Open Source Report Highlights Tension Between Devs & Employers

We tend to consider open source as the default foundation for many technologies, but a new study from Digital Ocean shows there’s a huge barrier to entry for many developers and companies.

Of the respondents to Digital Ocean’s survey, most individual contributors (80 percent) say they’ve been involved with open source for less than five years, and 66 percent interact with it weekly (with 19 percent saying they are “involved with open source projects” daily). Those figures alone may lead you to think open source is healthy and growing, and it is, but it also has a huge issue getting people and companies involved.

Some 45 percent of respondents say they don’t know how to get started in open source, while 44 percent report they don’t feel their skillset is up to par. Around 30 percent report their company doesn’t allow them time to work in open source, and 28 percent are just plain intimidated.

When asked what they’d need to do to feel more comfortable contributing to open source projects and/or repos, 57 percent say they need to improve their skillset, 48 percent want an “easier entry point,” and 37 percent want their company to set aside time for them to contribute to projects they want to work on.

Around 63 percent of respondents say their companies are most interested in open source projects focused on widely used technologies, and 48 percent care most about documentation (37 percent of respondents say their company prohibits use of OS projects that lack good documentation); 42 percent say their companies want repos with active maintainers.

Companies have reservations about open source, and yet they still want to use it. For example, 71 percent of respondents say their companies expect them to use open source projects for their day-to-day tasks, while only 34 percent say their companies afford them time to contribute to any projects not related to work (of that group, 65 percent say they get half a day or less per week to contribute to open source projects while at work).

When it comes to foundations dedicated to open-source concerns or projects, 54 percent say their company does not participate, and has no plans to. An additional 29 percent report their company does not currently participate, but has plans to do so in the future, while 18 percent say their company is part of some foundation.

All told, open source has a first and last mile issue. Potential contributors are wary to get started due to a touch of imposter syndrome, and companies want their engineers to utilize projects without affording them time to contribute to any projects or repos outside the purview of their daily job; essentially asking more of others without contributing equally.

To some, these findings may suggest the open-source community is on the possible precipice of a slide in activity (especially as it relates to enterprise use), but the hard data doesn’t suggest as much. GitHub’s most recent findings show total contributions and the number of repos are way up, so the larger community is in great shape.

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