What it Takes to be an Open Source Expert


Porfessional-man-with-puzzleOSFY speaks to industry leaders to bring you their thoughts on this hot topic

While open source gradually exerts its control over almost every aspect of technology, it has emerged as a clear profit earner for businesses and has helped them move up the value chain. As open source adoption increases across the globe, the need for a multi-skilled workforce becomes important to sustain this trend. Driven by this need, enterprises today are looking for talent with the advanced skills to cope up with their business objectives. Needless to say, the demand for open source professionals has increased manifold in the last few years. According to the 2013 Linux Jobs Report brought out by the Linux Foundation, almost 90 per cent of employers are planning to hire open source experts in the next few months. The report also indicates that there is a yawning gap between the demand and supply of FOSS professionals and open source talent is not easy to find. So, what goes into the making of an open source expert? OSFY got in touch with industry leaders and members of Linux User Groups to seek answers to this question.

The 3 Cs required to succeed
If you wish to flex your muscles in the open source circuits and become a pro, there are three Cs that will help you in your endeavour,curiosity, commitment and community. Shares Divyanshu Verma, Engineering Manager, Linux Engineering at Dell R&D, India, “To become a FOSS expert, the first thing one needs is to be curious and committed. FOSS allows everyone and anyone to learn and program, without donning any corporate hat or a badge, and then, they subsequently contribute code back to the community. FOSS experts are supposedly good at working in a virtual world. They need to be self-motivated to comprehend problems and provide solutions that are accepted by the open source community. Given the wide acceptance of the open source paradigm, companies such as Google, IBM, HP, Dell, Broadcom, Cisco, and Intel, now motivate their employees to work on FOSS projects and contribute code freely to the community.

Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay, an active member of the Chennai Linux Users Group, voices similar views.  In his book Outliers (<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outliers_(book)>), Malcolm Gladwell proposed the 10,000 hour rule, claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practising a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. However, to aspire to be an expert, one needs to take the first step towards that goal. So, it requires that first step of contributing to an open source project and participating in an open source community to be set towards becoming an expert,” says he. Citing another example, Mukhopadhyay says writer Karl Fogel has a reasonably interesting book (http://producingoss.com/en/index.html), which mentions what one needs to get familiar with prior to contributing to open source software. “Beginners should pick a project, tool, application or service they love and, if what they selected has an open source community, get involved by asking smart questions about where one can begin to contribute,” adds Mukhopadhay.

Hands-on knowledge: The key differentiator
The advent of true Internet class applications built completely using open source technologies by companies such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, etc, has made FOSS a widely accepted choice among large scale applications. In addition, the maturity of the market allows companies to choose open source and then, optionally, buy support as needed. Dr Pramod Varma, the chief architect of UIDAI’s Aadhaar project, shares, “This means FOSS professionals now have varied opportunities to be a part of large technology products or various large projects in almost all verticals. With the product start-up ecosystem coming of age in India, FOSS plays an even more critical role and professionals with hands-on knowledge are in great demand. But at the end of the day, whether it is FOSS or commercial technologies, it is critical that professionals become experts in a few areas. Expertise comes from deep hands-on knowledge in at least a few technologies, allowing experts to compare, contrast, and learn from abstract design patterns across various technologies. Technology evolves rapidly, and it is essential that experts learn and apply common design and architecture concepts from one to another and continue to be deeply hands-on.”

Be an expert, legally!
Open source has gained traction in the last few years, but it comes with some legal strings attached. Much legal activity in the open source area involves compliance analysis in other words, determining whether a company is complying with all the relevant licence conditions of its inbound open source licences. This has given birth to a new breed of professionals the open source software legal expert. Becoming a pro in this domain will help, believes Aahit Gaba, commercial and IP licensing lawyer, a specialist in Open Source Licensing. “There are two different categories of FOSS experts- legal FOSS experts and technical FOSS experts; I come under the former category. Of late, the software industry (proprietary and open source) is completely banking on intellectual property rights with respect to the protection of the contributors. And open source software adheres to the open source license, which is a legally binding agreement. So, FOSS legal experts have immense scope in software organisations, automotive firms, embedded systems, financial services, mobile telephony, etc. There is also a dearth of open source attorneys who are well acquainted with the nitty-gritty of this terrain.”

Get involved with start-ups and the community
Open source has been at the genesis of many modern start-up companies and the best way to gain more experience in the FOSS domain is to work with them. Ranjan D Sakalley, lead consultant with Thoughtworks, enthuses, “If you are committed to becoming a true-blue FOSS professional, there is nothing better than kick-starting your career with a start-up company as most of them are built on open source technology. It’s really exciting to try your hands on different high-scale open source projects as you get the liberty to experiment and innovate with novel stuff. And hiring managers constantly look for FOSS skills.”

Jyothi Bacche, head, Open Source Practice, MindTree, feels that one needs to be popular in the open source community to become an expert. “A FOSS expert has the capability to influence the community, as the latter plays a key role in the success of open source software. And this comes when you get yourself involved in various activities in the FOSS arena. Of course, one should have the expertise in integrating various open source components like compliance and distribution issues. You should make a conscious effort to be self-driven and have a passion to create something for the betterment of the open source community.  Open source adoption in the Indian market is quite high these days and it’s a good time to hone your skills based on the above points, and get hired,” reveals Bacche.

So, this may be a good time to build up on your FOSS skills and get a leg-up in your career!

Six handy tips to succeed in the open source world

  • Focus on the fundamentals and learn the concepts well. Too often, the focus is on the ‘step by step’ solution without much understanding of the what, why, and how behind the solution.
  • Application of Mind (AoM). Learn how to apply the fundamentals (that you already know) to solve problems.   Experiment with your ideas and see what comes out of it.
  • Make new mistakes. Learn from your own and others mistakes and do not repeat them. This can only happen when you experiment a lot and participate in many forums, especially global ones, as well as being on mailing lists, blogs, etc. Do not be afraid of making mistakes or be afraid of failure. Develop a thick skin and fearlessly ask your own questions.
  • Keep updating your skills, based on the latest trends.
  • Be humble. However much we know, it is insignificant in the larger scheme of things.
  • Be patient. Success does not come about in a matter of weeks or even months.


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