Illustration by MK

Open source is a collaborative design method where volunteers write software together, then publish it for others to reuse and improve upon.

From Barn Raising to Software Design

In the 1800’s, when a family needed a barn built, they’d put out the word and people from all over would volunteer to help and get the barn built in a single day.

Everyone would bring their tools, know-how, and muscle power to quickly design and assemble that barn, not leaving until it was done (well, maybe after dinner).

Every time people worked on a new barn, they’d learn something new and improve their skills. This collaborative effort would benefit the whole community over time.

Fast forward a century, and a bunch of developers created the open source software movement, to bring that same barn raising spirit to the tech world.

Developers got together virtually to volunteer and collaborate on pet projects – sharing code and ideas, and letting strangers re-use and build on their work without license fees.

At first, the business world laughed at open source software, thinking it couldn’t be any good because it was free and collaborative – and not motivated by profit.

But they were wrong. So many good developers were excited to work this way that the software they produced became as good or better than commercial products from individual companies. Examples include Linux (an operating system), Mozilla (a browser), and MySQL (a database)… all open source projects.

Open source today is an accepted and central part of the technology world… just like collaborative barn raising in the 1800s. The best developers today want to work on open source projects, and are expected to do so as part of a successful career.

Today’s Internet wouldn’t be nearly as good without the open source software they’ve created. It’s hard to beat the best software minds in the world all coming together (or carpenters from miles around) to make something great.