You’ve been using open source software or contributing to open source projects for a long time. Perhaps you are in a job where you utilize open source tools regularly, or maybe you are just fooling around with them for fun or to learn new skills.
You’ve been known to tell (possibly true) stories that highlight how long you’ve been a part of the open source world (from “I remember downloading the first version of Fedora” to “I was in the room when the term open source was coined”). But, most importantly, you consider yourself an active member of one or more open source communities.<img title=”” src=”http://opensource.com/sites/all/modules/wysiwyg/plugins/break/images/spacer.gif” alt=”” />
Did you ever consider that your time spent participating in these open source communities might be more than just good technology experience? That it might prepare you for jobs completely unrelated to using or making software?
In college, I studied history and political science. Not because I wanted to be a political scientist or a historian but because, well… actually I’m not really sure.
But in retrospect, I’m really happy I studied these fields.
Why? They gave me plenty of experience doing research, writing, and learning to articulate my thoughts and ideas effectively. While I don’t remember how Alexander the Great defeated the Persians at the battle of Issus and I can no longer compare and contrast the views of Rousseau and Locke effectively, I use many skills I learned when studying these subjects on a daily basis.
At the risk of sounding like an advertisement for a liberal arts education, let me get to the point.
While you’ve been happily participating in open source communities because you have a need for a piece of software or want to help make it better, you may also be the beneficiary of an important side effect. You may be getting experience in how organizations of the future will be run.
Over the past few years, I’ve had an opportunity to work with organizations in many different industries, including finance, education, service, hospitality, even in the government and non-profit worlds. Many of these organizations are busy exploring how they can better compete using techniques that many of us in the open source world have already successfully put into practice.
For example, some are interested in testing large-scale collaborative projects involving people outside their organizations. Others want to know how to create internal meritocracies where people feel empowered and the best ideas can come from anywhere. Others want to begin to form more meaningful relationships with the community of people who care about their organizations. If you’ve been reading opensource.com, you’ve seen us highlight many examples in business, government, education, health, and elsewhere.
These organizations have a lot to learn from those of you who already have real experience using these practices in real communities.
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell introduced the idea that those who became world-class practitioners at their craft (he uses examples like Mozart, Steve Jobs, and the Beatles), have done so in part because they were able to get an inordinate amount of practice before others in their field. According to the research Gladwell cites in the book, a person needs about 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery.
How close are you to putting in 10,000 hours participating in the open source world? If you’ve spent 40 hours a week working in open source communities for 5 years, you may have your 10,000 hours in already.
But even if you don’t yet have 10,000 hours, my guess is you’ve already learned quite a bit about how open source communities work.
So if you believe that the organizations of the future may be run using many of the same principles that are currently being used to great effect in open source communities, and you already have plenty of experience working within those communities, could you be an asset to an organization that is looking for better ways to compete? And could you be an asset not just because of your open source technology skills, but also because of your open source thinking skills?
An example: My friends Dave Mason and Jonathan Opp, who each have well more than 10,000 hours of experience in the open source world, recently entered the joint Harvard Business Review / McKinsey M-Prize contest on the Management Innovation Exchange with a hack deeply inspired by their open source experience.
Their idea? Take the principle of “forking” as practiced in open source development projects and apply it to the way organizations are managed (read the full details of their hack here). Their “Free to Fork” hack was recently selected from a pool of almost 150 entries submitted by people from around the world as one of 20 finalists for the M-Prize. Pretty impressive.
So think about it: Beyond your technology experience, what else have you learned from working in open source communities that might be valuable to a potential employer? Are there hidden skills or ways of thinking open source has taught you that might be worth highlighting in a job interview or in making the case for a promotion or new assignment?
Start thinking of your open source experience as a new set of thinking and working skills that may be very much in demand in organizations hoping to remain competitive in the future.
By doing so, you might open yourself up to interesting opportunities you wouldn’t have considered before.
[This post originally appeared on opensource.com]
When I hear people in the technology industry talk about the benefits of open source software, one of things they mention often is their belief that open source software “gets better faster” than traditional software (David Wheeler has done a nice job collecting many of the proof points around the benefits of open source software here). While the speed of innovation in open source is in part due to the power of Linus’s Law (“Given enough eyes, all bugs are shallow”), I believe it also has a lot to do with the way open source projects are managed.
Many of the characteristics of this open source management style apply well beyond making software, and I’m always looking for examples showcasing this in action. A few weeks ago, I wrote briefly about the story in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink about (now retired) US General Paul Van Riper.
Gladwell tells the story of how, in an enormous military war game called the Millennium Challenge in 2002, Van Riper took command of the Red Team, playing the role of a rogue commander who broke away from the government of his Persian Gulf country and threatened US forces (the Blue Team). Rather than following standard military management protocol, Van Riper managed his team according to a philosophy he called “in command and out of control.” From the book:
By that, I mean that the overall guidance and the intent were provided by me and the senior leadership, but the forces in the field wouldn’t depend on intricate orders coming from the top. They were to use their own initiative and be innovative as they went forward.
Last weekend I watched The Botany of Desire. In this PBS documentary I streamed off Netflix, Micheal Pollan (the foodie hero who brought us The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a book also called The Botany of Desire, and the documentary Food, Inc.) examines the natural history of the spread of four plants: apples, tulips, potatoes, and marijuana, but with a twist– he tells the story from the plants’ point of view.
Man, I love stuff like that. By switching the perspective, Pollan is able to show how each of these plants has manipulated humans into propagating it far and wide throughout the world. For example, apples are indigenous to the mountains of Kazakhstan and potatoes to Peru, but now both can be found pretty much everywhere. And wait ’til you watch the section about marijuana, a plant that has managed to get many humans to raise it better than their own children.
I thought it might be interesting to take Pollan’s trick, but rather than apply it to plants, apply it to ideas. Get all anthromorphic and consider how ideas get us to spread them.
There are tons of people out there looking at how ideas spread, probably most famously/recently Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point. But what if, for a second, we take the perspective that the ideas might be using us the same way flowers use bees.
Early in human history, ideas weren’t particularly good at getting us to do their bidding. Heck, the idea for inventing paper first showed up in Egypt over 5000 years ago, and it couldn’t even get humans to take it one continent away to Asia. The idea for inventing paper appeared in China independently about 3500 years after it appeared in Egypt, according to what Wikipedia tells me.
Finally got around to reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book Outliers. I’m late to the game on this one, so I’ll skip the full review and instead point to some good summaries about the book here, here, and here. I have other fun stuff I want to cover today.
For me, this book was his best yet. Gladwell’s gift is he is an amazing storyteller, and in this book he once again takes semi-boring academic research and makes it deeply relevant and interesting by crafting a beautiful story around it.
Here’s a short synopsis of Outliers. I decided to write it in the form of a limerick. I have no idea why.
Some folks become world-class Outliers,
Achieving success we can’t help but admire,
But smarts and ambition,
Aren’t the only pre-conditions,
Great timing and practice are required.
Basically, Gladwell is saying you can be the smartest guy on Earth and achieve nothing worth mentioning. But incredible, world-class success (think Bill Gates, Mozart, the Beatles) is a mashup of being born at the right time in the right place to the right people with the right genetic makeup while having the right things occur to you at exactly the right times in your life.
Oh, and you need to get in 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at your craft.
This last concept really got to me. The idea that in order to become an expert in your field, you need to put in 10,000 hours of practice has been covered extensively. In fact there are two other books out describing the research behind this assertion, The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle and Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin.
Hearing the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs stories of perfect timing and early practice in Gladwell’s book started me thinking about a few things.
I just finished reading the new book Free by Chris Anderson, which I read on my sweet new Kindle for the low, low price of… you guessed it… free (the Kindle edition was free for the first month, but you missed it, $9.95 now).
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Chris Anderson has been with Wired Magazine since 2001, and is currently the Wired Editor in Chief (a fact that I copied directly from Wikipedia, something he has also been accused of doing).
I’d consider Chris a member of the pantheon of Folks Who Can Decently Explain What the Heck Is Happening On This Planet Right Now, alongside Thomas Friedman, Malcolm Gladwell, and Michael Pollan, among others.
However, I have only recently forgiven Chris for his long tail concept that unleashed hordes of marketing droids blathering on for hours about the long tail of this and the long tail of that a few years back. I’m not saying he wasn’t right, it was a great book. But, dude, you have no idea what you put us through. Torture.
Here is my attempt to paraphrase the 300 pages of Free in two sentences:
The price of digital content is moving quickly toward free. So stop bitching about it and figure out a business model that allows you to make a decent living anyway.
It’s a brilliant book. And I’m not just saying that because I work for a company that figured out a way to build a profitable business model that plays well with free. As I was reading, I kept thinking how eloquently Chris was stating complex concepts that I’ve been living with at Red Hat for years, but had never been able to articulate (he even mentions us in the book three times, score!).
I also kept thinking what another great truthteller named Bob Dylan once said: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the way the wind blows.”
Or maybe you do. Turns out there are a lot of people out there who passionately disagree with Chris Anderson about the conclusions he draws in this book that I found rather obvious.