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Are you an open source professional?


Guest Post: Eileen Evans, VP and Deputy General Counsel for Cloud & Open Source


eileenevaqns.pngAs the head of HP’s Cloud and Open Source legal group and its Open Source Office, and a member of both the OpenStack® Foundation Board of Directors and the Linux® Foundation Board of Directors, I spend a fair amount of time on planes. To use that time effectively, I always take a stack of reading materials with me. On a flight from New York to San Francisco last year, my stack of reading materials included an intriguing article that I wanted to re-read.


That article was a piece by Jack Ellis entitled “Open Season” in Intellectual Asset Management magazine (May/June 2013). In the article, Keith Bergelt, CEO of Open Invention Network, talked about the emergence of a new “open source legal professional.” He described this new kind of lawyer as someone who can bridge multiple worlds, speaking knowledgably about legal issues, business strategies, and intellectual property issues – all from the perspective of the open source community. I found this to be a brilliant articulation of the world that I (and so many other open source attorneys) have lived in for many years.


Beyond legal

While Keith’s comments were directed to open source legal professionals, my work frequently takes me beyond legal issues. My work at HP as well as in the OpenStack and Linux Foundations requires a well-rounded understanding of corporate strategies, business practices, and open source principles.


I’ve now come to the conclusion that I am not just an open source legal professional; instead, it’s more likely I am part of a group of an emerging group of all-around open source professionals, and I am not alone.


The rise of open

Since that flight, I have been looking further into what is driving the emergence of open source professionals, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the unique aspects of open source development that have now become so prevalent have led to the creation of the open source professional.


Open source is no longer the domain of ambitious startups and generic apps. More than half of all enterprises are engaged in open source development.[1] Now most software developers get involved in open source projects because their job requires it.[2] This is a fundamental shift from the 1980s.


Many say that open source began about 30 years ago, in the 1980s, when developers started participating in worthy projects on their own time. Then in the ‘90s, some enterprises started to embrace open source – allowing employees to volunteer while on company time.


Now enterprises are taking open source to the next level. In the past decade, open source programs and projects have challenged and overtaken established proprietary rivals in key technologies.

  • Operating systems: Linux has significant market share.
  • Web servers: Apache has taken close to half the market.
  • Server-side languages: PHP leads ASP.
  • Content management: Word Press has more than 75% of the market.[3]
  • Smartphone OS: Android has the greatest market share of smartphone platforms.[4]

Additionally, you have the great input and influence of external open source projects. In open source development, companies are no longer developing technology in isolation. Instead, companies are working very closely with the various open source communities and tying into their development cycles and their releases.


Open source organizational impact

evoluation1.pngJust as open source has changed how technology is developed, open source has also changed the nature of traditional professional roles.


Traditionally, various business, engineering and legal roles were separated into silos. Previously, in the legal department, I primarily worked with other lawyers on open source issues. Likewise, engineers worked with other engineers, and marketers worked with other marketers on such issues.

However, with regard to open source matters, these groups now work much more collaboratively. From what I see in my day-to-day job, and from what I hear from my peers in other companies, we are now seeing an intermixing of disciplines – engineering, business, and legal.


The open source development model is a much more fluid and interactive approach than the traditional development model, and I believe it is the collaborative nature of open source development and the resulting ties to the open source community which are the primary drivers in the emergence of the open source professional.   For instance, attorneys need to understand not only the licensing model of an open source project but also the open development process. Engineers no longer focus solely on technical matters, but are concerned with licensing issues and community dynamics. Business people need to understand the technology, the open source communities involved, and licensing models. Professionals working on open source matters need to be able to address these different multidisciplinary issues, and it is these unique attributes of open source development that have led to the emergence of the open source professional.


Attributes of an open source professional

openssourc.pngIn addition to traditional hard skills, open source professionals usually have the following soft skills or qualities:

  • Open mindedness – seeking out a diversity of opinions
  • Collaborative nature – within the company and outside in the broader community
  • Consensus driven – appreciating different perspectives and pulling them together

Non-linear career paths

linear.pngWhen you ask an open source professional about his or her career path, be prepared for an interesting story. There doesn’t seem to be a prescriptive path to becoming an open source professional.


I started out as an applied mathematics major at the University of California, Berkeley, then switched to political science in my junior year and went to law school. Shortly after taking up the practice of technology law, I had the opportunity to work on an open source matter.


I loved it. It was really exciting.


It had a technical aspect, a business aspect, and a legal aspect – all viewed through a community lens. I started working on more and more open source matters and over time, I began to define myself as an “open source lawyer.”

For many years, that was my identity. Then about four years ago, I had an opportunity to rotate into a business role, helping to define a business strategy that had a strong open source component. At the time I was very nervous about it. I was comfortable within the legal realm of open source. But once again, the work was really exciting and it provided me with a great learning experience. It opened my eyes to how open source works at a broader business level. And that is how I embarked on the journey to becoming an open source professional.


Passion for open source

My experience is not unique. Many people in open source have these really interesting and amazing non-linear career paths. The commonality that they all share is a passion for open source.


So if you have a passion for open source, enjoy collaboration across traditional silos, and are good at finding consensus in divergent opinions, then regardless of where you come from, you can be (or already are) part of this emerging class of open source professionals.


Check out my presentation at LinuxCon and CloudOpen North America. Also, for more information on HP Helion and HP Helion OpenStack, check out the following websites:


[1]Black Duck Software, 2014 Future of Open Source – 8th Annual Survey. Black Duck Software, 2014 Future of Open Source - 8th Annual Survey.

[2] The Linux Foundation “Collaborative Development Trends Report”, March 2014.




Linux® is the registered trademark of Linus Torvalds in the U.S. and other countries.


The OpenStack™ Word Mark and OpenStack Logo are either registered trademarks/service marks or trademarks/service marks of the OpenStack Foundation, in the United States and other countries and are used with the OpenStack Foundation's permission. We are not affiliated with, endorsed or sponsored by the OpenStack Foundation, or the OpenStack community.

Senior Manager, Cloud Online Marketing
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About the Author


I manage the HPE Helion social media and website teams promoting the enterprise cloud solutions at HPE for hybrid, public, and private clouds. I was previously at Dell promoting their Cloud solutions and was the open source community manager for OpenStack and at Rackspace and Citrix Systems. While at Citrix Systems, I founded the Citrix Developer Network, developed global alliance and licensing programs, and even once added audio to the DOS ICA client with assembler. Follow me at @SpectorID

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