Technology is not your competitive advantage

April 18, 2016 opensource , commentary 2 min read

Robert Hof writes for Forbes on Facebook’s Open Source Machine:

Facebook doesn’t sell software, but it’s arguably the largest open source software company in the world.

Q: So where do you draw that line on open source versus keeping it internal?

A: We don’t consider that much of our technology to be a competitive advantage. We have realized over the years that the more we share, the better. It allows us to innovate faster, it allows us to recruit and retain talented engineers who want to work on these kinds of problems, and it helps accelerate the industry as a whole. We don’t have a monopoly on smart ideas or ways to solve these problems. If other companies or people see these problems and maybe bring some solutions, then clearly we’re going to benefit.

This is the hardest concept for the industry to grasp about open source: they need to become a technology company to survive, but the technology is not their competitive advantage. Like the internet, phones, and the power grid, open source software is critical to every day operations, but it’s not the core value that you provide.

Q: Any less obvious benefits of open source for Facebook and other companies?

A: New engineers coming into the workforce expect open source to be part of the engineering culture, to share the code internally and outside the company. Engineers love to be able to share their ideas. If you don’t have a strong, cohesive open source strategy, you’re going to find it a lot harder to recruit that talent. If you’re an enterprise or a CIO and you’re thinking about how to gear up your engineering organization for the next 10 years, you better get yourself an open source strategy.

Facebook has one of the most impressive open source programs in the industry. They are incredibly strategic about their open source participation, and on the whole, the community and industry greatly benefit from it.

If you can suffer through Forbes’ obnoxious use of ads, the Q&A is really good.

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avatar of Brandon Keepers I am Brandon Keepers, and I work at GitHub on making Open Source more approachable, effective, and ubiquitous. I tend to think like an engineer, work like an artist, dream like an astronaut, love like a human, and sleep like a baby.