What makes some companies in the open source software world different

For a long time, I’ve debated with myself about what makes some consulting companies get a lot more attention in the open source software world versus others. The key factor, I think, is community engagement — and I mean engagement from the top down, not the bottom up.

In the WordPress space, you hear about 10up, WebDevStudios, Human Made, Reaktiv Studios and a handful of other service companies far more than “the rest”. The rest includes companies that may do just as big of work and have just as big of teams as those companies that always seem to grab our attention. Why is that?

For the purpose of this article, I’m limiting myself to service agencies, but it could apply well to product companies too. There are also great examples (even more impressive really) of individuals with great commitments to open source, but again this is meant to be about service agencies.

Highly engaged individuals come from all sorts of companies, not just the well known ones. But what makes some companies different is that the commitment to open source software is not just a commitment held by some stakeholders within the company, but rather it is a commitment of the company itself.

There is a big difference to me when the leaders of a company that uses primarily open source software are just as invested in the open source community as the developers, designers, and project managers they employ.

I hardly have to say the last names of the leaders of the four companies I outlined, because my audience already knows most of them: Jake, John, Brad, Lisa, Brian, Dre, Joe, Tom, Noel, Andrew, Bri. You know these people; they are setting the tone of what community engagement looks like, within their own companies. And their example stands out in those companies for the rest of their team to follow.

Leaders like these folks attract other engaged community members. These people would all tell you they aren’t out to hire “famous people” in the WordPress space, though some of the best known names in the WordPress ecosystem work for them. That’s because they are out to hire highly engaged advocates for open source software.

There is a huge and inherent advantage to employees understanding how complex software projects work. WordPress, Nginx, Vagrant, jQuery, PHP and other open source projects have benefited greatly thanks to these companies and others like them, and the contributors to these projects also learn a great deal because of their involvement. Open source software contributions are a win win. Yes, it takes commitment and energy and can really be challenging at times, but it can also take you (a person and contributor) from being good at what you do to being great at what you do.

I think this is why, when we discuss “the big WordPress agencies” we are usually talking about agencies that operate out of the status quo of your average web shop. These companies are invested, from the top down, in contributing to the software they use. Whether they’re giving to core WordPress, the plugin ecosystem, a feature project, putting on events, or other ways of giving back — they are setting the standard for what it means to be a community player.

I’m glad they get the attention they get, because I’m thankful for them and the effort they put into giving to platforms they use in their work.

For some of the stuff I’m talking about, just from these four companies, check out the following links. Also note how these companies do what they do at all different sizes, from 4 to 100+:

  • 10up: 10up gives back, and reiterates their commitment to an open web. They have multiple full time employees on core, others that are critical players in other open source projects, and they donate lots of money, time, and code.
  • WebDevStudios: How WebDev gives back (these types of pages are awesome… more folks should do it). They give 5% of all employee time to open source projects, do a ton of event organization and speaking, and donate lots of code.
  • Human Made: Contribute to every release, have at least one employee doing almost 100% community outreach (Jenny Wong), have two of four REST API leads on board (Ryan and Joe), are putting on niche events (not for the money), and donate lots of code.
  • Reaktiv Studios: Contribute to a ton of projects, organize events, speak all over the place, and put out epic amounts of plugins and code. Also, you can almost always count on Andrew or Josh to have a gist to help you out with your random “how do I do that?” question.

Giving back is not easy for these companies. No service agency lives super high on the hog. Service work is a tough business and it’s not always a high margin one. These people didn’t magically become the companies they are; they worked hard to get where they are and they aren’t letting up now.

If you’re looking to raise your profile, these companies and people are some of the best examples in the world of companies doing amazing things, and setting a fantastic example of leadership that others can follow.

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