Progress Towards OSS Sustainability

August 28, 2019

Open source sustainability has been an increasingly visible problem in recent years. The problem is too big for any one person, or any one company to solve, but at Formidable, we're hoping to make a very small, local dent by making open source work more sustainable for our business and for our engineers.

For Our Business

If you've heard of Formidable, it's probably because of one of our open-source projects. Our ongoing commitment to open source work has been one of the defining features of our company. It helps us attract talented, passionate engineers and maintain our status as cutting-edge experts in our field. While we believe in investing in open source work because it makes a positive impact in our community, we are able to sustain that investment because it aligns with our business interests. Many of our projects directly support the work we do for our clients, and maintaining a strong and ever-growing portfolio of open source work has been an effective supplement to out recruiting, sales and other marketing initiatives. In other words, it is in the interest of our business to keep our open source work exciting, useful and relevant with a regular stream of new projects.

For Our Engineers

Most of the world's open source work is volunteer based; performed for free outside of work hours. We aim to do better for our engineers. For our open source program to be sustainable, it must conserve people's individual resources, both in terms of time and money. Our ability to generate exciting new projects should not rely heavily on free or discounted labor or come at the expense or anyone's work life balance. Ideally, our program should be built to encourage the participation of all of our engineers, regardless of their position within the company, or their circumstances outside of work. It should reward people for their curiosity and passion. It should be structured to reflect the high degree of trust we place in our engineers.

Our Progress

Formidable has been actively engaged in open source work from the beginning, but we have only recently begun developing a structured program. First we addressed maintenance. Our engineers were already spending their time between client projects helping out on open source work. We took stock of our open source portfolio, assigned maintenance levels to each project, and carved out additional work hours for our engineers to dedicate to the regular, ongoing maintenance of most active projects.

Next, we introduced The Sauce Program to acknowledge (with cash) the work our engineers were already doing in their off-hours. In the last month, our engineers have taken advantage of The Sauce Program for work ranging from supporting the latest React Native release to generating rainbow party gifs to share in Slack.

With both initiatives going so well, we decided to double down on a program designed to enable the sort of ambitious new projects that excite our engineers and support our business goals. For our next experiment, Formidable will be sponsoring Fellowships for our engineers to work on OSS full time! We will start with a pilot program that will sponsor four Fellowships over the next year, with each Fellowship being up to six weeks long. All Formidable engineers will be eligible to apply by submitting a project proposal. A panel of our most senior engineers will work with applicants to help them refine their proposals, and one will be selected each quarter.

The Fellowship experiment is already underway! We recently accepted our first round of applications, and awarded our first Fellowship to Parker Ziegler. During his Fellowship, Parker plans to build a physics-based animation library. Building off projects like popmotion and react-spring, this library will draw inspiration from the natural world to experiment with new forms of animation — think gravity, air resistance, fluid dynamics, and particle systems. The underlying physics engine will be written in Reason, but the library will also expose a hook-based React API for controlling animations. We selected this project, in part, because it promises a compelling example of using Reason alongside React.

Parker's Fellowship will start at the beginning of December and we will be accepting our next round of Fellowship applications in October. Look forward to more posts as the experiment unfolds!

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