Automattic’s roots are open source. Several of our engineering teams actively contribute to open source and view it as part of our four freedoms. As our CEO Matt Mullenweg puts it, “Good ideas aren’t the sole province of groups of people behind high walls, and software shouldn’t be either.”
Of course, WordPress.org is the base of the software used to power WordPress.com. And WordPress.com is synced nearly daily with the WordPress trunk. An Automattic team works full-time on the open source publishing platform WordPress, and we make public our discussions about our work.
We contribute to a number of projects (also including WP for iOS, WP for Android, P2 Theme, BuddyPress, bbPress, WP Job Manager, and WordCamp US) making most of our work available via the GPL.
However, we also understand (thanks to our engineering team’s recent user study on tech hiring) that our open source commitment can be a double-edged sword for some candidates and employees. We recognize the time commitment and open source culture isn’t for everyone and, as Cate Huston, lead of the Developer Experience team wrote, “We’re considering how to improve our messaging on this important value for our company.”
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We know that open-source is the best channel for developers to adopt new tools, and we want to be as transparent with our customers as we can. To that end, we embrace open source tools and workflows like Git, GitHub, and Pull Requests in our everyday work. Your work will be directly attributable back to you and users can directly converse with you as a result. For example, when Evan rolled out the Postgres plugin, he had a great discussion with a customer on the pull request about some of the nuances around Postgres SSL and authentication. We were able to build a more robust product that met the customer’s needs.
We encourage our users to contribute and communicate with us using these same tools. Our customer support process is via GitHub Issues, our Roadmap is public, and we even modify our employee handbook with pull requests. Grouparoo is “all-in” on open source.
The best reward is people using and benefiting from our work. If it helps us be more efficient, we are thrilled to hear it’s helping others be the same. When it comes to open source, the proof is in the pudding. Check out our open source project for Sidekiq Throttled (which is concurrency and threshold throttling for Sidekiq) or our daterangepicker (gif below).
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All of our own open-source projects can be found on GitHub. In the past, we have contributed to PhpUnit, Phing, and Composer. Two important projects are Disco (a Dependency Injection Container for PHP, mostly driven forward by Stephan Hochdörfer) and Force Login (a module for Magento, developed by Florian Horn and Philipp Sander). Since we heavily rely on open-source components for our work, this is our way of giving back to the community. We enjoy sharing our new ideas and believe that our contributions will help grow the community as a whole.
We’ve got engineers in several countries making up our dedicated open source team. In addition to day-to-day software engineering work, they regularly speak at conferences, engage the community, and host a (free) podcast called On-Call Me Maybe.
The support for open source started long ago with our CEO, Ben Sigelman, who co-founded the OpenTracing project (recently merged with OpenCensus into the OpenTelemetry project). OpenTracing is a vendor-neutral standard used by Lightstep, but also by internal tools at Pinterest, Twitter, Uber, Elastic, and Couchbase, to name a few. The idea here is that tracing shouldn’t be some big secret held from the world. We believe progress in observability is progress for the industry overall, which is why we’re transparent about how our tech works.
As this article describes, we believe encouraging open source is key to our lives as developers but that tying it directly to a business’s profitability can backfire.
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