Give open source some love back!

Like many others our work is enabled by open source software. We make a heavy use of the several great open source projects out there. Since they help us doing our business and doing it in a productive way, we want to give some love aehmm work back. So we decided to dedicate one day per month to open source contributions. These can be bug fixes, new features, even documentation or bug reports. I believe that every contribution helps an open source project and many projects need help.
The whole development team will work on projects they like. One day per month does not sound much but I think even starting small helps. And maybe you can suggest a similar day in your company, too ?
Besides the obvious boost in developer motivation (and therefore productivity) there are several things your company will benefit from:

  • help in your own projects: fixing bugs in the open source projects you use is like fixing bugs in your own project
  • image for your company: being active in open source gives a better image regarding potential future employees and also shows responsibility in the field they work in
  • PR for your company and an edge over your competition: writing about your contributions and your insights in your company blog, remember: out teach your competition

So get your company to spend just one day per month or so for open source. It may not be much but every little bit helps!

“Tag, you’re it!” – how we manage our blog heartbeat

We successfully revived a nearly abandonded blog by using a token and a few metaphors.

The new year 2009 just started. A great opportunity to review some things. Here is a review of our blogging.

heartbeatWe started this blog in February 2007. Soon afterwards, it was nearly dead, as no new articles were written. Why? We would have answered to “be under pressure” and “have more relevant things to do” or simply “have no idea about what to write”. The truth is that we didn’t regard this blog as being important to us. We didn’t allocate any ressources, be it time, topics or attention to it. Seeming unimportant is a sure death cause for any business resource in any mindful managed company.

The Revival

This changed in late August 2008, after we heard from several sources that our articles published so far were very promising. Some new contacts even asked about our Code Flow-O-Meter before they asked any other question. So we sat together and thought about a way to revive this blog with minimal possible effort. We came to the conclusion that, being a four-man-show company, it would be sufficient for everyone to write one blog article a month in order to show a weekly blog heartbeat. It’s simple math. The same discussion led to the conclusion that blogging in english would reach a broader audience.

It’s a management problem

This laid the foundation for a few new blog entries, as everyone was eager to tell some news. But how could we manage the blog heartbeat in a sustainable fashion, with minimal effort and attention of the individual?

blogtoken

We decided to give the “Blog Token” a try. This token is nothing more than a little index card informing you that you are responsible for the blog entry in the next week. You can keep the index card on your desk or take it with you to remind you of the task. If you published your entry, you hand it over to the following team member in line. The token order is defined on a very viewable whiteboard. It took us 5 minutes to set up the token and define the order. Everything else is managed by the one who wants to get rid of the token and the one who receives it.

It doesn’t work without metaphors

When we reviewed the process, we realized that without a few maxims and their impact, things would have gone astray even with the token in place. Here are some of our maxims, spelled by the metaphors we found for them:

  • “blog heartbeat”: When you want to “keep it flowing” in a sustainable pace, you need to have a pace first. We defined that our blog is alive when it has a periodic heartbeat. Weekly articles seemed to be a good start and were approved in every review yet.
  • “to grow vegetables”: Good ideas (and good blog topics) need to evolve and grow. You need to care about them for an amount of time and publish them when they are mature. But first of all, you need to put the seeds for ideas (and blog topics) in your garden. Whenever somebody mentions something that might be worth a blog entry, somebody calls “this is a vegetable!”. A first sketch of a new blog entry (a new vegetable in your garden) is born in this moment. To be honest, some vegetables starve over time.
  • “it’s not a competition”: We try to publish high quality blog entries. But it’s more important to us to tell you about our favorite vegetable (see second metaphor) than to win a pulitzer price for every article. We even try to remind ourselves that we do not compete for the recoginition from our readers (you, in this case!). To be honest here, too: Though it’s not a contest, we issued an internal price for our most read article: Using Hudson for C++/CMake/CppUnit

Reviewing the Revival

We revived our blog with three ingredients:

  • Our commitment (“it’s important to us”)
  • The Blog Token (“tag, you’re it!”)
  • Metaphors (“everyone can grow vegetables”)

Telling from the statistics, it simply skyrocketed us:

blog-stats

Thank YOU, our blog visitors, for making this possible. It’s been a great experience for us and we are looking forward to continue our blog heartbeat in 2009 with fully stacked vegetable gardens. Stay tuned and if you like, share your thoughts (or just say hello) by adding a comment. We really appreciate your opinion.

We are changing our locale

This is a bilingual posting:

We decided to continue this blog in english language, though we are no way of native speakers. Old postings may be translated in the future, if worth the effort.

The Softwareschneiderei remains a german-speaking company.

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Dies ist ein zweisprachiger Eintrag:

Wir haben uns entschieden, diesen Blog auf englisch weiterzuführen, obwohl wir keine englischen Muttersprachler sind. Alte Einträge könnten zukünftig übersetzt werden, wenn sie den Aufwand wert sind.

Die Softwareschneiderei bleibt eine deutschsprachige Firma.