Thursday, March 14, 2013

Why Netflix is giving away money to coders

Netflix has announced $100K in prizes for coders. And the story is all about open source. Writing in Bloomberg Businessweek, Ashlee Vance notes:

When it comes to infrastructure technology, we live in absurd times. Netflix—like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Yahoo and other Web celebs—open sources much of the software that underlies its operations. Put more bluntly, they fight for the right to heap money on the smartest engineers, then give away their work, so that others can build on top of it. Together, all of these companies are forging the cutting-edge cloud computing technology that mainstream companies will use in the years to come.

But this isn't just Netflix being altruistic. 

Giving away its technical smarts for free and paying volunteer coders makes perfect sense for Netflix, says Adrian Cockcroft, a former Sun Microsystems engineer who is now the director of cloud computing architecture at Netflix. “We end up with better quality code,” he says. “And, when it comes to hiring people, we can see people who already know our code base and are doing interesting things.”

A lot of open source today gets written on company time. It's the core business of my employer, Red Hat, of course. But it's also a mechanism for companies of many different types to cooperate and benefit from innovation coming from all over. Open source isn't just about free software in either a financial or a philosophical sense. It's also proven to be just a very good approach to development.

But open source is also, in a sense, the new resume for programmers.

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