How Developers are Driving Innovation Through Open Source Economy How Developers are Driving Innovation Through Open Source Economy
Agile may have started as a manifesto for software development in 2001, but its reach has expanded to include all parts... How Developers are Driving Innovation Through Open Source Economy

Agile may have started as a manifesto for software development in 2001, but its reach has expanded to include all parts of software organizations, even at scale. So how is this new generation of millennial Agile developers driving development through the open source economy? Let’s take a look.

The Influence of Developers

According to IBM Head of Developer Ecosystems, Mo Haghighi, a new generation of Agile developers is driving faster, better innovation. Big companies are turning to developers more than ever to influence purchasing decisions and decide major ecosystem issues such as primary language and systems.

Developers are driving these innovations because of the speed and efficiency of development outside the confines of traditional hierarchies and plans. Companies are actually sourcing developers already working with existing open source codes to find their next big drivers.

Haghighi pointed to a recent headline as an example. Developer David Markley purchased an Amazon Echo in 2016 while still in college and took up Amazon’s open source call, creating a simple Alexa skill, “Word of the Day.” It received considerable support, particularly in South Korea.

[Related article: 6 Ways Businesses Can Incorporate AI Into Their Products]

The skill was ultimately rejected by Amazon, but he pivoted his audience and code to create a word quiz, which was accepted. From there, he used the response to the quiz to create “Price It Right,” another interactive game. The game consisted of two simple skills with two simple interactions, but companies were paying attention. He’s now making $10,000 per month working with a company who headhunted his skills directly from his open source activity.

The Role of Open Source

So what does this mean for developers? Open source development is driving innovation through crowdsourcing. It’s Agile on a large scale, using people center interactions to create flexible solutions for what customers really want.

Haghighi mentions Mycroft AI, an open source AI solution currently rivaling much larger services like Alexa and Siri. It’s free to download and use, and more than 700 developers are already taking advantage of it.


“If your technology could understand human speech and respond naturally, what would you build?” Joshua Montgomery, CEO

Startups are proving you don’t need substantial engineering resources with massive investment to create the next big solution. However, Developer influence isn’t booming only in startups. Large companies are using this same open source system to source solutions driving massive innovation. Mycroft has already secured massive funding from just this open source code alone.

Why Open Source?

Open source is proving to be the next wave of Agile. It may seem counterintuitive to those accustomed to proprietary solutions of the past, but Open Source can actually be a massive driver for profit margins.

Open Source Economy

  • Cost reduction – better marketing, better development, better support. Companies can use open source to create thriving communities working together to test, improve, and respond to new code. The crowd also provides de facto support for early issues and late adopters.
  • Competition – Open source gives companies the chance to identify holes in products or service offerings currently making competition massive amounts of money and push back against those rivals. It’s a way to keep an eye on the competition right in the open.

The Developer’s Problem: How To Monetize

Open Source Economy

You can’t make a living on free, open source alone. For open source to be sustainable, you have to monetize. Fortunately, companies will gladly pay for premium versions of free software because it offers them assurance. Haghighi mentions WordPress, an open source web host that gives the average user plenty of free functionality but also provides enterprise solutions through massive paid subscriptions.

Developer Motivation

So why start in Open Source at all? Developer motivation for using open source instead of jumping to an enterprise solution right away aligns with all the principles of the original Agile Manifesto.

  • Freedom – less red tape and bureaucratic hierarchy
  • Giving back – the chance to make a real difference solving problems
  • Transparency – no proprietary code and plenty of documentation
  • Feedback – community and customer input
  • Learning – the chance to learn from other developers
  • Resume value – portfolio pieces

[Related article: Digital Transformation and Agile Decision-Making in Commerce]

How To Make Money

The practical side of making money from your open source software centers around support. Companies want scale and enterprise solutions they can’t get from community documentation and are willing to pay top dollar for it. Haghighi suggests offering:

  • tech support
  • consulting
  • training
  • documentation
  • added features/ plugins
  • dual licensing

Monetize the Right Way

Haghighi stresses that you can’t just throw up a paywall and leave it at that. Monetizing the right way is the only sustainable solution to making a living through open source development. The biggest piece to remember is building a community first.

Open Source Economy

Community drives the initial innovation through all the things mentioned above – documentation, innovation, learning, and feedback — using Agile principles to build robust solutions to everyday problems. Once a community is established, pivoting to a premium offer happens naturally.


Don’t charge too soon, Haghighi says, because open source paves the way for your code and solution to develop naturally over time and for premium solutions to solve problems your customers are actually having. You may lose out on valuable market research and valuable development time by taking open source off the table too quickly.

Watch Haghighi’s full talk here.

Elizabeth Wallace, ODSC

Elizabeth is a Nashville-based freelance writer with a soft spot for startups. She spent 13 years teaching language in higher ed and now helps startups and other organizations explain - clearly - what it is they do. Connect with her on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/elizabethawallace/