Open Source Work Is Work

October 5, 2022 Published by Per Ploug, Open Source Tech Lead

Back in June, I presented the current state of Spotify’s open source activities to our developers as part of our internal Spotify Engineering Conference, aka SpEC. In the presentation, I go over where we currently are with our open source efforts, what challenges we face, and the vision for where we are going. 

Centered around the principle of “Open Source Work Is Work”, my talk outlined how our approach to open source is not well-aligned with our engineering operating principles — and how misalignment can cause unhealthy side effects for projects, which impacts quality and longevity. I also presented the principles under which we wish to steer our open source activities in the future.

The key takeaway is this: if we want to have a significant impact, we have to make open source work as similar to our internal ways of working as possible. We’ve identified five key areas that will do just that:

  1. Establish ownership. Similar to how we manage our internal code base, the starting point for everything is establishing ownership — because clear ownership establishes clear accountability.

  2. Ownership should be sustainable. Budgeting time within your regular working hours for maintaining your projects. Open source work is not exclusively for those who have weekends and evenings to do it.

  3. It’s OK to be ambitious, but set clear goals. You should have the freedom to chase both big bets and tiny experiments — but be mindful of why you want to do what you want to do before you set out to do it.
  1. Measure, learn, and adapt. Metrics should be in place so that we can make data-driven evaluations about whether a project is successful. Sometimes things won’t work out, and that’s fine. We would rather have 20 great projects than 300 poor ones.

  2. Be mindful of your external dependencies. Lack of sustainability in the broader open source ecosystem is a risk for us, and so we must invest accordingly, which we do both through our FOSS fund and by making upstream contributions.

Spotify has long been known for its distinctive engineering culture and ways of working. By  adhering to principles like the importance of ownership, setting clear goals, making data-driven decisions, and reacting quickly, we’ve been able to continue to scale our impact and maintain the quality of our engineering — even as the business has grown into a true platform for hundreds of millions of listeners and tens of millions of creators and artists uploading to Spotify. 

It’s only natural that we apply these same principles to our open source work, so that we can make an impact beyond Spotify, as well. To learn more about these principles and how we’re treating open source work as work at Spotify, watch my presentation video above. Otherwise, see you in the repos!