets worse, the number of out of work developers increases.

If they take a lesson from the 2001 – 2003 time frame, some subset of them will choose to get deeply in an open source related project.  Given the range of established open source projects, the opportunity to do this today is much more extensive than it was seven years ago.  In addition, most software companies – especially Internet-related ones – now have robust API’s and/or open source libraries that they actively encourage third parties to work with for free. The SaaS-based infrastructure that exists along with maturing source code repositories add to the fun.  The ability to hack something interesting together based on an established company’s infrastructure is omnipresent and is one of the best ways to “apply for a job” at an interesting company.

We are thinking hard about how to do this correctly at a number of our new investments, including companies like Oblong, Gnip, and a new cloud-computing related startup we are funding in January.  Of course, many of our older investments such as NewsGator and Rally Software already have extensive API libraries and actively encourage developers to work with them.  And of course, there are gold standards of open source projects like my friends at WordPress and masters of the API like Twitter.

If you are a developer and want help engaging with any of these folks, or have ideas about how this could work better, feel free to drop me an email.