Last night I had the pleasure of meeting Travis Oliphant, one of the primary creators of Numpy and and founder of Anaconda. He’s currently the CEO of OpenTeams, a company attempting to change the relationship between open source software and the companies that build on top of it. I found out about the lecture and was interested in it because of an article I had read in Wired about technology’s free rider problem, and went to the event without knowing anything much at all about Mr. Oliphant. I soon found out who he was and was very grateful that I had come. I’ve spent a lot of time using Numpy, and I’ll admit I was a bit starstruck.
Travis’s lecture spawned from his experience working on Numpy. He basically gave up tenure track at Brigham Young University to work on it, and had to find other ways to support his family for the two years that he was working on the initial release. As was noted elsewhere, much of the tech boom over the past 20 years has been built on top of the contributions of FOSS developers like Travis and others. He’s a big believer of profit, and thinks that the lack of financial incentives in the FOSS space has caused several problems, including developer to burnout, leading to a lack of proper maintenance of these projects. Many of these projects, like Numpy, have become crucially important to the scientific and business community.
Oliphant’s goal is to make open source sustainable. Quansight is a venture fund for companies that rely on OSS, one of the ones they’ve funded is a public benefit corporation called FairOSS, which hopes to support OSS developers through contributions from companies that use OSS. He’s also doing something very similar with OpenTeams, hoping to follow Red Hat’s model of supporting Open Source by providing support contracts for various projects.
These are all very worthy goals, and I was both impressed and inspired by his talk. It’s opened up some interesting career opportunities. I recently took my first developer payment through GitCoin recently, and it was a bit of a rush. Getting paid to work on Open Source Software seems like an awesome opportunity, and I’ll be keeping an eye on this for potential post-graduate plans.