How open source got its groove back

How open source got its groove back

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IBM VP Daniel Frye says his company has worked with universities and local entrepreneurs to help develop open-source expertise. 
Photo by Michael Cogliantry
Arguably more important than culture is the business model that worked well for technology-rich regions like Silicon Valley and the ring of tech companies around Boston and Seattle that is also at play in Portland. That is, marry the interests of industry technology heavyweights and entrepreneurs with technology education.

The tech heavyweights in this case are IBM and Intel. They have long provided a core employment base for hundreds of open-source programmers. They also underwrite open-source education efforts by sponsoring local industry conferences as well as funding targeted university computer science programs in Oregon.

Daniel Frye helped create IBM’s Linux Technology Center in Beaverton in 1999. It was established in the area, says the company’s vice president for open systems, because he lived here. Now there are more than 700 developers in his group spread out across the globe in a half dozen countries and even more states. Still, Frye says IBM does often recruit open-source experts to relocate to the area. So 100 of them reside in Oregon. That core of local developers helped spur IBM to become one of the major sponsors of OSCON since its arrival in Portland in 2003.

Like IBM, Intel’s cadre of open-source developers are scattered around the world. But the company’s Open Source Technology Center is based in Beaverton. Doug Fisher is vice president of software and services group and manages the Center. He calls Oregon “a hub of open-source work.” In large measure, he says, it’s because “Oregon tends to be a place where a lot of software developers reside.”

Even with that residence preference, companies like Intel can never get too many talented workers to choose from. So it has funded a course at Oregon State University devoted to the methods used by open-source developers to build software. Giant companies like Intel as well as startups want newly minted computer science graduates to be open-source savvy, says Carlos Jensen, an assistant OSU professor in the school of engineering and computer science. So it put together an innovative program for freshmen to teach them about open source early in their college career. Intel gave OSU $210,000 to underwrite the effort.