With 3 million GitHub accounts, the UK is the leader in open source in Europe. A unique organization, OpenUK, is working to create a cohesive business community and advocating for UK leadership and international collaboration in open technology.
In this interview recorded at the Open Source Summit in Vancouver, OpenUK CEO Amanda Brock explains what OpenUK is all about and shares what is happening in the UK, particularly in the open source arena.
What is OpenUK:
- It is an industry organization for open technology in the UK. “Open technology” means open-source software, open hardware, and open data.
- While it is about the business of open technology, its focus is on individuals in its geographic location. It does not matter if the individuals work for UK companies, international companies, or home-grown companies.
- It brought together an incredible group of people who are leaders in open technology across the UK.
- It operates on 3 pillars: Community, Legal and Policy (taking their collective voice and having impact on laws and policies in the UK), and Learning (building the skills for the future).
On OpenUK’s focus on people:
- When you create code, you have to be able to communicate with others about it, you have to build a community around it, and you have to have collaboration and contributions. Then, when others come into the community, all sorts of other things happen, such as documentation, training, and skills development.
- An ecosystem of people is built around the code because it is people who create the code. The code does not dictate them.
Current trends in the UK:
- In Europe, the UK is number one in open source, ahead of Germany and France. It hit 3 million GitHub accounts, which is 4.5% of its population, more than any country in the world.
- It has strong grassroots movement as well as a lot of leadership.
- Startup companies are beginning to scale. Historically, it didn’t have them because 1) There was a lack of skills around business commercialization. OpenUK is actively working on educating people in that space. 2) Failure was considered embarrassing and frowned upon. People did not have that chutzpah attitude and higher risk tolerance as some of the startups in the US. 3) There was no funding from people who understand open and open source.
- The UK has more unicorns now than the rest of Europe.
- When the UK hosted the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), people began to focus on sustainability of the environmental landscape as well as the sustainable development goals from the UN.
- OpenUK participated in setting the sustainability agenda, creating a blueprint for data centers and electric vehicle charging. Open source will have a much more elevated status in the next few years in that sustainability agenda.
What’s driving the UK government to understand open source:
- Inevitability. Currently bidding for the UK healthcare data platform is an open-source vendor and a UK consortium with open-source players.
- Realization that the critical national infrastructure, the platform economy, the cloud economy is built on open source. Therefore, it needs to be secure, well maintained, and well curated.
- The government wants the UK to be the next Silicon Valley. There are a lot of people who are working on that, but they haven’t really understood the ways to do it and how to do it the best way possible. They need a better understanding of open source.
- They want to learn to collaborate, and there’s nobody better to teach collaboration than the open-source community.
- OpenUK will do reporting around the economics of contributing to open-source projects, why the developers contribute when they contribute, and whether individuals are contributing as part of their company role or in their own time. This differentiation is hard to make and there are not enough statistics around it.
- A keynote speaker at the Summit mentioned that they see an increase in open-source participation when there’s a recession. It could be because a lot of the developers who are unemployed have time to make contributions.
- It could also be that developers want to improve their CV. People become highly employable and sought after. There’s probably no better way to show an employer your skills as an engineer than to be doing open source.
This summary was written by Camille Gregory.