Clare Dillon is the Executive Director for InnerSource Commons, a global community for InnerSource practitioners. InnerSource is an emerging methodology that enables teams of software developers build software in an open collaborative way, breaking down silos and accelerating innovation. Before that, Clare was a member of Microsoft Ireland Leadership Team, heading up their Developer Evangelism and Experience Group. Clare also works with the OSPO++ Network, supporting the establishment of University and Government Open Source Program Offices (OSPOs) globally. In 2021, Clare co-founded the Open Ireland Network, a community for the open ecosystem in Ireland. Clare is currently a member of the industry expert group for the Technology Ireland Innovation Forum and frequently speaks at international conferences and corporate events on topics relating to the future of work, innovation trends and digital ethics.
Open source seems like a no brainer on a number of levels, can you give some examples or scenarios where a company would potentially be reluctant to embrace open source practices?
It's a no-brainer for many scenarios - but there are still times when OSS may not make as much sense.. for example:
- Goal is to sell the IP, and therefore org wants to maximise proprietary code, or it's considered a differentiating feature of their own operations/product.
- The team is not committed to engaging in the process / or doesn't have the right competency / level of resourcing (nothing worse than throwing source code over the wall, and then ignoring community contributions - that's worse than not open sourcing at all)
- Where there is little interest from the community in working with your code (if no-one cares about your code, or doesn't find it useful, it will be hard to get community).
But also, there are mindset/culture issues around control, attempts to do security by obscurity etc. that cause reluctance when OSS is an obvious way to increase innovation / collaboration / quality.
What is the importance of open-source and how can businesses leverage OSS to become more agile?
Lovely broad one - I could write an essay... but open source software is now everywhere - most new software products/services contain 90% + lines of open source code. That means it is consumed everywhere. Some of the advantages are speed of innovation, quality etc.
And some of the less talked about advantages are around sharing skills and taking advantage of latest industry trends. All the big orgs worldwide are now starting to invest more formally in OSS knowledge - how to consume better, and more interestingly more and more are looking to contribute back to OSS to help shape the future of the tech.
How popular is open source in Ireland?
I'd say surprisingly popular because there is a perception that perhaps there is not a lot of activity because it's not talked about - but latest GitHub reports show our contributiosn per head of population pretty high relative to other EU coutnries
How can we help companies get over the idea that OS means free, non-profit or lacking any commercial advantage?
By sharing examples and case studies of it being used in real life. The overall cost and commitment of resources can be as high as proprietary software when building int he open - but the increases in speed of innovation and quality is the pay off. Plus the re-use is maximised, so people are not spending twice on building the same code (a problem with closed source, even within org boundaries)
As a further observation here - it was when I got involved in the FINOS community (Financial SErvices Open Source Foundation) that it really hit home for me how OSS can be a strategic commercial advantage for orgs - all the big banks are now actively participating to share their development costs for the software they all have to build anyway (e.g. to meet new regulations) - so they can spend more internally on innovating to differentiate. When the banks are all leaping on this - you know it's commercially solid!
What kinds of companies and start-ups are engaging in open source here in Ireland
All sizes and shapes and industries. We've had speakers over at Open Ireland NEtwork from specialist IT orgs, the big Tech companies, Banks, Healthcare companies - you name it - it's everywhere
For those seeking to put OSS into practice, what are some resources (education, technical, otherwise) that they can tap into to understand what would be required?
Those looking for tech resources are well served - all the big open source foundations, opensource.com - a google search will deliver loads.
But assets and resources for the broader eccosystem can be harder to find. For example, support for folks trying to understand the legal stuff, or how to market in OSS ecosystem (these came up in Open Ireland NEtwork skills workshop as gap areas) - there is a need for more resources and help in these areas still globallly
I would recommend for folks interested in this area to join the Open Ireland NEtwork (openirelandnetwork.com) - it's where we're all learning together!
Are Gits still the top dog in sharing of OSS? Is there anything else making waves in the shared open repository space?
GitHub seems to be leading the market still...
Ethics and OSS: How would you approach OSS from an ethical standpoint? Expanding this out a bit: if I happen upon a bit of code I'd like to incorporate but don't understand the source, etc. how do I ensure proper crediting, licensing (GPL, etc.), and upstreaming? Is it ethical to use code for a commercialized product if the original intent of the creator isn't for commercialization? (assuming a very permissive license up front)
So - the general viewpoint is that the whole idea behind open source software is that it is freely available to share and re-use, as long as you adhere to the license. There have been discussions about how to restrict use on the basis of the creator's wishes (e.g. can't be used in weapons) - but the problem is - if you put in restrictions, it's no loner open source. The general guidance is - if you make it open source, you can't expect to control where it is used... but hope the community helps evolve it in the area you had intended
What is the difference between InnerSource and open source?
Open Source Code is visible, you can change it and freely distribute it. But most folks say open source is not just about the output (the code) but the process. InnerSource is taking that same process and implementing it behind a firewall. So the code is visible, changeable by anyone, and freely re-used all behind you firewall, or only for your org.
Can you go through the steps for a start-up interested in availing of open source here?
As a start-up - you can be thinking of:
- making sure that I have the right governance in place for my use of OSS (e.g. only using approved licenses)
- how can I contribute back to OSS projects (a great way to make personal connections with large orgs also interested, by the way)
- or you may even be thinking of basing the whole company on open source code - check out https://oss.capital/ for more talk about Commercial Open Source Communities
In the meantime - there are many in Ireland involved in the ecosystem - so feel free to sign up to Open Ireland Network mailing list to keep informed of our discussions - we try to feature local startups in the area where we can on our calls
Very briefly, what are the different licenses commonly used (I'm aware that there are some esoteric ones) for software development?have you seen the application of open-source models being applied to OTHER types of work, not just software?
It's interesting - there is a growing conversation about the cross-over with other research outputs for example in universities... open sourcing design doc, open sourcing creative materials - the trend of open science encompasses more than open source code and there are a lot of similarities in principles, processes, and sometimes tools.
I'm in the middle of doing an InnerSource cade study where the large org InnerSourced training materials - huge benefits they experienced, by allowing trainers to make changes to central materials!
How can you trust OpenSource code?
Most of the research available shows no different in the amount of bugs in open vs closed source software, and there is an argument that at least in open source there is a higher chance of it being spotted (more eyes on the code) and definitely a shared responsibility to fix (vs proprietary custom code, for example)... so, I guess the answer is - you have to make sure good governance is in place to give you confidence (same as with proprietary code)
Increased focus on this area recently - you can check out OpenSSF and the work done with OpenChain - they're all about secure Software Bills of Material, and you can even self-certify to an ISO standard in that space.
Is there a tool you recommend for auditing licenses so people can be confident in the code being used? I've used WhiteSource in the past.
I'm not familiar with the specific tools folks use for license auditing - but I do know there is a healthy discussion going on these days about best practices for governance around OSS/licenses used / security policies etc... I'll take your recommendation there.
Can you give an example of an area where open scoure is really taking off
We're seeing more and more industry specific open source groups - Financial Services, the auto industry, healthcare to name a few.
Open source software being considered as digital public good for government as well is a growing trend.
Specific to Ireland, have you seen anything interesting being done by this government to encourage these type of practices?
Well the Covid tracker app was a really interesting development from the HSE - one of their first forays in the space recently (and the basis for the Linux Foundation Public Health Group's covid tracker). But Revenue and some other departments have been using Open Source for some time now too.
Can you tell us about the Open Ireland Network?
It's a relatively new community for folks interested in the open ecosystem in IReland. Less about the tech - more about the trends, economic and social impact potential, that sort of thing. We are working to raise awareness about what is happening both globally and locally and connect folks here! Check it out at openirelandnetwork.com - we'd love to see you there.
Thanks everyone - and if you want to continue the conversation - please do sign up to the newsletter at openirelandnetwork.com