Sponsoring free-time Open Source activities

This article has been adapted from a blog post by Futurice's Head of Open Source, Teemu Turunen. You can find the original text in Futurice's blog, and there's more on our Open Source program site.

Right from the start of our Open Source program it was clear that we want to implement some company policy changes beneficial to the Open Source movement.

Starting Nov 2014, Futurice financially sponsors Open Source contributions done by our employees on their own time. These contributions are entirely voluntary and are not related to any company projects. The purpose of the sponsorship program is to promote hobby contributions for a good cause.

Why do this?

There are ideological and socio-economical arguments both for and against Open Source. Both parties supporting proprietary software with strong copyrights, and organizations such as FSF, have argued against it. The latter see Open Source as inadequate, or missing the point.

While this debate is interesting and worth consideration, we prefer a pragmatic approach.

Reasons to establish this benefit for Futurice:

  • By being active in the Open Source scene, our people improve their skills faster.
  • Being a rare benefit, it should give us some recruitment edge.
  • It's the right thing to do, as Futurice benefits greatly from Open Source.
  • Our people want us to.

Reasons for you to make use of this benefit:

  • Taking part in Open Source (or Free Software) development gives you a chance to improve your skills quickly.
  • In addition to that, you are marketing your skills through your contributions.
  • You make some extra cheddar by doing so. It's a sweet deal!

Some collateral good:

  • While our skilled employees contribute, the Open Source projects benefit.
  • Our example hopefully encourages other companies to do the same.

Our implementation

The guiding principles in establishing this benefit have been KISS and that people can be trusted. These have been an unbeatable combination so far.

  • Futurice will sponsor Open Source contributions done outside of work hours.
  • Any Open Source contribution is acceptable, as long as the license is OSI approved.
  • Also CC0, CC BY and CC BY-SA are ok — note that CC0 is not possible in some jurisdictions.
  • Futurice makes no IPR claims whatsoever regarding these contributions.
  • Compensation is €15 per hour spent, or the local currency equivalent.
  • A maximum of 30 hours per calendar month is compensated to an individual (not cumulative).
  • Contributions are reported by sending mail to our Flowdock flow.
  • The email needs to include the project, hours spent and a link to the relevant commit/PR/whatever.

Check out this actual report by Oleg:

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At the end of the month, I will go through the contributions reported into the Flow.

Initial reception

Offering people money for something they have been doing for fun can be a risky endeavour. We recognize that and have given it some thought. We will know more in a few months, but the initial reception has been very positive across the board.

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Based on the reactions so far, we can encourage other companies to consider this type of arrangement as well.

Please feel free to copy our implementation — you can find all the details at our open source program site. If you make improvements, it would be awesome to share!

Known challenges

Currently this benefit is limited to our full-time employees only. This is not ideal, and also our part-time employees are not too happy about this. There are reasons for the limitation, but hopefully we find a better solution soon.

This also easily becomes a benefit solely for the technically oriented. It does not need to, but that’s how the open source scene is — the entry barrier for people who don't code is high. People with other competence areas and interests will require support, specifically for selecting projects and finding ways to contribute. We are working on that. For the academically inclined, legitimate peripheral participation is a good starting point.

Future plans

So what are we really sponsoring here? Let’s distill it into haiku form!

people practising
skills valuable at work
awesoming the world

Open Source is one approach to that, but there are certainly others! Our people are already participating in comparable activities, such as code schools for kids and other voluntary work.

Learning while doing good should be an integral part of our company culture. Limiting it to Open Source is suboptimization. We want to generalise, zoom out, identify the patterns and establish the relevant laws governing the intrinsic motivation in our environment. This will lead, amongst other good things, to increased Open Source activity.

We have by now (July 7th, 2015) sponsored hundreds, soon thousands, of Open Source contributions. Currently we are working on better metrics to measure the produced value (for the individual, the company, and the society), and also finding new ways to get people to contribute.