Open Source and the Open, Distributed Mindset

We developers are familiar with the benefits of Open Source-distributed code: we can re-use the stuff other people achieved in our own applications and experiments. Giving back to “the community” feels nice, too. Most of the day-to-day benefits are centered around the free re-use. But the mentality of being part of Open Source is far more than that. I realized how precious the mindset is to me when I thought about how the gym I train at is managed.

Today at the gym I talked to a trainer about the new equipment and if they could’ve said “No” to it, or if the headquarters prescribe what’s happening. My gym is part of a large-ish chain of inexpensive gyms around Germany. HQ is prescribing everything. When during a routine inspection someone found out there was one spinning bike too many, it had to be removed. Micro-management like this makes me wonder: if the number of bikes is fixed, how do they account for differences in room dimensions? (I guess they don’t.) The number of clocks per room is dictated, too. They cannot even run a competition here without unlikely approval by HQ. This is narrow-minded, top-down micro management. It works, but it certainly adds to the feeling of detachment and coldness in the gym.

So what if someone at the gym is tired of 48pt Arial Bold signs saying “Out of order!!!” and gave the process a bit more thought? She could use a font family that matches the corporate identity, spice it up a bit and add brand colors. The gym owner will probably just like how it looks and that’s it. But what if our budding designer is sending the Word document to HQ into a central repository so others can make use of it, too? Some day, someone at HQ might replace the popular sign with a version that truly fits corporate design. Bottom-up improvement accomplished. Staff will feel more involved, too. Change is transparent and possible; it’s a mindset of contribution and involvement.

And that’s what I take for granted when I think about “Open Source.” It’s not just free re-use, although that’s an important part of it; it’s also an attitude of distributed work that goes without saying. You don’t need to manage and coordinate efforts in advance. Everyone can contribute. And thanks to GitHub (and git in general), it’s super easy to propose changes and merge improvements.

I wouldn’t want to work in an environment where real participation is impossible. A distributed, open mindset equals a transparent company. For me, that’s the only future worth bringing into existence.

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