Getting an inside track on open source

These companies swear by the strategic advantages gained when their IT workers contribute to open-source projects. But strict guidelines are paramount.

Project management teamork

Michael Bryzek saw open source playing a big role in his company's IT infrastructure, right from the start.

The CTO and co-founder of online retailer Gilt Groupe, Bryzek built the eight-year-old members-only shopping site using the Web framework Ruby on Rails, the Linux operating system and the object-relational database system PostgreSQL -- all open-source tools.

He says open source doesn't have the "friction" -- that is, sticking points like contractual limits -- that typically come with commercial products. He also says his engineers can be more creative and innovative with open source.

"We know open source works. It's super successful. So why not just adopt it?" he says.

But Bryzek isn't just a proponent of using open source; he supports contributions back to open-source projects, too. And he isn't just speaking as a techie interested in using open-source tools as a technical exercise; he's also speaking as an executive who sees corporate benefits in letting his employees participate in open-source communities.

"In the scientific community, sharing has always been a cornerstone. Open source is that [cornerstone] for the software community. So when we think about the people we want to attract and those most successful here, they're well-trained scientists and engineers," Bryzek says. "And we find that what motivates this group the most is the ability to make their own decisions, to see the results of their work, and to share their work. Open source is one expression of that."

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