Success at Apache: Scratch Your Own Itch
This article is featured in JAX Magazine special issue on Open Source
Recently I was at an industry conference and was happy to see many people stopping by the Apache booth. I was pleased that they were familiar with the Apache brand, yet puzzled to learn that so many were unfamiliar with The Apache Software Foundation (ASF).
It’s important to recognize not just Apache’s diverse projects and communities, but also the entity behind their success.
Gone are the days when software, and technology in general, was developed privately for the benefit of the few. As technology evolves, the challenges we face become more complex, and the only way to effectively move forward to create the technology of the future is to collaborate and work together. Open Source is a perfect framework for that, and organizations like the ASF carry out a decisive role in protecting its spirit and principles.
The ASF’s mission is to provide software for the public good. We take it one step further, by giving all our open source software away for free. According to this mission, the foundation was established back in 1999 as a US 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organization, and constitutes an independent legal entity to which companies and individuals can donate resources and be assured that those resources will be used for the public benefit. Its all-volunteer nature, along with the meritocracy model followed by its communities, are the pillars of the neutral, trusted space where Apache software is developed.
We strongly believe that good software is built by strong communities. Successful open source projects are the result of the work and collaboration in their communities and the people behind them. It is all about the people. Experience has shown us that helping people work together as peers is key in producing software in a sustainable way, and we have collected the lessons learned all these years in what we call “The Apache Way”.
This Apache Way is a set of core behaviors all Apache projects follow that are designed to ensure projects are independent and diverse, and that anyone can participate no matter what gender, culture, time zone, employer, or even expertise they have. One can start collaborating with a project by contributing patches or implementing new features, but merit is not only measured by code contributions. Helping users, improving documentation, promoting the project, and other non-coding activities are very valuable and recognized as such, and the recognition of this merit and implication is expressed by granting more privileges in the project: from commit access, to invitations to join the Project Management Committee, to invitations to join the ASF Membership. One of the great differentiators between the ASF and other open source foundations is that the ASF does not dictate the technical direction of its projects: each Apache project is overseen by a self-selected team of active contributors to the project. A Project Management Committee (PMC) guides their respective project’s day-to-day operations, including community development and product releases. Meritocracy drives the growth of the communities, and ensures anyone can contribute to projects that are ruled by the people who is involved and really cares about them.
Learning to work this way is not always easy, though. Projects come to the Foundation from very different backgrounds and whilst some of them already have communities that are used to collaborate in open ways, others find it challenging to embrace these core behaviors. The Apache Incubator is the main entry point for codebases and their communities wishing to officially become part of the Foundation, and is where they learn how to put all these principles in practice. Some will find this way of working a good way to rule a project and will graduate as an Apache top-level project, some may find that the Foundation is not the best option for them and choose to leave. Both options are good outcomes, as projects will have invested time in thinking about their community model and how they want governance to be, and this always benefits the open source world.
This open source model not only exists to create sustainable open source projects, but also to meet the expectations of the rest of the world. Software developed at Apache comes with a set of guarantees granted by the popular and business-friendly Apache License, but also with others that are the product of this open governance model, such as project independence or a well-defined project lifecycle. The ASF not only defines how projects operate while active, but also what happens when a project reaches its end-of-life, which is also important for adoption but often not considered by open source projects.
These guarantees, along with the reputation earned by many years of producing high-quality open source software, make the +300 freely available Apache projects, from Abdera to HTTP Server to Hadoop to Zookeeper, a trusted choice for individuals and companies looking for open source solutions.
The saying “Scratch Your Own Itch” is popular in the tech space, and is an integral principle at the ASF. Apache Committers have a responsibility to the community to help create a product that will outlive the interest of any particular volunteer, as well as for helping to grow and maintain the health of the Apache community.
As an ASF Member, I’m helping with project outreach and mentoring new individuals that make up the greater Apache community.
The Apache Software Foundation provides a safe place for open source development, and will keep evolving as technology evolves, welcoming all kinds of projects and communities, and helping people embrace open source. Let’s see what the future holds for the open source world and how we can contribute to making it a better place. Scratch your own itch.
Ignasi Barrera is a Senior Cloud Engineer at Abiquo. He is a long-term open source contributor and became involved with the ASF in 2013, when jclouds was first submitted to the Apache Incubator. He is a member of the Apache jclouds Project Management Committee and still actively contributes to the project. Ignasi became an ASF Member in 2015, and helps with community development activities and the promotion of open source.