Amazon’s unwillingness to contribute to the open source projects it relies on is costing it potential talent as some tech professionals avoid the company, says the Register. Insiders describe Amazon as a “black hole” where improvements and fixes for open-source software are kept close to the vest, a policy that comes “right from the top.”
Amazon contributes far less software code and research papers to open source projects than either Microsoft or Google, its main rivals. The secrecy goes so far as to prevent Amazon engineers from speaking – or even asking questions – at industry conferences. On top of that, people inside the company claim the approach is costing Amazon talent, both in terms of employees leaving for other opportunities and candidates losing interest.
“In the Amazon case, there is a particular schizophrenia between retail and technology, and the retail culture dominates,” one source told the Register. “Retail frugality is all about secrecy because margins are so small so you can’t betray anything – secrecy is a dominant factor in the Amazon culture.”
Amazon’s secrecy may make sense for some purposes, but it runs against the ethos of the open source community, where improvements are supposed to be freely shared. In fairness, the Register notes, Amazon isn’t obligated to share its enhancements if it’s not distributing the code or if the license doesn’t require it.
How much of an impact this could have on Amazon’s future remains to be seen, but it’s more challenging to innovate when you can’t get the best talent. Amazon’s approach to open source may be smart in the short term, but could hurt down the road as the tech professionals it needs look elsewhere for jobs that will keep them immersed in the wider tech community.