Open Source Contributions During Working Hours

a month ago   •   5 min read

By Sylvain Reiter

Open source is great. As a software engineer, you know how important it is and you use it every day in your job, programming software...

To feel good, you would like to contribute back to the community, but you often feel like you don't have enough time: between all the clients' deadlines at work, the family and kids and trying to stay active in between... There are never enough hours in the day, right?

What would you say if I told you that you could contribute to open-source projects during working hours?

You might think that's impossible, that most of the non-developers managers or executive teams will see this as a waste of time, time that you're not billing to a client... and you'd be right!

But there is a way. In this video, I'll share some tips on how you can convince your boss to let you do just that: work on open-source projects between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM.

First, we'll try to convince your manager by playing with emotions and feelings. If this doesn't work, watch until the end where I'll give you more tips and the killer option, using real hard data and facts to try and make your case to your line manager, or your board of directors, so that they, too, can start embracing open source projects during working hours.

Let's get to it.

Hey, my name Sylvain Reiter and on this channel I share tips to help you, software engineers or digital professionals to get promoted by making better decisions on your next digital project.

Giving back to the open-source community

If you're lucky, you'd have a good manager who's potentially an ex-developer and has grown into management, and they would understand the benefits of open source. This is where you can use three different emotional arguments to try and let you contribute during working hours.

The benefits of open source

First, it's only fair to give back. You have to remind your manager about the benefits of open source: the freedom from vendor lock-in, and how the global community is contributing and continuously improving the quality of the software that you and they use.

Open source as free training

Second, it's good for your personal development. It's like free training. Which manager wouldn't like that? You will become a better developer. You'll be able to better communicate in a team and work collaboratively with strangers, that's a benefit as well.

Open source helps developers' well-being

Third, it's good for your well-being and your mental health. In this day and age with all the rumours about quiet-quitting, I think that working on open source will bring tons of positive feelings about doing some good in the world and helping others.

Hopefully that will be enough. However, most of the board of directors will make business decisions based on numbers, based on their bottom line. They might understand the cost savings of open source - yeah, it's free - but they don't usually understand the business benefits of their team contributing back to open source.

Using a more pragmatic approach

You can try the emotional arguments I just mentioned, but you might need to get a bit more analytical and come up with some data: aim to strengthen your case and turn the arguments not to the benefits to you, but the benefits to the company that you're working for, to the directors.

The benefits of open source to the business

The first one would be to show that you are benefiting from it as a business. A recent study from the Harvard Business School demonstrated that companies who contribute to open-source projects rip a hundred percent more value from their software investment compared to companies who simply use software without contributing. I think it would be useful to show all their products are using open source: show, the management the number of lines of code in their project that is using open source, looking at the repository and all the modules are important - even if they don't know about it. Another point: instead of waiting for code fixes on some of the repositories that you use, you might as well influence the software yourself by assigning some active contributors to work on it. Even non-developers can influence priorities by making feature requests or contributing to documentation on someone else's repository.

Open source to promote your brand & sales

Second, this will benefit the sales effort of your company, because some clients DO care about it. They ask for it in public sector tenders, for example. Becoming known in the industry and using those credentials for client pitching can only be good for a company's brand name. Publishing your own open-source modules and building a community around it, around the project, will strengthen your overall brand.

Open source as an HR magnet

Third, it will help with staff retention and attracting new talents. As I said earlier, it's like free training for your team of developers. I have seen it in our own team: when we give them a few hours every week of uninterrupted focus to give back, they feel a higher sense of purpose and they really appreciate the allowance, which becomes strong staff retention benefits. You can also meet some of the best developers around those projects, and you could end up working with them in the future.

Focus on billable hours & time tracking

The fourth and final tip I promised you at the start is time tracking. One important metric for development teams is the number of hours working on clients' projects and the overall productivity of the team of developers. Your goal will be to show that you can fit these open-source contributions without affecting your billable hours. Most businesses will have some target or KPI for how much you should spend or bill, a percentage of time that you need to spend on specific clients' projects. As long as you are above that target, they won't have a case to stop you. You need to focus on efficiency, on delivering quality, delivering the best features that you can, as quickly as possible and sticking to your estimates. That should give you some spare hours to contribute to open source. That should keep everyone happy... that's the goal!

Wrapping up

That's it for today. I hope you found this useful. Reach out if you are going through this struggle or if you don't know how to approach this conversation with your manager or if you overcame it already and how that's gone.

Now it's your turn, it's your time. Go for it. Start small, contribute to documentation or translation... just start somewhere and start resolving some of the issues from your favourite open-source repositories that you use.

Next, you should watch this video to learn how to optimise the value and the efficiency of your software development project, and deliver better digital solutions.

If you have any other questions, just get in touch. Don't forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel and follow me on Twitter to keep learning with me and grow your career in digital.

Until next time, stay safe and see you soon.

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