How IBM Is Using Open Source for a Greater Good

By September 17, 2018Blog
Call for Code

Learn more about IBM’s open source initiatives, including the Call for Code.

Dr. Angel Diaz is the face of open source at IBM as Vice President of Developer Technology, Open Source & Advocacy. At the recent Open Source Summit in Vancouver, we spoke with Diaz to talk about the importance of open source at IBM and how it’s changing the world around us.

LF: What’s the importance of open source in the modern economy?

Angel Diaz: We are living in a technology-fueled business renaissance — cloud, data, artificial intelligence, and the redefinition of the transaction. There is constant democratization of technology. This democratization allows us as computer scientists to innovate higher orders of the stack. You don’t have to worry about compute, storage and network; you get that in the cloud for example, but what has been driving that democratization? Open source.

Angel Diaz, Vice President of Developer Technology, Open Source & Advocacy, IBM (Image copyright: Swapnil Bhartiya)

Open source has been the fuel, the innovation engine, the skills engine, the level playing field that allows us as a society to build more, to build faster and move forward and the rate and pace of that is increasing.

What’s really nice about that is we are doing it in a controlled way with open governance and leveraging all the work that we do in consortia such as the Linux Foundation.

LF: Today, open source has become so pervasive that the question isn’t who is using it, but who is not using it. Can you point to some moments in history that changed everything and the industry realized that this is the right path for innovation, collaboration, and development?

Diaz: That’s a great question. I think there are two such moments. I addressed it in my talk here. The first such moment was in the late eighties, early nineties when, as an industry, we came together and rallied around things like Linux, Apache, Eclipse.

Our products have upwards of 75 percent open source. We are not leeches; we contribute as much as we use. Back in the nineties, we protected open source with intellectual property. It fueled innovation as it gave people the permission and freedom to go ahead and contribute without any worry.

That’s a pivot point number one. Time occurred and a lot of stardust happened. Over the past 10 years or so, we started to create centers of gravity around cloud data, artificial intelligence, transactions and so on.

These centers of gravity came together in consortia with open governance models. This is really important because what that allowed us to do was to create an open architecture and open cloud architecture.

There is one more moment, the third moment where we are now. It’s about individuals. The individual really matters and there are so many new computer scientists across a diverse set of underrepresented groups that it’s exploding.

How we behave in open source is important and that boils down to being a mentor for others. It’s around code, content, and community. So I think the next renaissance of open source is going to be grounded in our ability to connect those three things and help people celebrate their education process, their ability to connect with others like them to be mentored. And then conduct mentoring themselves.

LF: While everything looks rosy, there are some challenges.  Can you elaborate?

Diaz: Nothing is ever rosy. There’s always a lot of work as blood, sweat, and tears – the individual contributor doing the pull requests, submitting code. It’s a lot of work. If we can stick to the company side of the equation, I see organizations think that open source is something that they monetize quickly and that’s not the reality. It’s about creating an ecosystem where everybody monetizes. People need to understand the difference between a real open source, which is a meritocracy based system where everybody can contribute, vs closed source where an organization controls everything tightly. Open source is about open governance – it is not about controlling the commit process.

LF: Once in a while, we see the case of open source companies trying to change the license to survive, as they try to monetize quickly. Do you worry that we might go backward and return to proprietary software?

Diaz: No, I don’t think so. I think the process is pretty well understood, and organizations that adopt the open governance model are successful. I think there’s enough momentum. It’s just a matter of companies understanding how to behave in that world.

LF: How important is open source for IBM?

Diaz: Open source has been in our DNA for a long time, probably more than any other company that I know of. I joined IBM in the mid-nineties at IBM research. I got involved with open source in the early days working with Tim Berners-Lee on web standards. I worked on Linux and many other open source projects. Open source is how we like to create ecosystems and skills. That’s how we drive innovation for our clients helping them to be more productive.

LF: Does open source have any impact beyond the IT world?

Diaz: Yes. In fact, just recently IBM partnered up with United Nations Human Rights, The American Red Cross, and The Linux Foundation to launch something called Call for Code.

It’s not just about the code; it’s about how you use the code for good. We have launched a worldwide hack which ends on September 28, 2018. There’s still time to participate. But Call for Code is the place where developers can submit code and win a contest for good. This year we’re preparing for disasters. It is from what I can see the world’s largest hack ever, and it’s focused for the greater good. I think that really puts a good light on open source.

LF: So it’s not coding for the sake of coding, it’s for some greater good?

Diaz: Exactly. Think about it. We are going to put the winning entries into production. If it’s an app, or whatever gets built, saves one life, it’s worth it. It’ll probably save tens, hundreds, maybe thousands of lives.

IBM has committed to the project for five years. It’s just been incredible to see tens of thousands of developers registering, participating and being part of this endeavor. It doesn’t matter if you’re a developer or a data scientist or even if you’re just a subject matter expert or someone who cares about preparing for disasters, sign up and register because teams are forming. Someone may need somebody who is a professional on hurricanes, you can help. The best teams that I know of are multidisciplinary. It’s not just for developers. Join!

This article was sponsored by IBM and written by The Linux Foundation.

Swapnil Bhartiya

Swapnil Bhartiya

Swapnil Bhartiya is a journalist and writer who has been covering Linux and Open Source for more than 10 years.
Swapnil Bhartiya