Discovering Open Source at Red Hat

Red Hat is an open source company and I think it really shows in two important ways.

The first way that Red Hat is an open source software company is probably the one you’d expect: everything is open source! All of Red Hat’s products are open source. When Red Hat acquires companies, one of the first things they do is work on open sourcing the software. I now get to help with that process.

Red Hat open source page

When Red Hat develops software, they do so in open source. Red Hat, like many open software organizations, distinguishes between upstream and downstream. Upstream is the community project and downstream is the product delivered to customers. Both are open source but a huge effort is made to make sure all new code is in the upstream.

For example, Fedora is an upstream project for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. OpenStack is an upstream project for RDO. Did you know that Red Hat is the second biggest contributor to Docker and Kubernetes? Both are upstream projects for products offered to Red Hat customers. When Red Hat acquires a company, they open source the source code. Right now I’m working with two different teams in Red Hat to see how we can best help them open source their products and create communities around them. They are facing all the same questions about open sourcing that any product would. What license should they use? How do they replace non open source dependencies? Should they open all the existing known bug reports? What if they contain proprietary customer data? Lots of fun questions.

The second way that Red Hat is an open source software company is maybe less obvious but much more core to Red Hatters. Red Hat’s culture firmly embraces many open source software principles. Anyone can propose an idea, proposals are opened for comment by anyone in the company and information is not constrained to small teams.

I had my very first taste of this my second day on the job. Red Hat’s People team was proposing a change to the vacation benefit for US employees. To me the proposal sounded wonderful – but it did come with some modifications to the existing plan that might impact people. The People team shared a very detailed plan, gave everyone a chance to weigh in, and responded to everyone’s concerns.

This way of sharing, communicating, and collaborating is key to Red Hat’s culture and something of which Red Hat associates are proud. What I find unique to Red Hat is how clear it is to everyone what is an internal open process and what’s externally open. All upstream software and conversations about it are open, on open mailing lists and IRC channels. All conversations about things like employee benefits are also "open," but on an internal mailing list. The balance is natural and very clear.

Any Red Hatter you talk to is willing to describe the culture and what it means to them every day. Ask the next one you meet! Many of us are at DevConf this week and FOSDEM in a couple of weeks.

Jim Whitehurst, Red Hat’s CEO, published a book about the Red Hat culture called The Open Organization, if you want to read more about it.

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About Stormy Peters

Stormy Peters is an information technology industry analyst and prominent free and open source software (FOSS) advocate, promoting business use of FOSS. Currently the Senior Manager of Community Leads Team in the Open Source Program Office, Stormy co-founded, and was later appointed as executive director of the GNOME Foundation. Follow her on Twitter @storming