I met Holger Koch at a conference in April this year. Holger works for DB Systel, the IT company of the Deutsche Bahn, and he has had the guts to convince the organization to host an internal “Open Source Workshop”. Knowing a bit of how large organizations “operate”, and believe me: the Deutsch Bahn is large, I’m sure that task was gargantuan.

I had the honour to be invited to speak there, and I gladly accepted the invitation. (I spoke for an hour of what Ansible is and how it has evolved in the course of the last year or so.) And this was an invitation: travel (by first-class train :-) ) and very comfortable accomodation were provided for.

To be honest I wouldn’t typically report this; there are many conferences which focus on Open Source topics, and some of my readers go to many more of those than I do. What makes this event noteworthy, is that this was a company-internal show: all participants were employees of the Deutsche Bahn or its assets. Promoting Open Source within an organization in that form is quite special, at least I’ve yet to hear about that being done at that kind of scale.

During his ending keynote, Holger spoke of why people and particularly companies should promote and contribute to Open Source. Contributions can take the form of donations or code contributions, and he gave several examples. One of the examples Holger brought back to memory was how the OpenSSL project, one of the pillars of security on the Internet, had received just a few thousand dollars in donations before the HeartBleed bug. (That has changed since then.) A few voices in the audience suggested promoting Open Source within organizations, as Holger has done, is also a great way to contribute, and I fully agree. It would be great to see much more of this done, and it isn’t difficult to do. What’s also very important: it doesn’t cost a lot; certainly a few work hours must be sacrificed, but on the other hand, the added value for companies is certainly higher motivation of employees. I think this model would work on a larger scale.

That got me thinking about whether I, as an individual, actually contribute to Open Source, and if so, how. I suddenly felt like a bit of a leach because I use a lot of Open Source compontents (utilities, operating systems, programming languages, etc.)

I have no doubt you’ll correct me if you think I’m wrong, but I believe I do contribute, at least to projects which interest me:

  • I do quite a bit of testing and try to report bugs, to the best of my ability. (If you’ve ever done a bit of this, you know it can be very time consuming.)
  • I contribute little bits and pieces of code and/or documentation.
  • I take the time (and typically pay for my own travel and accomodation expenses) to speak at conferences about particular Open Source topics.

In the course of the last few years, I’ve spoken maybe two dozen times about DNS, DNSSEC, Ansible, MQTT, and a few other topics I can’t recall off the top of my head.

Does that count as contributing to the Open Source community? I hope it does.