How Your Company Can Benefit from Contributing to Open Source

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A coder at work

Open Source Week

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Open source is the antithesis of proprietary software. It’s the free lovin’ hippie amid a sea of corporate profiteers. Defined as software for which the source code is freely available to view, modify, and redistribute, open source software has benefited hardened coders and layman consumers alike. But just because it’s free doesn’t mean profit-driven companies can’t use open source to their advantage.

Here are five ways your company can benefit from contributing to open source.

1. Free Help from the Community

While you’ll certainly need programmers to build the initial software, once the code is made public, you can rely on the wisdom of the crowd for debugging and improvements. The open source community — many of whom can be found at GitHub — is massive, far-reaching, and perhaps most importantly, active.

They are programmers committed to their craft, and strive to see new software reach its full potential. So if your company releases a promising piece of open source software, you may not need to hire programmers for future improvements. The more attention it gets, the more you’ll start seeing free contributions. And if things really take off, the inertia you’ll gain may surpass that of any in-house effort.

2. Free Publicity

If your company makes a piece of software freely available to the public, chances are more users are going to see it, use it, and share it. Now, the software has to be good, or at least adequate, to gain any real traction, but if it is, awareness will spread and your brand name will benefit.

More eyes on your open source software means more eyes on your company, and if people like the software, they’ll (hopefully) associate your brand with value, customer appreciation, gratification, and goodwill initiatives.

3. Supporting Act

Say your company sells server hardware. That, of course, is where you’ll make the bulk of your money, but what if you decide to create an open source operating system along with it? Now, potential buyers won’t have to spend money on an operating system of their own, which frees them up to spend more money on server hardware.

This is how your open source software can support your core product. It not only lures in customers, but by allowing them to save money on one thing, they’re able, and encouraged, to spend money on another.

4. It’s Easier to Hire Good Developers

Finding developers is easy; finding good developers takes a little more effort. But here’s the thing about good developers: They understand the value of open source software, because it makes their lives easier. Therefore, open source software can sweeten the pot for potential hires.

Developers who are considering joining a new team often like to know about the kind of code that team produces. By open sourcing your company’s code, developers have the ability to dig in and decide for themselves if this style and environment appeals to them. That way, the developers who do apply are more likely to be a good match, as they are self-selected.

Furthermore, if you can build an open source community around your software, you can hire people straight from your contributor pool. That way, you know who you’re dealing with, they know who they’re dealing with, and you can cut down onboarding times.

5. Long-term Success

If your company doesn’t have the money, time, resources, or skills to develop comprehensive, proprietary software, building a solid, open foundation from the get-go helps you fortify yourself from future maintenance and development costs.

Here’s a real world example: Many consider Linux superior to Windows, especially on any machine that isn’t a desktop or laptop computer. It’s more stable, secure, versatile, and modifiable. So what is Windows to do?

Well, they can either waste millions of dollars retooling the operating system to make it more competitive, or they can spend a fraction of that to support the open standard, which is already in place, and ensure it is compatible with their software. This way, if Microsoft starts moving into a business dominated by Linux (cloud computing, for example), they could hitch their wagon to the Linux ecosystem. The benefit isn’t in profits, but in costs saved. And as long as people are using Microsoft products and sending them their data, Microsoft is happy.


Contributing to open source might not initially strike profit-driven companies as a smart play. It’s free. It can be distributed. It can be modified. Where’s the ownership? Where’s the sales?

But if you look beyond immediate gratification, you’ll see that open source can benefit companies in many ways. It attracts free labor and free publicity. It can serve as a supporting act for your core product. It makes it easier to hire good, trustworthy developers, and it helps build a solid foundation for long-term success. There’s a reason why Microsoft is in love with Linux.

Frequently Asked Questions about Contributing to Open Source

What are the key benefits of contributing to open source projects?

Contributing to open source projects offers numerous benefits. It allows you to improve your coding skills as you work on real-world projects. It also provides an opportunity to collaborate with other developers and learn from their expertise. Additionally, contributing to open source projects can enhance your professional reputation. Many employers value open source contributions as they demonstrate initiative, technical skills, and the ability to work in a team.

How can my company benefit from contributing to open source?

Companies can benefit from contributing to open source in several ways. Firstly, it can lead to improved software quality as the open source community often includes expert developers. Secondly, it can reduce costs as open source software is typically free to use and modify. Thirdly, it can foster innovation as open source projects are often at the forefront of technological advancements. Lastly, it can enhance a company’s reputation as contributing to open source is often viewed positively by the tech community.

What are some potential challenges of contributing to open source?

While contributing to open source offers many benefits, it can also present some challenges. These may include a steep learning curve, especially for those new to coding. There may also be issues with compatibility and security, as open source software is publicly accessible. Additionally, some companies may be hesitant to contribute due to concerns about intellectual property rights.

How can I start contributing to open source projects?

To start contributing to open source projects, you can begin by finding a project that interests you. Many open source projects are hosted on platforms like GitHub. Once you’ve found a project, you can start by fixing bugs, improving documentation, or adding new features. Remember to communicate with the project maintainers and other contributors to ensure your contributions are valuable and relevant.

Can contributing to open source projects help my career?

Yes, contributing to open source projects can significantly boost your career. It allows you to demonstrate your coding skills and ability to work on real-world projects. Many employers value open source contributions and may consider them when making hiring decisions. Additionally, contributing to open source projects can help you build a professional network within the tech community.

Is there any financial benefit to contributing to open source?

While most open source contributions are unpaid, there can be indirect financial benefits. For example, the skills and experience gained from contributing to open source projects can lead to job opportunities and career advancement. Some companies also offer “bug bounties” for identifying and fixing vulnerabilities in their open source software.

How can contributing to open source improve my coding skills?

Contributing to open source projects provides a practical platform to apply and enhance your coding skills. You get to work on real-world projects, solve complex problems, and learn from experienced developers. This hands-on experience can significantly improve your coding abilities.

Can my company use open source software for commercial purposes?

Yes, most open source licenses allow for commercial use. However, it’s important to understand the specific terms of the license as some may require modifications to be shared publicly or prohibit certain types of commercial use.

How can my company start contributing to open source?

Companies can start contributing to open source by identifying projects that align with their business needs or areas of expertise. They can then allocate resources to contribute in ways that add value, such as fixing bugs, improving functionality, or enhancing documentation. It’s important to communicate with the project maintainers to understand their needs and expectations.

What is the role of a maintainer in an open source project?

A maintainer is responsible for guiding the course of an open source project. They review and merge contributions, manage releases, and oversee the project’s direction and growth. Maintainers play a crucial role in fostering a welcoming and productive community around an open source project.

Joshua KrausJoshua Kraus
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Josh Kraus is a Chicago-born, Denver-based writer and mediocre autobiographist with an interest in art, entrepreneurship, and emerging industries. When he's not writing, he attends to his t-shirt business, Bird Fur. Find him at and

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