Starting an open source program office is a growing trend among companies that leverage open source software in their business strategies.

Led by an open source program officer, open source offices can range in size from one or two advocates on an engineering team to an entirely separate R&D division. But the goal is the same: to strategically address common challenges companies face when adopting open source software.

“An open source office whether centralized or by division can bring multiple best practices on how a company can manage consumption, compliance and contribution to open source” says Nithya Ruff, the head of SanDisk’s Open Source Strategy office, in the Q&A below. “It can create a proactive plan for driving more strategic involvement in projects important to the company’s roadmap and drive clear and common messages.”

The TODO group, which became a Linux Foundation project in March, is a cross-industry effort that brings together open source program managers to help establish open source best practices, tools and programs and support corporate open source engagement.

Open source program managers from Twitter, Box, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and SanDisk will be on hand at OSCON May 18-19, 2016, in Austin, Texas, to discuss why they started open source offices at their companies and the lessons they learned along the way.

We caught up with Nithya Ruff for a preview of their panel discussion, “Open source lessons from the TODO Group.”

Be sure to attend the TODO Group talk from 1:50 p.m.–2:30pm on Wednesday, May 18 in Meeting Room 9C.

And visit The Linux Foundation booth #109-2 to collect a wooden Linus Torvalds token for the OSCON open source history game for attendees. What are some of the common challenges companies face when they start adopting open source?

Nithya Ruff: Companies that have not grown up with open source in their DNA face a number of challenges when they first adopt open source or look at adopting an open source strategy.

a.       They don’t completely understand the licenses and legal obligations and often see it as a single license which would force them to open their intellectual property or trade secrets.  Once they start understanding it more deeply they realize that one can consume without creating obligations and that there are a number of different licenses each with their own obligations.   So legal education is the first challenge.

b.      The second is to create awareness of the need to engage with open source and the need to have a strategy around how the company needs to work with open source communities. This is a strategy and a business discussion with executives and business leaders so that they support the need to have a plan and investment in this effort.  These are the top 2 areas of challenge. How does creating an in-house open source office help companies maximize their open source involvement?

Ruff: One can continue to engage with open source in an ad hoc and distributed manner but this often creates issues and challenges with messaging, unintended consequences, multiple processes and confusion in the market on company intent.  It could also inadvertently expose a company to compliance risks.  An open source office whether centralized or by division can bring multiple best practices on how a company can manage consumption, compliance and contribution to open source. It can create a proactive plan for driving more strategic involvement in projects important to the company’s roadmap and drive clear and common messages. What is one of the key lessons SanDisk has learned about corporate open source participation since starting its open source office two years ago?

Ruff: The biggest lesson has been learning about how much open source activity there already was in the company and how we would not have any knowledge of this and support it without starting this initiative.  Knowing consumption and dependencies has allowed us to shape our compliance and community engagement plan. How have you benefited from your involvement in the TODO Group?

Ruff: Just this week, I needed to know a simple and best practice way to manage contribution license agreements or CLAs.    I contacted my fellow open source officers in other companies via the TOoDOo group and within hours I had two very usable solutions.  This is huge, to be able to consult each other on the best way to do things.  I am a big believer in reuse and to not recreate.  And this was a great example of how we can share practices..   TOoDOo members have been generous in sharing their time and coming to SanDisk to share their practices like Guy Martin (Autodesk) and Cedric Williams (PayPal) did recently. It is impactful to hear from other companies and to learn from their initiatives in open source.  This is one area, where we don’t compete and are happy to share. What will TODO Group members discuss in your panel at OSCON?

Ruff: Open Source officers in companies are still rare. There are less than 30 of us and we know there is a lot of pent-up need for information on how to set it up.  We will discuss what TOoDOo does, what each of us do at our companies and shed light on helping companies manage their open source efforts successfully. What else are you looking forward to at OSCON this year? What do you hope to accomplish by attending?

Ruff: I always enjoy attending OSCON as it covers culture and community very well side by side with technical topics.  I look forward to connecting with friends in the community. I am also doing a talk on why it is important to market in open source.  We all need people on the project who can write clearly, tell stories and create awareness.   The business side of open source is a passion and I look forward to sharing this at OSCON this year.

Individuals start open source projects because it matters to them. Whether motivated by passion, interest, necessity, curiosity or fame, projects are often started by individuals who want to build better software. Do better work. Have an impact. See their code in the world’s best technology and products.

Because open source today makes up an ever increasing footprint in technology infrastructure and products, we have a responsibility to these individuals and the community and industry at large to support this work and build practices and processes that sustain the world’s greatest shared technologies for the long term.

Part of this work is a shift in thinking, moving away from old world open source questions to new world open source questions. From questions like: Is everything really free and what is an OSS license? To how does my employer integrate OSS into the product development process? Are adequate resources committed to maintaining this project? Open source projects today must meet the level of sophistication companies expect and on which they’re investing their futures.

We can together help ensure this through focusing on new world open source questions and creating a bigger tent — a bigger tent that includes everyone: business managers, users and developers across gender, race and economic class. One that brings open source strategy, tools, training, compliance and more to everyone. We must invest in the open source professional and focus on open source readiness that supports innovative research and development.

This focus is already resulting in big tent outcomes. Outcomes that together we are making possible. Here are just a few.

You can learn more about how The Linux Foundation is working to support open source for decades to come in Jim Zemlin’s complete keynote from The Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit video, below.

And view all 13 keynote videos from Collaboration Summit, held March 29-31 in Lake Tahoe, California.