« Don't use ThreadLocal! | Main | Total JMS Message ordering »

June 20, 2005

OpenSource contributions on your resume, a good thing?

I don't know but I fear not. The main issue with someone with experience working on or contributing to (as opposed to merely using) open source software is contamination. This means he/she has seen the open source source code and may contaminate the commerical products he's working on with source/ideas/algorithms from the open source product. There is strict segregation here as far as who's allowed to see what source code or not and once source code is seen then it can be a long period of time before it's possible to work on the other stream again.

Every company has it's own policies but if you're looking to work at a large company on software in a similar area to open source software that you've worked on then you need to beware.

This is a real danger for college students where a lot of them use open source. Using open source probably isn't a problem but examining/modifying the source for it may be. How big a deal this is probably depends on level of involvement, the open source license in question etc

If you've worked on/contributed to open source software and then join a commercial company (even an open source company building competitive software to the code you worked on as the recent Apache Geronimo/JBoss debacle showed) then it's worth making them aware. They will likely still hire you but will choose an area where they aren't at risk and can still use your talents. It's best to let them know before another company tries to sue your new company because they claim the software you've worked on has software routines/algorithms owned by them inserted by you. Better safe than sorry.

June 20, 2005 | Permalink


If you're using source from an Apache-licensed project - there's no harm in using the source code - is there?

You are contaminated if you see the source code in any kind of detail. If I was working with a competitor then I don't want to discuss technology/algorithms look at source code for the same reasons.

Posted by: Matt Raible | Jun 20, 2005 9:54:50 AM

Sounds a bit like FUD to me, given even IBM has just hired a whole bunch of folks who are very active in open source (the folks from Geronimo / Apache / Gluecode).

I've never heard of anyone not hiring someone because of their open source contributions. That doesn't mean it doesn't happen - but my experience is the complete opposite to your point - that open source contributors are much more likely to get better jobs.

Nope, not FUD. The gluecode guys and IBMers now on that don't work on WebSphere and I don't work on Geronimo. We're seperate. If I was to work on Geronimo then I couldn't work on WAS again. There is some awesome open source talent out there like yourself and may others. There are clearly companies who will pay for top talent. But, companies making middleware etc are in a slightly different boat than typically consulting opportunities and this kind of legal risk may make them think twice.

Posted by: James Strachan | Jun 20, 2005 10:23:28 AM

Open source licensing is copyright (though there may be a "and you cannot sue us for patent stuff you contribute" clause), which means bringing ideas from open source code into closed source is perfectly okay, copying and pasting is not. Funnily enough, it is perfectly okay (and I even ran this by Eben Moglen at one point) to sit down with the linux kernel open in one window, and YourUnixyKernerl in another and reimplement everything the same -- as long as you just copy the concepts, not the actual code.

Seriously, it is fine, and even good, in my experience both as a part of the recruiting process, and having done so on many occasions.


Posted by: Brian McCallister | Jun 20, 2005 10:52:39 AM

Its also worth remembering how much folks use open source - WebSphere, WebLogic and JBoss all reuse lots of Apache open source code - so you're saying IBM empoyee's can't submit fixes or even read the Apache code while debugging WebSphere?

I'm saying there is some Apache code that we're allowed to use. We cannot use/download source code without permission and currently if the software isn't Apache licensed then it's very difficult to get permission. Submitting fixes is again problematic due to IP concerns, IBM owns my code, I can't give it away without permission.

Posted by: James Strachan | Jun 20, 2005 6:49:48 PM

Come on Billy ;-). Product focused development I would maybe agree. At the same time, I could just speculate about the sheer number of developers that are working in a different environment. If I look around at the rest of the schmuck (myself included ;-), schlopping it on the train, I see everything from garage type swat development for local charities, financial services IT wonks (like myself), consultants (up and down the value chain from strategy to development) and everything in between. I even had lunch recently with a sales guy from a start up consultancy centered solely around an open source stack where the consultants were required to contribute to at least one open source project.

I think for you guys and others in your position, it is extremely difficult, and I can appreciate the position that you are put in. If our society wasn't so law suit happy, maybe this wouldn't be the case, but I don't know how you do it ;-). If I copy some open source code on this blog what will happen ;-).

Posted by: Jin Chun | Jun 21, 2005 6:53:46 AM

Obviously, this is the SCO effect, at least in part. And IBM has always taken legal matters seriously.

But for the everyday consultant, working on an open source project is a big plus. This is certainly a way to set yourself apart.

Posted by: Michael O'Keefe | Jul 20, 2005 11:53:13 PM

Post a comment