The Enterprise Committer: When Your Employee Develops Open-Source Code on the Company Payroll

January 31, 2007 By Esther Schindler,

One of your developers wants to extend an open-source application to solve a company problem, then contribute the code back to the community. That’s fine. But making that process work in enterprise terms involves more than getting the legal department to recover from its fainting fit.

One of your best developers comes to you with a unique proposal. Instead of writing software from scratch, or begging for the budget to purchase an off-the-shelf solution that would need customization anyway—well, there’s an open-source application called Foobar that does nearly everything on the wish list. The developer suggests that she could extend Foobar’s feature set, and then contribute the enhancements back to the open-source community. This way, when the next Foobar version is released, it won’t need the custom changes made all over again. And the only cost is her salary.