Why Zalando goes Open Source

Zalando

Zalando published guidelines for its open source principles at its tech blog:

Two important parts of Zalando Technology’s culture — our self-organized guilds, and our support for open source— intersect via our Open Source Guild, formed not long after the official launch of Radical Agility. The Guild is an informal group of engineers and tech evangelists dedicated to strengthening our open source culture internally and externally. 

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Do “Open Source First”: If your Zalando project can also be useful to non-Zalandos, release it as open source from the start.

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Be Safe: To ensure the broadest possible use of your project, use the MIT License only.

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Promote: Tell the world about your project via blog posts, social media and conference talks.

Why does it make sense for Zalando to open source as much as possible?

There is a lot of talk these days about ecosystems. And rightly so. Ecosystems though can appear and be build in places not necessarily associated with the buzzword itself.

Open sourcing your code can lead to a very important ecosystem for your company:

  • Zalando will be able to hire developers already familiar with some of its systems.
  • Other companies can build on and expend Zalando’s code. Generally speaking this can help increase the quality of future iterations of the deployed software at Zalando.
  • Open source creates an intrinsic motivation for developers. If you can open source your work or parts of your work you can be an active member of a global community. This makes your work better. More importantly, this way Zalando (and any other company doing this) is more likely to attract the best people in their fields. Because these are also the people wanting to push forward the frontiers. They can’t do that behind closed doors.

This makes especially sense for companies coming from a position of strength. Because in this case you have the ability to guide the future of even outside developments by the mere fact of being not just the originator but also by being simply a major force in the community.

Hence a lot of big technology companies open source integral parts of their systems. Facebook does it. Google does it. (Even) Microsoft does it.

In fact, coincidentally, a few days ago Google open sourced TensorFlow, its machine learning system. Ben Thompson’s analysis of Google’s move is applicable to what we see happening at Zalando:

Indeed, as good as TensorFlow might be, I bet it’s the weakest of these three pieces Google needs to truly apply machine learning to all its various business, both those of today and those of the future. Why not, then, leverage the collective knowledge of machine learning experts all over the world to make TensorFlow better? Why not make a move to ensure the machine learning experts of the future grow up with TensorFlow as the default? And why not ensure that the industry’s default machine learning system utilizes standards set in place by Google itself, with a design already suited for Google’s infrastructure?

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Google is approaching machine learning from a position of strength: the company already has the most data and the most imposing infrastructure, and as noted open-sourcing TensorFlow accelerates the removal of the primary limitation to leveraging that advantage: the quality of the system itself.

(Highlights by me)

Long story short, trying to put open source front and center is another promising cornerstone of this year’s tech push by Zalando.

One comment

  1. […] own event and its open source strategy and startup programs have to be seen in this context as well as its failed attempt to make […]

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