In this podcast I speak with Justin Garrison, Developer Advocate in the Containers team at AWS, and ask him about his journey in open source.

From user to contributor

According to PwC’s annual CEO Survey (which you can find easily enough via your preferred search tool), one of the top challenges keeping CEO’s up at night is how to tackle their digital skills shortage. In fact, 74% were concerned about the availability of key skills. The latest report showed that: > those organisations focussed on expanding their employees’ skills and therefore further along on the upskilling curve were ahead of their peers in many ways and were more confident in their future.

It is interesting in this chat with Justin how open source can play a significant part in solving this business challenge, and Justin talks in length about his journey from being just a user of technology and not fully understanding it (it was just a set of checklists, but he was sufficiently curious to want to know more) to a developer advocate, his current role within AWS.

The path Justin followed is one that I have heard from other open source builders, and something that most organisations can pick up and run with. It starts with just joining communities in a listening/lurking capacity, progresses through to contributions and asking questions and ends up with becoming more authoritative and then being able to support, answer and then teach others - so the cycle can begin again.

It is not all about code

Another key aspect of open source is the myth that it is only the source code that matters. Justin talks about this extensively in his own experience, and how he added value through just using the software, contributing bug issues and feature requests, creating and fixing documentation or how to’s and then providing support via the community mechanisms.

A study by the World Bank in 2017 provides some more quantitive insights. In this study, only 57% of the invested resources went to writing code. The rest, 43%, was spent on things like marketing, docs, meetups and other activities that aided the collaboration effort. Yes, engineering was obviously important — 57% of investment worth — but 43% is clearly a big chunk.

Power of the network

Community over code is the Apache way, but it is also a mantra that resonates with many open source members, and Justin talks about many of the benefits that open source brings in the context of community. Whether it is providing a forum for being able to know what the latest trends or projects are, get help with something or needing to find collaborators on projects, the network effect of being part of open source communities is a huge benefit to the individual contributor.

Solving problems

At its heart, open source exists to solve problems or inefficiencies that builders see in their day to day activities. Very much like the Amazon working backwards mechanisms, rather than being driven from a need to monetize or sell products, open source projects spring up from specific challenges they are looking to tackle. This has certainly been my experience since I first downloaded and compiled httpd server from the Apache project over 20 years ago.

Podcast with Justin Garrison

Check out the full podcast. I have to apologise to Justin as we did do this via a video call, but the video/audio got so badly out of sync, that I felt this format would work better.

Are you an open source builder?

If you would like to share your story to encourage the next generation of open source builders, get in touch. I am always looking for folk to talk to.

This post is also available on DEV.