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.
“A business card” by Leena Romppainen can be reused under the CC BY license. Leena is a cultural ambassador extraordinaire!
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
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.
*“Pair Programming is a Hoot” by Pinja Turunen can be reused under the CC BY license. Wilhelmiina (on the left) is showing Wenzel what monad transformers are good for*
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 softwaredon’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 loudappears a coward tactic when you know what’s right*
Teach people the tricks of the trade:
*skills are importantshow them how to make jewels super effective!*
Make sure your employees are happy:
*people in balancehappy 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!
- Teemu TurunenCorporate Hippie