Late 2013 we reached a decision to launch a company-sponsored open source and social impact program, with the primary goal of making the world a better place. Futurice has always recruited the idealist types, but the day-to-day realities of the software consulting business may often poorly reflect softer ambitions.
However, consulting is the place to be if you want to aim for a large-scale impact — our customers come from very diverse business domains and include numerous companies ranging from small to huge. And wherever our people roam, they carry our company culture with them.
We have a company culture based on trust and transparency. It is carried by agents that are both social and very good at what they do, which makes that culture highly contagious. Our success in spreading both agile and lean thinking has proven this.
Hence the reasoning: Since we adhere to the Open Source movement, and make extensive use of many Open Source projects, let’s properly embrace the concept and make it a core element of our company culture. Let’s find good ways to give back.
The Spice must flow
So the Spice Program was born (yes, it is indeed a Dune reference) and we started to find ways to give back. In the spirit of transparency, here is the nearly word-exact transcript of an internal speech I recently gave in our all-company Friday get-together, summing up the program.
Open Source program status presentation 5.12.2014, transcript
Hi, my name is Teemu Turunen.
I’ll say a few words about our Open Source program, the Spice Program.
The program is owned by Mikko Viikari. We have core contributors Matias Kirvelä and Ville Tainio.
In addition Olli Jarva has helped us out a lot.
You can find a mind-numbing amount of details at spiceprogram.org.
Someone told me that this costs €200 per minute. Considering that, I will try to speak slowly and only mostly tell you things that you already know.
Futurice has been growing fast. To keep that up, and succeed, we need to find ways to attract, grow and retain top technical talent. That is, and will be, the backbone of this company.
To attract and retain... there are many ways to go about that, but I know this: highly skilled people often enjoy working with other highly skilled people.
To grow our own stars, well, what is a better way to learn, than to get to work with the best talent?
We have people that can be considered the top technical talent. We have more people who are getting there.
The open source ecosystem gives us the tools and the stage to showcase our people, our skills and our values to a large, international audience of talented individuals. Many whom we would like to see working with us in the future.
It also provides a very efficient platform for learning. And is increasingly, I believe, the future of our profession, as already recognised by many large companies and governments.
What have we done then? Some examples.
We have created contract terms, together with our legal, that allow us to contribute to open source projects in customer work. Two paragraphs of unthreatening legalese, if such a thing exists. [COMPANY OMITTED] recently approved these terms, as presented to them by Matias Kirvelä, to be a part of our mutual contract. So in that account, people can now contribute to open source projects.
The Summer of Love project has kept Ville Tainio busy polishing and publishing our internal systems. This has been very important for the Spice Program, since we need credibility. This shows we can actually do stuff, instead of just talking about it.
Recently we started to financially sponsor open source contributions done by our employees, on their free time. It has started off well, we have double digits of contributions, people and projects for the last three weeks - including two designers, which I am really happy about.
This has already caught the attention of some external parties. I was contacted by a few reporters recently. It definitely caught the attention of our dear rival companies here in Finland, which is always fun.
What we have not managed to do well, is... This. Internal communication. For instance, the contract terms should be in use in many accounts by now. They are not. The blame for this lies with us; the people doing account work probably don’t even know they exist. But now that you do, please consider introducing them into your contracts and frame agreements. You know that for many of our customers, a big reason to do business with us is our company culture. This is an important part of that culture.
Looking at the next year... we don’t really have a detailed plan. I don’t know if we even have a budget. But there are some things I would like to see happening.
Co-operation with external parties - companies, institutions, influential individuals. Joint projects, hackathons, sharing information. And I would like us to take an active part in the public social discussion about Open Source, at least here in Finland. I just hope we can find some better forum for that discussion than Twitter. Because it seems, I really am too old for that shit.
I would like to see a positive impact on recruitment, to prove, that what we do in fact helps us to attract talent. This is quite significant considering future investments, so please, spread the word.
Open Source has traditionally been a field for the technical types. Programmers. I would like to see us challenge that, because I know that many projects, especially the high profile ones, would greatly benefit from the participation of people with different skillsets, such as systems engineering, analytics, QA, and of course, design.
Finally, I would love to see us continue to find ways to advance common causes. Ways that are aligned with the Open Source movement, not bound by it. Social impact stuff, such as the great code schools for kids. I would like us to find initiatives, projects, activities that allow us, as a company and as individuals, to use our powers for Good.
I'll expand a bit on a few points expressed in the speech.
Talent attracts talent
If you can offer people a chance to make a difference, while working together with talented people in an open and respectful environment, attracting talent should be easy — IF you can find a way to credibly convey that message to the target audience. They are rightfully sceptical of corporate marketing. That makes it the opposite of easy. It’s difficult!
Our most efficient recruitment method has been through our employees’ networks. Our people get their friends, ex-colleagues, schoolmates, and other acquaintances to apply. The people joining via this route might not know all that much about our company, but they do know who they will be working with. That is what really matters.
The people who do not share your core values might not be inclined to pursue employment with you. This is, of course, also a good thing.
Open Source is very much about collaborative participation. Your skills, values, and attitude are exposed. To us, as a company that doesn’t have much to hide, this is quite enticing!
Meanwhile, it gives us extra motivation to consider our projects: will they be of interest to the people who are of interest to us? Some self-reflection is beneficial to any company, I believe.
GitHub is more than just repositories
GitHub may not be (or want to become) the social network for developers, but it has already had a huge impact on how companies approach hiring technical talent. A few years ago, having some of your code to share in public was considered a curiosity in the recruitment process, now it has become one of the primary interests. This may not be a good thing, but it is the reality.
Increasingly, people considering jobs are checking out companies (and their employees) on GitHub as a part of their decision process. Company GitHub pages spring into existence to satisfy this curiosity. Here’s ours.
From a utilitarian viewpoint, investments in Open Source activities, as a company, would be much less appealing if you still had to resort to traditional marketing to get the word to the interesting (and elusive) employee candidates. Now we can instead fully concentrate on doing stuff; the interested individuals will find out.
To demonstrate the growing popularity of GitHub I embarked on an…
GitHub is just one service. There are others, and in the future there will quite likely be new, even more popular alternatives. The message is clear though: if you can share what you do, and if what you do is interesting, you have the advantage. Now that people and companies are increasingly aware of that, it will soon become ‘if you cannot share what you do, you have the disadvantage’.
Using OSS activity as a filter for recruiting is not a good idea. You would limit the candidate pool to the privileged minority who have the time and motivation for that. Instead it makes sense to ask the candidates, if they have some code they want to share with us. The code can then reside in GitHub or not. Ashe Dryden wrote eloquently about this a year back.
Learn with the best or keep trying like the rest
We are good at hiring people who have the necessary drive and abilities to be fast learners. This is great in many ways; it makes recruiting easier, as we are not only looking for the experienced champions that everyone else is wooing.
For people to be able to learn fast, they need to be given a chance to do so. I am talking about what they get to do and who they get to do it with. Giving people menial or impossible tasks will hardly result in anything good, but working together with an established star, who is also motivated to teach… the professional growth will be frighteningly fast. It also provides some extra benefits.
The people who are really good at what they do, usually tend to enjoy the actual work more when they get to teach others. This has been proven time and time again in Futurice, by looking at various team compositions and the measured employee satisfaction.
My previous assignment was building the Futurice post-production business unit. We had a really good thing going with this approach. We recruited bright people with great attitudes, then arranged them a chance to work closely together with people experienced in relevant competence areas. This paid off really fast. Every recruitment we did turned out to be a good one. The team employee satisfaction was topping the charts on all the surveys.
The same teaching-learning dynamics are inherent to healthy Open Source projects. The learning process can be crazy efficient. Soon the apprentices become masters in their own right.
Do they then want to help others to get there, and are they good at it? You bet your ass.
In a gentle way, you can shake the world
… stated Mahatma Gandhi, in his Quit India speech on 8th Oct 1942. Well said!
Group polarization seems strong also in matters related to the Open Source vs Free Software movement. Fortunately, as a company, we can concentrate on practicalities.
A company, regardless of the line of business, has ample opportunities to encourage and enable activities aiming for a positive social impact. As a consultancy company operating in a business that is notoriously prone to rapid fluctuations, should we then invest on social impact activities?
Let’s just leave corporate altruism out of this. We are certainly still capable of that, being a mid-sized company with a strong founder ownership. However, Futurice being a growth company, this may not always be the case. It may not be the case for you, either, so let’s rather view this as a commercial exercise.
We want to employ individuals that are very good at their work, talented, and dedicated. People with such abilities can choose where they work, or whether they work for anyone but themselves. This is unlikely to change, when we consider the top talent.
Being able to grow our own stars will result in some extra employee loyalty, but to be able to steadily attract and retain such people… They really have to be motivated to work with us.
Many of our people want to do good. They want to make a difference. This we know, based on many employee questionnaires and experimental projects during the years. Most people want to do good. Here you can find an interesting paper on the subject by Stephan Meier and Alois Stutzer: Is Volunteering Rewarding in Itself?
So regarding the social impact activities, I would rather ask, can we really afford not to invest?
So what could this hippie nonsense really mean?
Let’s get back to that in more detail later, as this blog post is already way too long. I’ll just briefly present the generic social impact activity alternatives as I see them. I present them as haikus, since I can’t really get briefer than that.
Donate some of your money:
firm pockets well-lined?
reach in there, extract a wad
give to a good cause
Donate some of your time:
all who need software
don’t know how to make software
we can rock that shit
Participate in the domain specific public discussion:
not speaking out loud
appears a losing tactic
when you know what works
Participate in the generic public discussion:
not speaking out loud
appears a coward tactic
when you know what’s right
Teach people the tricks of the trade:
skills are important
show them how to make jewels
Make sure your employees are happy:
people in balance
happy with their work and life
will spread good around
We’re doing quite good already on some of these and we are considering making moves on some others. One big challenge, in a low hierarchy environment, is to decide what to concentrate on, since doing everything well is rarely an option.
Other items of interest
Open Source -friendly subcontracting contract terms were mentioned — you can find them here.
The Summer of Love project, for publishing our internal support systems, has been described on our Program Site as well — check it out!