Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Questions on how we spend our money and our time - consumer goods and services, home and vehicle, leisure and recreational activities
Post Reply
Topic Author
X528
Posts: 138
Joined: Fri Nov 30, 2018 8:51 am

Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by X528 »

Here is a question for software engineers (SWE) and entrepreneurs: Can a career in software engineering, or founding software start-ups, still be lucrative with open-source software (no intellectual property (IP) or patents involved)? Does the absence of IP hinder or expand opportunities?What's the best way to make money in open-source software?
otinkyad
Posts: 278
Joined: Wed Jun 01, 2016 5:35 pm

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by otinkyad »

Your questions are too abstract. Also, open source software doesn’t generally lack IP or even patents. What are you concretely interested in?
bryanm
Posts: 333
Joined: Mon Aug 13, 2018 3:48 pm

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by bryanm »

I'm afraid you may be conflating "open source" with "no IP." You can patent (and copyright) open-source software, and you can elect not to patent closed-source software. There is some overlap in strategy, but not much.

How does open-sourcing software affect companies?: The question is what the company does. If the company makes software and you go completely open-source, then you have no value-add. Few will buy software that's made available for free. If the company provides a service that uses, in part, open source software, then you may still be successful. Open-source can drive adoption of technologies, for example, that your company might use. This is a very fact-driven question, but it basically boils down to "what value does your company provide to the market beyond what it gives for free?"

How does patenting affect companies?: Patents for software companies are like nuclear weapons for countries. Great if you're the US or Russia, a risky play to invest in if you're a fledgling nation. Put simply, they are expensive, risky, and a long-term play. That's not to say that you should never pursue patents--many companies make expensive, risky, long-term plays and it works out for them. (On the other hand, I know many companies that in hindsight wish they had filed patents, since the opportunity to do so is fleeting. Now, whether they could have identified what to patent at the time they needed to, no one could say.) Again, this is a fact specific question--consult a patent attorney. But, in general, I would say that few software companies should invest heavily in patents at their fledgling stage.
livesoft
Posts: 73338
Joined: Thu Mar 01, 2007 8:00 pm

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by livesoft »

I used and developed open source software my entire career. People want easy, so folks will pay for someone else to develop, install, and maintain open source software. Just because it is open source does not mean that someone knows how to install, maintain, and use it. So those services can be sold. After all, isn't Red Hat doing OK?

One benefit of open source, is that software folks can put together something quickly without having to reinvent the wheel.
Wiki This signature message sponsored by sscritic: Learn to fish.
User avatar
LiveSimple
Posts: 1773
Joined: Thu Jan 03, 2013 7:55 am

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by LiveSimple »

Software is to create some business value so yes software engineering career will be rewarding.

Availability of open source software is one tool to use this do not affect the earnings potential for a software engineer.

If you really smart and contribute to open source and claim yourself as the creator then you monetize on that publicity as well, become adviser or start a company around that.
Normchad
Posts: 1294
Joined: Thu Mar 03, 2011 7:20 am

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by Normchad »

30 year software engineer chiming in. In my career, open source has been a blessing to all, and has not impeded anybody’s livelihoods to my knowledge.

I expect that will continue in the future.

There is a lot of great open source software out there. And there is a lot of great commercial software out there. Expect to be a world where you have some of each.

A couple of examples. Linux is beloved by millions, but Microsoft still sells windows effectively. The GIMP is a free open source image manipulation program. It is very powerful and full featured. Yet Adobe has no,problems selling a commercial competitor.

In my line of work, we leverage open source software to make custom solutions for our customers.

The great thing about software engineering, is the jobs are absolutely everywhere. Almost every business decent sized business will have openings for them. Even for businesses that aren’t tech businesses. Banking. Cheese manufacturing. Payroll processing. Automakers. The appetite for sw engineers is insatiable right now.
oldfort
Posts: 1735
Joined: Mon Mar 02, 2020 8:45 pm

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by oldfort »

It’s tough to monetize open source. Isn’t Red Hat the exception which proves the rule?
palanzo
Posts: 1370
Joined: Thu Oct 10, 2019 4:28 pm

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by palanzo »

oldfort wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 2:41 pm It’s tough to monetize open source. Isn’t Red Hat the exception which proves the rule?
No. Many other examples - Wordpress to start.
nigel_ht
Posts: 1179
Joined: Tue Jan 01, 2019 10:14 am

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by nigel_ht »

palanzo wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 3:07 pm
oldfort wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 2:41 pm It’s tough to monetize open source. Isn’t Red Hat the exception which proves the rule?
No. Many other examples - Wordpress to start.
Wordpress the code is owned by the Wordpress Foundation. WordPress.com is owned by Automatic and it makes money through hosting and ad sales.

It is hard to make money on a pure open source play. Most of the examples of successful open source companies are OpenCore rather than fully open source. Examples of these are companies like MongoDB (which technically is no longer Open Source). They open source a core product but charge money for the ecosystem around that product and providing that core product as SAAS.

One of the reasons that MongoDB stopped being Open Source was they wanted a license that would force Amazon and Microsoft to pay for MongoDB but the OSI said nyet. Amazon was significantly impacting MongoDB growth since AWS could offer MongoDB as SaaS better than Mongo could in their Atlas product.

So, will Open Sourcing your product limit your product income? My opinion is yes. The best you can do is offer your code as AGPL and attempt to out innovate your competitors or hope someone buys you. Good luck with that...
palanzo
Posts: 1370
Joined: Thu Oct 10, 2019 4:28 pm

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by palanzo »

nigel_ht wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 3:34 pm
palanzo wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 3:07 pm
oldfort wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 2:41 pm It’s tough to monetize open source. Isn’t Red Hat the exception which proves the rule?
No. Many other examples - Wordpress to start.
Wordpress the code is owned by the Wordpress Foundation. WordPress.com is owned by Automatic and it makes money through hosting and ad sales.

It is hard to make money on a pure open source play. Most of the examples of successful open source companies are OpenCore rather than fully open source. Examples of these are companies like MongoDB (which technically is no longer Open Source). They open source a core product but charge money for the ecosystem around that product and providing that core product as SAAS.

One of the reasons that MongoDB stopped being Open Source was they wanted a license that would force Amazon and Microsoft to pay for MongoDB but the OSI said nyet. Amazon was significantly impacting MongoDB growth since AWS could offer MongoDB as SaaS better than Mongo could in their Atlas product.

So, will Open Sourcing your product limit your product income? My opinion is yes. The best you can do is offer your code as AGPL and attempt to out innovate your competitors or hope someone buys you. Good luck with that...
The Wordpress Foundation is closely associated with WordPress.com, a company founded by Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little who were also co-founders of the project. So to me this is very similar to the RedHat model.
User avatar
rob
Posts: 3327
Joined: Mon Feb 19, 2007 6:49 pm
Location: Here

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by rob »

nigel_ht wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 3:34 pm
palanzo wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 3:07 pm
oldfort wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 2:41 pm It’s tough to monetize open source. Isn’t Red Hat the exception which proves the rule?
No. Many other examples - Wordpress to start.
Wordpress the code is owned by the Wordpress Foundation. WordPress.com is owned by Automatic and it makes money through hosting and ad sales.

It is hard to make money on a pure open source play. Most of the examples of successful open source companies are OpenCore rather than fully open source. Examples of these are companies like MongoDB (which technically is no longer Open Source). They open source a core product but charge money for the ecosystem around that product and providing that core product as SAAS.

One of the reasons that MongoDB stopped being Open Source was they wanted a license that would force Amazon and Microsoft to pay for MongoDB but the OSI said nyet. Amazon was significantly impacting MongoDB growth since AWS could offer MongoDB as SaaS better than Mongo could in their Atlas product.

So, will Open Sourcing your product limit your product income? My opinion is yes. The best you can do is offer your code as AGPL and attempt to out innovate your competitors or hope someone buys you. Good luck with that...
A number of them... just off the top of my head look to DataStax & Cassandra, Confluent & Kafka, Cloudera & Hadoop..... They ll sell services, training, consulting (and most certifications)... Seems to work well for them.
| Rob | Its a dangerous business going out your front door. - J.R.R.Tolkien
palanzo
Posts: 1370
Joined: Thu Oct 10, 2019 4:28 pm

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by palanzo »

rob wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 5:18 pm
nigel_ht wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 3:34 pm
palanzo wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 3:07 pm
oldfort wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 2:41 pm It’s tough to monetize open source. Isn’t Red Hat the exception which proves the rule?
No. Many other examples - Wordpress to start.
Wordpress the code is owned by the Wordpress Foundation. WordPress.com is owned by Automatic and it makes money through hosting and ad sales.

It is hard to make money on a pure open source play. Most of the examples of successful open source companies are OpenCore rather than fully open source. Examples of these are companies like MongoDB (which technically is no longer Open Source). They open source a core product but charge money for the ecosystem around that product and providing that core product as SAAS.

One of the reasons that MongoDB stopped being Open Source was they wanted a license that would force Amazon and Microsoft to pay for MongoDB but the OSI said nyet. Amazon was significantly impacting MongoDB growth since AWS could offer MongoDB as SaaS better than Mongo could in their Atlas product.

So, will Open Sourcing your product limit your product income? My opinion is yes. The best you can do is offer your code as AGPL and attempt to out innovate your competitors or hope someone buys you. Good luck with that...
A number of them... just off the top of my head look to DataStax & Cassandra, Confluent & Kafka, Cloudera & Hadoop..... They ll sell services, training, consulting (and most certifications)... Seems to work well for them.
Agreed.
nigel_ht
Posts: 1179
Joined: Tue Jan 01, 2019 10:14 am

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by nigel_ht »

rob wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 5:18 pm
nigel_ht wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 3:34 pm
palanzo wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 3:07 pm
oldfort wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 2:41 pm It’s tough to monetize open source. Isn’t Red Hat the exception which proves the rule?
No. Many other examples - Wordpress to start.
Wordpress the code is owned by the Wordpress Foundation. WordPress.com is owned by Automatic and it makes money through hosting and ad sales.

It is hard to make money on a pure open source play. Most of the examples of successful open source companies are OpenCore rather than fully open source. Examples of these are companies like MongoDB (which technically is no longer Open Source). They open source a core product but charge money for the ecosystem around that product and providing that core product as SAAS.

One of the reasons that MongoDB stopped being Open Source was they wanted a license that would force Amazon and Microsoft to pay for MongoDB but the OSI said nyet. Amazon was significantly impacting MongoDB growth since AWS could offer MongoDB as SaaS better than Mongo could in their Atlas product.

So, will Open Sourcing your product limit your product income? My opinion is yes. The best you can do is offer your code as AGPL and attempt to out innovate your competitors or hope someone buys you. Good luck with that...
A number of them... just off the top of my head look to DataStax & Cassandra, Confluent & Kafka, Cloudera & Hadoop..... They ll sell services, training, consulting (and most certifications)... Seems to work well for them.
DataStax DSE is proprietary...built on top of Cassandra. Open Core

Confluent Enterprise is proprietary...build on top of Kafka. Open Core. Portions of the community edition are under the Confluent Community License that restricts usage by SAAS competitors like Mongo does.

Cloudera announced it was open sourcing all its code in 2020 to go down the RH path. Of course that means prior to this not everything was Apache or AGPL licensed so it was also Open Core and maybe currently Open Source.

A pure open source play is hard to monetize. Doesn’t mean it’s impossible but there are more than a few companies that couldn’t make it work.
Iridium
Posts: 721
Joined: Thu May 19, 2016 10:49 am

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by Iridium »

In addition to trying to profit from open source directly, plenty of companies also open source stuff that they need but isn't threatening to their business. Facebook, Google, and Uber have open sourced several foundational projects such as databases and analytics tools, because, having those tools doesn't really help a potential competitor all that much. Those companies are still willing to pay quite a bit to continue pushing the scalability and availability of those tools.

As far as best way to make a career in open source, I think you have to define it more specifically than that. What appeals about open source instead of proprietary development? I had no intention of doing anything in open source, but a couple months ago I open sourced a network analysis tool I had written for work because it was easier to do that than to get Legal to sign off on my providing the tool to a group I need to work with. Nobody is likely to ever see it other than the groups I work with, no patches/pull requests will be forthcoming, and no community will ever form around it. On the other hand, it is working code on GitHub and licensed under Apache 2. Does it count? No idea.
Last edited by Iridium on Thu Jun 25, 2020 6:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Topic Author
X528
Posts: 138
Joined: Fri Nov 30, 2018 8:51 am

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by X528 »

otinkyad wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 1:06 pm Your questions are too abstract. Also, open source software doesn’t generally lack IP or even patents. What are you concretely interested in?
By "open source" I meant that computer software is not covered by any patent or IP (copyright?). I'm not an IP expert though on this matter though and I could be wrong. It's not clear to me if patents can cover computer software or not, or just in some specific cases.

Fashion and perfumes are not patentable in the U.S. I think, but those fields are obviously still lucrative.
User avatar
nisiprius
Advisory Board
Posts: 41960
Joined: Thu Jul 26, 2007 9:33 am
Location: The terrestrial, globular, planetary hunk of matter, flattened at the poles, is my abode.--O. Henry

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by nisiprius »

What is the last piece of word processing software you used yourself? In my case, it was Word. And I don't like Microsoft. And I do have a copy of LibreOffice installed on my computer (Mac OS X).

I don't want to get into a long discussion of why it was Word. The fact is, it was. Furthermore, the fact is that within the last year or so I paid something like $110 ("home and student edition" or whatever it was) to maintain smooth compatibility with Mac OS X upgrades. I don't pick up every update, but it seems that every three or four years I do. Three or four years of accumulated version skew is just too stressful.

So again, I ask, just the facts, not the reasons. What are you using for word processing, and did you pay money for it?
Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness; Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.
Iridium
Posts: 721
Joined: Thu May 19, 2016 10:49 am

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by Iridium »

X528 wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 6:21 pm
otinkyad wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 1:06 pm Your questions are too abstract. Also, open source software doesn’t generally lack IP or even patents. What are you concretely interested in?
By "open source" I meant that computer software is not covered by any patent or IP (copyright?). I'm not an IP expert though on this matter though and I could be wrong. It's not clear to me if patents can cover computer software or not, or just in some specific cases.

Fashion and perfumes are not patentable in the U.S. I think, but those fields are obviously still lucrative.
The only software with truly no IP is created by the federal government. Everything else is technically covered by copyrighted as soon as typed. Very, very little open source software is actually totally unprotected. As befits the concept's academic origins, open source licenses almost always require credit be given.

Copyright and patents are very different. Copyright protects only the particular manifestation of an idea, lasts longer than a lifetime, and is near universal. Patent covers the idea itself, lasts around 20 years, and, covers only certain types of ideas. For example, there are certain standards for compressing video. By reading the standard, one could create a decoder. You would have copyright on the decoder you created and the creator of the standard would generally not have any copyright claim to your decoder (unless the standard had some code snippets you copy/pasted in to your decoder). However, the first person to come up with the way to use FFTs to represent certain scenes in a compact manner could file a patent on that idea and would then have patent protection on anything created that used FFTs to compress images, even if the whole concept was independently reinvented by someone else later.

Generally, SW folks do not do too much with patents. Companies will file for patents for certain small clever solutions their developers create, but they usually only use such patents defensively. The most valuable software patents would generally come from domain experts, folks such as compression experts, cryptographers, and the like.

Most business models are not heavily reliant on IP. In fact, many tech companies could have their tech totally replicated and it would barely impact them. If I could create a copy of Facebook, Twitter, or Uber, it wouldn't actually allow me to do much to compete against them. The network effects are insurmountable and I would actually be better off targeting them with a slightly different product that may better serve a subset of their audience than to create a clone that will never be as good because it won't have the user base nor brand reputation of the incumbent. We will actually get to see this play out: the vast majority of Chrome is open source. Microsoft recently took that code to create the latest version of their web browser. The browsers are, except for some marginal features at the edges, identical, and Microsoft is going to throw their muscle behind it. My bet is that most folks will still only use the browser to download Chrome.
Dottie57
Posts: 9172
Joined: Thu May 19, 2016 5:43 pm
Location: Earth Northern Hemisphere

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by Dottie57 »

Iridium wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 6:46 pm
X528 wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 6:21 pm
otinkyad wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 1:06 pm Your questions are too abstract. Also, open source software doesn’t generally lack IP or even patents. What are you concretely interested in?
By "open source" I meant that computer software is not covered by any patent or IP (copyright?). I'm not an IP expert though on this matter though and I could be wrong. It's not clear to me if patents can cover computer software or not, or just in some specific cases.

Fashion and perfumes are not patentable in the U.S. I think, but those fields are obviously still lucrative.
The only software with truly no IP is created by the federal government. Everything else is technically covered by copyrighted as soon as typed. Very, very little open source software is actually totally unprotected. As befits the concept's academic origins, open source licenses almost always require credit be given.

Copyright and patents are very different. Copyright protects only the particular manifestation of an idea, lasts longer than a lifetime, and is near universal. Patent covers the idea itself, lasts around 20 years, and, covers only certain types of ideas. For example, there are certain standards for compressing video. By reading the standard, one could create a decoder. You would have copyright on the decoder you created and the creator of the standard would generally not have any copyright claim to your decoder (unless the standard had some code snippets you copy/pasted in to your decoder). However, the first person to come up with the way to use FFTs to represent certain scenes in a compact manner could file a patent on that idea and would then have patent protection on anything created that used FFTs to compress images, even if the whole concept was independently reinvented by someone else later.

Generally, SW folks do not do too much with patents. Companies will file for patents for certain small clever solutions their developers create, but they usually only use such patents defensively. The most valuable software patents would generally come from domain experts, folks such as compression experts, cryptographers, and the like.

Most business models are not heavily reliant on IP. In fact, many tech companies could have their tech totally replicated and it would barely impact them. If I could create a copy of Facebook, Twitter, or Uber, it wouldn't actually allow me to do much to compete against them. The network effects are insurmountable and I would actually be better off targeting them with a slightly different product that may better serve a subset of their audience than to create a clone that will never be as good because it won't have the user base nor brand reputation of the incumbent. We will actually get to see this play out: the vast majority of Chrome is open source. Microsoft recently took that code to create the latest version of their web browser. The browsers are, except for some marginal features at the edges, identical, and Microsoft is going to throw their muscle behind it. My bet is that most folks will still only use the browser to download Chrome.
You can’t patent an idea. You can implement the implementation of an idea - known as an invention. A way to remove seeds from cotton.

Definition of copyright - the exclusive legal right, given to an originator or an assignee to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same.
Afty
Posts: 1407
Joined: Sun Sep 07, 2014 5:31 pm

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by Afty »

X528 wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 6:21 pm
otinkyad wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 1:06 pm Your questions are too abstract. Also, open source software doesn’t generally lack IP or even patents. What are you concretely interested in?
By "open source" I meant that computer software is not covered by any patent or IP (copyright?). I'm not an IP expert though on this matter though and I could be wrong. It's not clear to me if patents can cover computer software or not, or just in some specific cases.

Fashion and perfumes are not patentable in the U.S. I think, but those fields are obviously still lucrative.
OSS is pretty much always covered by copyright and released under some licensing agreement. The code can certainly be protected by patents. Some popular OSS licenses are GPL, Apache 2.0, BSD, MIT, etc. The licenses constrain what others can do with the code, including patented code in the project and contributed to the project by others. For example, Apache 2.0 has a specific patent grant clause; see #3 in https://www.apache.org/licenses/LICENSE-2.0.
oldfort
Posts: 1735
Joined: Mon Mar 02, 2020 8:45 pm

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by oldfort »

Network effects can change. Remember MySpace. Someone above mentioned Uber. I think of Uber as less of a pure software company and more like the largest taxi business in the US.
MathWizard
Posts: 4333
Joined: Tue Jul 26, 2011 1:35 pm

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by MathWizard »

X528 wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 6:21 pm
otinkyad wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 1:06 pm Your questions are too abstract. Also, open source software doesn’t generally lack IP or even patents. What are you concretely interested in?
By "open source" I meant that computer software is not covered by any patent or IP (copyright?). I'm not an IP expert though on this matter though and I could be wrong. It's not clear to me if patents can cover computer software or not, or just in some specific cases.

Fashion and perfumes are not patentable in the U.S. I think, but those fields are obviously still lucrative.
Most open source software is released under the GNU Public License
GPL. The software has a copyright , but is licensed for free. (GPL calls this copyleft). The license allows you to modify it, created a derived work, which requires a license from the copyright owner. The license requires you to release the source with the product. This keeps people from taking an open source product and changing one line and charging for it.

Open Source companies make money selling support. SLURM is a cluster scheduler that is open source, but a company makes money with support contracts.
SeekingAPlan
Posts: 182
Joined: Sat Dec 12, 2015 1:03 pm

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by SeekingAPlan »

nisiprius wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 6:39 pm What is the last piece of word processing software you used yourself? In my case, it was Word. And I don't like Microsoft. And I do have a copy of LibreOffice installed on my computer (Mac OS X).

I don't want to get into a long discussion of why it was Word. The fact is, it was. Furthermore, the fact is that within the last year or so I paid something like $110 ("home and student edition" or whatever it was) to maintain smooth compatibility with Mac OS X upgrades. I don't pick up every update, but it seems that every three or four years I do. Three or four years of accumulated version skew is just too stressful.

So again, I ask, just the facts, not the reasons. What are you using for word processing, and did you pay money for it?
I do not buy software anymore.

For personal things I use Google Docs regularly. 100% free (as far as actual money goes).

If I specifically needed Microsoft Word for some specific reason I would use the free online version of Microsoft Word. You can get a free One Drive account that allows you to save something like 5GB online. You can also download your document and save it locally in addition or instead of online.

For work, I use whatever tool the company provides. They may pay for it, I do not.
Kagord
Posts: 398
Joined: Fri Nov 23, 2018 1:28 pm

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by Kagord »

With traditional companies, open source doesn't take take high level VPs (who have never coded a line of code in their life) out to expensive tropical vacations and hunting trips, restaurants, golfing...etc. Why go free when you can spend millions on software, millions on consultants to implement a solution likely to fail, and millions on maintenance. So yeah, all open source does is frustrate SWEs, wishing they could use it.

Start-ups, easier "perceived" entry costs with open source, but SWEs making 150-450K a year blows VC budgets pretty quick because "it's never easy".

So yeah, no impact for SWE's, more work than the world can do, even with COVID-19. And, from my experience, 80% of SWEs couldn't design/code an effective solution.
Last edited by Kagord on Sat Jun 27, 2020 9:54 am, edited 2 times in total.
User avatar
Watty
Posts: 20664
Joined: Wed Oct 10, 2007 3:55 pm

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by Watty »

X528 wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 12:58 pm Here is a question for software engineers (SWE) and entrepreneurs: Can a career in software engineering, or founding software start-ups, still be lucrative with open-source software (no intellectual property (IP) or patents involved)?
Retired software developer here.

The type of work that is done will change over time as the industry evolves. There were many of the same concerns when large commercial software packages were starting to became more common.

When I started out years ago it was common for companies to develop things like payroll systems in-house just because there was no alternative. Today payroll systems are pretty much all done by with software packages so there are now very few people in the world who actually write payroll systems now but there are lots of software people people are still programming interfaces to payroll systems.

For a long time there was a lot of concern that large software packages would kill off software developer jobs but that sure has not happened. It is just that people are now programming things like web sites and cell phone apps that did not even exist back when people were writing in house payroll systems. 20 years from now software engineers will likely be doing lots of things that on one is doing today.

It was not clear at just want level of work you were talking about when you said "lucrative". There have been lots of posts by software engineers in Silicon Valley making insane salaries with just a few years experience even when they are not doing the cutting edge work. Basically many of them are making what would be executive level salaries anywhere else. Eventually the salaries will revert to a more rational levels more along the lines of what someone with a similar level of skills like an electrical engineer might make.

That is not to say that someone who is in the top 2% of software engineers will not always make a really good income, but the same is true for people like electrical engineers.

One of my pet peeves is the job title inflation that has also taken place with the term "Software Engineer". The vast majority of "Software Engineers" do not know or use traditional engineering skills or methods. They are really various types of software developers or computer programmers and there is nothing wrong with that. One of the interesting things about software developers is that many of them still come from different backgrounds and do not have a computer related college degree. Some of them can be good but without formal training is really hard consider them as really having much traditional engineering skills. Even now it is harder for people without formal computer training to break into software development than it was 25 years ago.
nigel_ht
Posts: 1179
Joined: Tue Jan 01, 2019 10:14 am

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by nigel_ht »

Watty wrote: Sat Jun 27, 2020 9:46 am
X528 wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 12:58 pm Here is a question for software engineers (SWE) and entrepreneurs: Can a career in software engineering, or founding software start-ups, still be lucrative with open-source software (no intellectual property (IP) or patents involved)?
Retired software developer here.

The type of work that is done will change over time as the industry evolves. There were many of the same concerns when large commercial software packages were starting to became more common.

When I started out years ago it was common for companies to develop things like payroll systems in-house just because there was no alternative. Today payroll systems are pretty much all done by with software packages so there are now very few people in the world who actually write payroll systems now but there are lots of software people people are still programming interfaces to payroll systems.

For a long time there was a lot of concern that large software packages would kill off software developer jobs but that sure has not happened. It is just that people are now programming things like web sites and cell phone apps that did not even exist back when people were writing in house payroll systems. 20 years from now software engineers will likely be doing lots of things that on one is doing today.

It was not clear at just want level of work you were talking about when you said "lucrative". There have been lots of posts by software engineers in Silicon Valley making insane salaries with just a few years experience even when they are not doing the cutting edge work. Basically many of them are making what would be executive level salaries anywhere else. Eventually the salaries will revert to a more rational levels more along the lines of what someone with a similar level of skills like an electrical engineer might make.

That is not to say that someone who is in the top 2% of software engineers will not always make a really good income, but the same is true for people like electrical engineers.

One of my pet peeves is the job title inflation that has also taken place with the term "Software Engineer". The vast majority of "Software Engineers" do not know or use traditional engineering skills or methods. They are really various types of software developers or computer programmers and there is nothing wrong with that. One of the interesting things about software developers is that many of them still come from different backgrounds and do not have a computer related college degree. Some of them can be good but without formal training is really hard consider them as really having much traditional engineering skills. Even now it is harder for people without formal computer training to break into software development than it was 25 years ago.
Many software projects don’t need “software engineers” in the form of the formal discipline because the project size is small enough not to need it.

There, however, isn’t any job title inflation in as much as software developers, in general, apply about the same level of engineering principles as general Electrical Engineers. Most professional developers apply most principles embodied in the SWE BOK.

Only about 20% of engineers across all engineering disciplines are PEs with a stronger claim to the title.

25 years ago we were in the process of developing and adopting a more formalized SWE BOK in the form of CMM (published as a book in 1995). In any case SWE is a subset of Systems Engineering with a software focus.

Amusingly, I recall a discussion with Mark Paulk about the universal applicability of CMM to dot com companies where time to market was paramount. I am very much more in the James Bach school of “good enough software” and the DeMarco camp of people(ware) over process.

That’s despite actually having a masters in SWE...
sfnerd
Posts: 206
Joined: Tue Apr 08, 2014 1:16 am

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by sfnerd »

Kagord wrote: Sat Jun 27, 2020 9:40 am With traditional companies, open source doesn't take take high level VPs (who have never coded a line of code in their life) out to expensive tropical vacations and hunting trips, restaurants, golfing...etc. Why go free when you can spend millions on software, millions on consultants to implement a solution likely to fail, and millions on maintenance. So yeah, all open source does is frustrate SWEs, wishing they could use it.

Start-ups, easier "perceived" entry costs with open source, but SWEs making 150-450K a year blows VC budgets pretty quick because "it's never easy".

So yeah, no impact for SWE's, more work than the world can do, even with COVID-19. And, from my experience, 80% of SWEs couldn't design/code an effective solution.
The idea that "high level VPs" are taken on wild vacations is basically a myth. I've been in exec positions at publicly traded tech companies for a long time now, and never have I been on any vacations or golf outings. Very few of us golf anyway. When the bill comes with vendors, I usually am the one paying, per compliance rules. You can certainly use open source software, and the general rule is use the best tool for the job, taking cost into account. We usually get paid based on profit metrics, so doing the wrong thing and wasting millions to take some stupid vacation is probably not effective. It would be equivalent to taking a 10k vacation that costs you 1m in performance compensation.

So, to answer the OP's question, there is certainly money in both open source and commercial software. You can base your business around either. The real question is how can you differentiate what you offer? A business simply building open source software makes no sense. A company that provides a valuable service and open sources parts of its solution will be a trusted partner and a valuable enterprise. 20 years ago, this distinction wasn't evident. Now it is, and several businesses have models where they open source a lot of their tech.

In open source software, as in commercial tech, the question is, how do I solve people's problems? Find the problem you want to solve, and find someone to pay you to solve it. That's the way to make money in open (or closed) source businesses. The open source element is really just a strategy that says "this piece of my business is community property, and I'll develop it for the community", and I'll make money off of another aspect, or by providing support.
HawkeyePierce
Posts: 1481
Joined: Tue Mar 05, 2019 10:29 pm
Location: Colorado

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by HawkeyePierce »

My employer open-sources just about everything we build. Our storage layers, messaging services, middleware and RPC layers, PaaS, big data and analytics frameworks—all open source under the Apache license. We're happy for others to adopt these, it doesn't threaten our business model at all. In fact, the more adoption they see elsewhere, the easier it is for us to hire people who already have experience in our tech stack.

We also use a lot of open source that we did not develop in house. For example, we run OpenJDK on hundreds of thousands of servers and have an in-house team of JVM experts. You can have a pretty lucrative career becoming an expert on the innards of the JVM. We have an engineer who just spends his days improving the garbage collection system. He works remote from Maui and makes (I'm pretty sure) close to half a million a year. If his work leads to a 1% performance improvement, he saves the company potentially millions of dollars, which is why his managers are happy to let him work remotely from a tropical paradise.

I've also seen entire teams develop something novel in-house, open-source it, then leave to form a startup around monetizing that software. Some of them have done exceptionally well. Some through hosting, some open-core, some consulting/support. Usually a mix.

We don't make money off open source software but many engineers at this company have built lucrative careers off it.
palanzo
Posts: 1370
Joined: Thu Oct 10, 2019 4:28 pm

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by palanzo »

Watty wrote: Sat Jun 27, 2020 9:46 am
X528 wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 12:58 pm Here is a question for software engineers (SWE) and entrepreneurs: Can a career in software engineering, or founding software start-ups, still be lucrative with open-source software (no intellectual property (IP) or patents involved)?
One of my pet peeves is the job title inflation that has also taken place with the term "Software Engineer". The vast majority of "Software Engineers" do not know or use traditional engineering skills or methods. They are really various types of software developers or computer programmers and there is nothing wrong with that. One of the interesting things about software developers is that many of them still come from different backgrounds and do not have a computer related college degree. Some of them can be good but without formal training is really hard consider them as really having much traditional engineering skills. Even now it is harder for people without formal computer training to break into software development than it was 25 years ago.
Agreed and I would go further and say that Software Engineering is not an Engineering discipline.
VaR
Posts: 722
Joined: Sat Dec 05, 2015 11:27 pm

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by VaR »

palanzo wrote: Sat Jun 27, 2020 3:04 pm Agreed and I would go further and say that Software Engineering is not an Engineering discipline.
Do you mean this in the scholastic sense (ABET accreditation), the certification sense (PE), or some other sense?

I'd observe that the usefulness of professional certification and the appropriateness of the PE focus varies by discipline. I believe that in Electrical Engineering, there is a vast difference between power engineering vs digital circuit design vs solid state work.

I could see the usefulness of certification and rigor of an engineering approach to computer science. My college issued Computer Science degrees either as a BA or BSE degree, with different requirements.

I'll agree that many software developers don't have an engineering approach and most companies don't hire real software engineers. OTOH, most software development jobs (as defined by the companies that are hiring) don't require engineering - they are happy with software McGyvered together rather than designed by a professional. It's like how most homeowners would rather pay for a handyman than a certified electrician (the previous owners of my house certainly did).

To the OPs question, I'd argue that open source has increased the commercial opportunities available to software developers. I'm not quite sure what the root question is that you're getting at is, though. Can you give us context? Or are you just looking for material for an article or school paper? :)
nigel_ht
Posts: 1179
Joined: Tue Jan 01, 2019 10:14 am

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by nigel_ht »

palanzo wrote: Sat Jun 27, 2020 3:04 pm
Watty wrote: Sat Jun 27, 2020 9:46 am
X528 wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 12:58 pm Here is a question for software engineers (SWE) and entrepreneurs: Can a career in software engineering, or founding software start-ups, still be lucrative with open-source software (no intellectual property (IP) or patents involved)?
One of my pet peeves is the job title inflation that has also taken place with the term "Software Engineer". The vast majority of "Software Engineers" do not know or use traditional engineering skills or methods. They are really various types of software developers or computer programmers and there is nothing wrong with that. One of the interesting things about software developers is that many of them still come from different backgrounds and do not have a computer related college degree. Some of them can be good but without formal training is really hard consider them as really having much traditional engineering skills. Even now it is harder for people without formal computer training to break into software development than it was 25 years ago.
Agreed and I would go further and say that Software Engineering is not an Engineering discipline.
Software Engineering is every bit as much engineering as civil or aerospace engineering. Large software projects are the same level of engineering complexity as nuclear power plants and spacecraft. And without software you would have neither.

The Boeing 787 avionics is 6.5 million lines of code, 14 million lines of code for all of flight software. The F-35 avionics and combat systems are 8 million lines and 24 million including everything. Windows 10 is 50 million lines of code. The Large Hadron Collector also has about 50 million lines of code to support it.

Thousands of staff hours across large, often distributed, teams.

In comparison the 787 has 2.3 million parts.

We have been doing large scale software engineering for 60 years now...so you can just give it a rest. Because without it you would have either your browser, your computer or the internet.
randomguy
Posts: 9205
Joined: Wed Sep 17, 2014 9:00 am

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by randomguy »

MathWizard wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 8:25 pm
X528 wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 6:21 pm
otinkyad wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 1:06 pm Your questions are too abstract. Also, open source software doesn’t generally lack IP or even patents. What are you concretely interested in?
By "open source" I meant that computer software is not covered by any patent or IP (copyright?). I'm not an IP expert though on this matter though and I could be wrong. It's not clear to me if patents can cover computer software or not, or just in some specific cases.

Fashion and perfumes are not patentable in the U.S. I think, but those fields are obviously still lucrative.
Most open source software is released under the GNU Public License
GPL. The software has a copyright , but is licensed for free. (GPL calls this copyleft). The license allows you to modify it, created a derived work, which requires a license from the copyright owner. The license requires you to release the source with the product. This keeps people from taking an open source product and changing one line and charging for it.

Open Source companies make money selling support. SLURM is a cluster scheduler that is open source, but a company makes money with support contracts.
Last I checked about 2/3rds of open source was BSD/MIT/Apache and the rest was GPL dervived. GPL has been dropping over the past decade.

How you make money depends on what. you are offering. Imagine something like facebook was opensource. If I had all the code would it help me build a competitor? Sure. But most of their value isn't in the code. It is in the billion users they have signed up. Building a self driving car? Odds are the code IP is the. whole value of your company.
MathWizard
Posts: 4333
Joined: Tue Jul 26, 2011 1:35 pm

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by MathWizard »

randomguy wrote: Sun Jun 28, 2020 12:25 am
MathWizard wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 8:25 pm
X528 wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 6:21 pm
otinkyad wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 1:06 pm Your questions are too abstract. Also, open source software doesn’t generally lack IP or even patents. What are you concretely interested in?
By "open source" I meant that computer software is not covered by any patent or IP (copyright?). I'm not an IP expert though on this matter though and I could be wrong. It's not clear to me if patents can cover computer software or not, or just in some specific cases.

Fashion and perfumes are not patentable in the U.S. I think, but those fields are obviously still lucrative.
Most open source software is released under the GNU Public License
GPL. The software has a copyright , but is licensed for free. (GPL calls this copyleft). The license allows you to modify it, created a derived work, which requires a license from the copyright owner. The license requires you to release the source with the product. This keeps people from taking an open source product and changing one line and charging for it.

Open Source companies make money selling support. SLURM is a cluster scheduler that is open source, but a company makes money with support contracts.
Last I checked about 2/3rds of open source was BSD/MIT/Apache and the rest was GPL dervived. GPL has been dropping over the past decade.

How you make money depends on what. you are offering. Imagine something like facebook was opensource. If I had all the code would it help me build a competitor? Sure. But most of their value isn't in the code. It is in the billion users they have signed up. Building a self driving car? Odds are the code IP is the. whole value of your company.
Thanks for pointing out the rise in the MIT and Apache license models. There has been a big drop in GPL licensing in the last few years of which I was unaware.

Even as late as 2016,GPL of various versions, was still the most used, at about 1/3 with MIT in 2nd place at 1/4 , but the 1/3 was much less than I thought it was.
Mudpuppy
Posts: 6445
Joined: Sat Aug 27, 2011 2:26 am
Location: Sunny California

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by Mudpuppy »

MathWizard wrote: Sun Jun 28, 2020 6:57 am
randomguy wrote: Sun Jun 28, 2020 12:25 am Last I checked about 2/3rds of open source was BSD/MIT/Apache and the rest was GPL dervived. GPL has been dropping over the past decade.

How you make money depends on what. you are offering. Imagine something like facebook was opensource. If I had all the code would it help me build a competitor? Sure. But most of their value isn't in the code. It is in the billion users they have signed up. Building a self driving car? Odds are the code IP is the. whole value of your company.
Thanks for pointing out the rise in the MIT and Apache license models. There has been a big drop in GPL licensing in the last few years of which I was unaware.

Even as late as 2016,GPL of various versions, was still the most used, at about 1/3 with MIT in 2nd place at 1/4 , but the 1/3 was much less than I thought it was.
Personally, I think the controversies surrounding GPLv3 over a decade ago plays some part in this, as does the complexities of GPLv3. Also, the MIT and Apache licenses are pretty flexible and not very complex, which might make them more appealing to a wider audience. In the context of this thread, MIT and Apache licenses are not "copyleft" licenses like the GPL, which provides flexibility for derivative works to be moved to a proprietary license.
Afty
Posts: 1407
Joined: Sun Sep 07, 2014 5:31 pm

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by Afty »

Mudpuppy wrote: Sun Jun 28, 2020 2:57 pm
MathWizard wrote: Sun Jun 28, 2020 6:57 am
randomguy wrote: Sun Jun 28, 2020 12:25 am Last I checked about 2/3rds of open source was BSD/MIT/Apache and the rest was GPL dervived. GPL has been dropping over the past decade.

How you make money depends on what. you are offering. Imagine something like facebook was opensource. If I had all the code would it help me build a competitor? Sure. But most of their value isn't in the code. It is in the billion users they have signed up. Building a self driving car? Odds are the code IP is the. whole value of your company.
Thanks for pointing out the rise in the MIT and Apache license models. There has been a big drop in GPL licensing in the last few years of which I was unaware.

Even as late as 2016,GPL of various versions, was still the most used, at about 1/3 with MIT in 2nd place at 1/4 , but the 1/3 was much less than I thought it was.
Personally, I think the controversies surrounding GPLv3 over a decade ago plays some part in this, as does the complexities of GPLv3. Also, the MIT and Apache licenses are pretty flexible and not very complex, which might make them more appealing to a wider audience. In the context of this thread, MIT and Apache licenses are not "copyleft" licenses like the GPL, which provides flexibility for derivative works to be moved to a proprietary license.
I suspect this has shifted because a lot of open source today is libraries and frameworks, which are intended to underpin application development. GPL is a no-go for these kinds of things because of the virality -- if you link against GPL code, your code becomes "infected" and must be released under the GPL. No company wants to risk their proprietary code forcibly becoming open source, and thus such a library or framework would never be able to attract users.

I also think there has been a shift in who contributes to open source. A lot of contributors today are not hobbyists but professional developers who are paid to contribute as part of their day job. HawkeyePierce gave a good example above of why a large tech company might want to employ developers to contribute to OpenJDK.
trufflepig
Posts: 18
Joined: Wed Dec 02, 2015 9:31 pm

Re: Effect of open-source software on SWE careers and start-up companies.

Post by trufflepig »

I've worked for 25+ years in a cottage industry where hundreds (thousands?) of companies offer software consulting services to government agencies. The vast majority of the custom software solutions these companies build are based on commonly used open source products. The real skill is having engineers who can integrate the different open source products into a manageable end solution for the customer. Larger companies are frequently looking to acquire the smaller successful companies to leverage for larger contract acquisitions. It's extremely lucrative and there are virtually no startup costs so no need for VC. You do need intellectual capital however.
Post Reply