Amazon’s Closed Approach to Open Source Costs It Talent

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.”

Declinced Job OfferAmazon 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.

One Response to “Amazon’s Closed Approach to Open Source Costs It Talent”

  1. This doesn’t surprise me. The tired argument of corporations are in business to make money comes to mind here. Truth be told, I have no great love of the open source community as its progress is frequently hampered by the egos involved. It’s why Linux will never be a dominant player in the corporate space precisely because users won’t tolerate the RTFM response to every question.

    In concert with that goes the expectation that anyone who uses open source material must by extension have some higher calling for the betterment of humanity. A belief at odds with corporate doctrines. If you put something out there with few if any strings attached you shouldn’t be surprised if someone takes advantage of it.

    However, take a look at the average Amazon IT job posting and you see an expectation of indentured servitude if not a culture built on it. If there’s a brain drain at Amazon it’s likely that minimal contributions to the open source community are only a very small part of it. More likely it’s got nothing to do with it.