How can a company become a good citizen of the FOSS ecosystem?

Reasons why companies want to participate in the FOSS ecosystems

There are various reasons why companies want to participate in the global FOSS community. Here’s an incomplete list:

  • Attracting tech talent
  • Gaining influence in certain communities because the company uses products made by that community
  • Growing FOSS projects that were created by the company
  • Becoming involved in standardisation committees and decisions about FOSS standards
  • Maintenance of FOSS products that your company is relying on
  • The company’s commercial success depends on the usage of FOSS products, so they want to have a say in the product direction or make sure those products are stable.

Stickers, socks and tote bags aren’t enough

I used to work for a FOSS community organisation and as part of my job, I was in charge of the annual community conference. In order to keep the conference free of charge, it was funded through sponsorship money. Over the years, I worked with a lot of partners – big and small companies as well as government organisation and NGOs – to get the best for them out of these conferences sponsorships.

This meant understanding how they can present them to the FOSS community in a way that benefits both them and the conference attendees.

Sponsoring FOSS events is one way companies can give back to the larger FOSS ecosystem. But it isn’t enough to just throw money at something. Conference attendees might like your refillable water bottle, your nerdy stickers, or your free beer and it will help them associate your company/your brand with the general FOSS scene. But it won’t make them contribute to your FOSS projects.

So, how does a company engage in a meaningful way with a FOSS community in order become a successful participant? In the case of conferences what a company can do on top of giving out swag and paying the sponsorship fee, a few things that are meaningful could be:

  • send your employees that are FOSS contributors to attend the event and get to know the community
  • Host workshops on topics that are of interest to this specific community
  • submit interesting talk proposals – not sales talks
  • be present, listen and engage with the conference attendees

But conference sponsoring is only one piece in a strong FOSS outreach strategy. Your company needs to think about the broader picture if it wants to be a good and successful citizen of the FOSS world.

Walk the talk: Important questions for companies

It takes effort, time and money to become a valuable member of the FOSS ecosystem. Your organisation needs to be able to answer the following questions:

  • Are you willing to communicate transparently, listen and learn from existing FOSS communities?
  • How much of your resources are you willing to invest?
    • Are you willing to pay for maintainers?
    • Are you willing to send people to conferences?
  • Will you hire people that contribute to projects you’re interested in?
  • Will you employ dedicated FOSS experts (legal and technical)?
  • Will you show up at the relevant meetings, industry roundtables and network events?
  • Will you contribute upstream?
  • What will your Open Source contribution strategy and policy look like?