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How open source got its groove back

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Articles - October 2011
Thursday, September 22, 2011

By Mark Everett Hall


Risk taker Luke Kanies, CEO of Puppet Labs, likens Portland to "an underdeveloped stock" for entrepreneurs. 
Photo by Michael Cogliantry
Two years ago when Luke Kanies was mulling over where to move his Nashville startup he considered Silicon Valley, an obvious choice for an open-source software business. But with year-old twins in tow, he and his wife decided Portland was a better fit for them financially.

“I adored Portland,” he says of making the choice to base Puppet Labs in the city. “And we could afford it.”

Another key factor for Kanies’ relocation to Oregon from Tennessee was the proximity of experienced, open-source software developers. Without talented people to help, he knew that by himself he couldn’t build the software as he envisioned it. He needed skilled programmers and Portland had them, as he knew, from previous visits to the city for OSCON, the biggest conference for open source techies.

Finding top-notch technical talent is always an issue for companies large and small. That’s why it’s becoming more commonplace these days, especially in the software industry, to have remote workers,who work from the comfort of their own homes. Currently, though, only two Puppet Labs developers work remotely because CEO Kanies has been able to locate the bulk of his staff locally. His other 38 employees work in the company’s Park Blocks offices. He says those few times he’s had to fish for folks outside the area, there’s been no trouble recruiting people to come to Portland.

“If people were willing to relocate at all,” he says, “they’re willing to move to Portland.”

Portland’s lure lost some luster when the Great Recession hit. Developer jobs evaporated. Investment stalled in the open-source market. But the economic speed bump was a small one. Drawn to the area by its culture, community and cost of living, open-source developers continued to flock to the area, which, in turn, attracted the companies who needed them.


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