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VMware’s Dirk Hohndel on Why the Crux of Open Source Is Always People

KubeCon EU took Copenhagen by storm last week, and VMware was on-hand to display many of our open source projects and hold a week-long series of open source office hours that attracted many KubeCon attendees. Of particular note, VMware Chief Open Source Officer Dirk Hohndel delivered a keynote address and sat down for an in-depth interview with theCUBE where he discussed VMware’s approach to open source, building momentum around “community first” at VMware, advice for enterprises looking to go all-in on open source and why, at the end of the day, open source always comes down to people.

Check out some interview highlights below, and be sure to watch Dirk’s full interview with theCUBE:

VMware’s Approach to Open Source

There’s no escaping open source at VMware. “We use open source components in literally every single one of our products,” Dirk notes. However, it’s the Open Source Program Office that serves as the nucleus of open source at VMware, with a pure focus on open source work and solving problems in the community, rather than on products.

While most VMware engineers and developers are engaged with open source in their daily work, the Open Source Program Office works to make all software engineers at VMware mindful of how open source works. “Fundamentally, there’s a balance between having this central organization that has this center of expertise and has people who do open source and nothing but open source, and on the other hand bringing that expertise into the BUs and bringing it closer to the products and engaging across the company,” he said.

Open Source Is About People

When it comes to open source, collaboration between people is key. “People think of [open source] as a software development methodology—and it is—but fundamentally it’s a social phenomenon,” Dirk explains. “It’s this experiment of saying the way we do our work is based on relationships. It’s based on trust. These relationships are between people, not companies.”

By focusing beyond just code and considering the people who are writing it, the open source model proves very empowering for engineers. That’s why events like KubeCon are so rewarding because they bring the people you’ve probably been emailing and collaborating with for years face to face. “This social aspect of this for an introvert like myself is, at the same time, a little scary but also it’s super exciting because it is people that are driving this industry,” he said.

Putting Community First

Founded and driven by engineers, VMware is very much an engineering-centric organization, according to Dirk. However, “the underlying ethos of contribution and trying to fix problems—that is something that’s always been there at VMware.” During his chat with theCUBE, Dirk explained that putting community first at VMware is a top priority of his.

Dirk explains that his main initiative for open source at VMware is a more upstream focus: “An understanding of, it’s not just important that you understand the technology well and you use it well, but also that you contribute back and that you’re seen as playing a big role in this industry.”

Best Practices for Enterprises Diving into Open Source

For enterprises looking to go all-in on open source, Dirk notes that the most important thing is starting with language and how you talk about what it is you want to do. From there, you can figure out where you’re using it, how you’re using it and the changes that you’re making to the components you’re using. “You can’t just consume open source components; you need to engage with them, you need to understand how their work affects your work.”

A simple first step in engaging with the broader community is contributing the changes you make to these open source components back to the community. For example, VMware created Project Clarity as an internal software design system to create angular-based JavaScript UIs. Since then, it’s been open-sourced and has weekly releases, which has established a very active contributor base around it thanks to constant engagement. “It’s one of those cases where you take something that isn’t the core of your business, but you are earning your chops in the community,” Dirk explains. “This is very much that trust relationship.”

This sort of model is a solid one for enterprises just starting out with open source to follow: “the value that this creates, the amount of value that you’re getting from your outside contributors, very quickly outweighs the additional cost that it takes to get this IP clean and released.”

Final Nugget of Wisdom from Dirk Hohndel

“If you go into these communities with the assumption that you can learn something from the other developers and companies that are involved, and then you can contribute to the areas where you are strong, where you have more core knowledge, and you wrap this into a product that provides value for your customers, everyone wins.”

To watch the full interview with Dirk Hohndel, visit theCUBE.


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