Jonas Rosland Jonas Rosland

Building the {code} Team and {code} Community.

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This article originally appeared as a chapter in The Open Organization Workbook and on

No one working in cloud and data centers should be surprised that organizations have changed how they run their IT departments. Applications are written and deployed differently, moving away from monoliths to microservices. Organizations operate their data centers by applying development principles to operations through open source software and community collaboration. Open source software is used heavily in development, testing, and production. In a survey done in 2016, 90% of respondents say open source improves their efficiency, interoperability, and innovation, and 65% of companies are contributing to open source projects.

This type of “innovation-through-openness” has proven that global collaboration on code and inclusivity of diverse intellectual contributions advance the technological state of the art and solve problems faster.

Recognizing this shift, Dell Technologies (whose family of brands include Dell EMC) knew that—in order to stay relevant in the data center and software infrastructure of the future—it needed to invest in its own open source initiative. When reaching out to users to understand why they were adopting open source software, it wasn’t necessarily about cost or that they wanted to contribute back to the project. The main reasons users wanted open source was that it provides them with freedom, innovation, flexibility, and integration:

  • Users want the freedom to run software anywhere, for any purpose
  • Users want the opportunity to innovate, develop and participate in open source projects
  • Users want the flexibility to choose the software and hardware that fits their needs
  • Users want to be able to integrate software with existing infrastructure

On August 29, 2014 {code} launched as a strategic initiative with support from executive management. Three main principles drive {code}’s approach to open source:

  1. Open source efforts are developed in the best interests of the community
  2. Projects are executed with complete transparency and openness
  3. Open source technologies are made to be consumable by the widest range of users and organizations

The {code} Team contributes to and creates open source projects, acts in the interest of building a community, and drives awareness of emerging technology trends. It consists of three programs, each operating with these core tenets in mind: the {code} Community, the DevHigh5 program, and the {code} Catalyst program.

The {code} Community started in June 2015, and has grown to more than 4,800 members who have open dialogues across company boundaries on topics ranging from contributions to cloud native projects, persistent storage in containers, virtual reality, and hardware hacking. Members include developers, project managers, users, recruiters, and tinkerers.

Through the DevHigh5 program, {code} has created and shepherded more than 100 open source projects which solve community challenges. Through guidance, promotion, and community support, these projects are able to thrive and get the recognition they deserve.

The {code} Catalyst program brings together passionate open source aficionados from across the globe. The program is focused on promoting their work and establishing an ecosystem of creative individuals who improve and move open source forward.

This article explains how {code}’s community-oriented approach has helped Dell Technologies and Dell EMC achieve new innovations through its participation in community-focused efforts that focuses on transparency, inclusivity, and collaboration.

Introducing the {code} Community

“We need a way to communicate with other developers who are interested in open source.”

That statement drives the {code} Community and its activities. In 2015, the {code} Team identified the need for a place where internal and external developers could communicate, collaborate on projects, and promote their work. With this in mind, the team crafted a plan to build a community of and for open source developers. When {code} looked at different methods of communicating across teams and company borders, the team noticed that there were several modern approaches available—something other than distribution lists and forums—eventually leading to the decision to adopt Slack as the community’s primary platform for communication and collaboration.

At the time, there were no indications that the {code} Community would ever grow as large as it has, encompass as many people and projects as it currently does, or have as big an impact on the wider organization as it currently does.

On June 18, 2015, the doors to the {code} Community on Slack opened, and invitations were sent to internal employees who were already involved in or wanted to know more about open source. Shortly after that, {code} established a public community website to make sure people could join without needing a personal invitation. The {code} Community quickly grew to 30 members, then 50, then 100, and, within just nine months, reached 1,000 members. The most amazing aspect of this growth was that internal employees weren’t the only people participating; users, partners, and customers of open source projects from {code} all wanted to interact and collaborate. Even direct competitors are part of the {code} Community, which says a lot about the nature of the open source community itself.

Since the {code} Community is open to everyone, everyone needs to follow the rules of the community. Community members must all agree to adhere to the Code of Conduct before they are able to join, and guidelines for contributing to different parts of the {code} Community are communicated to every new member with an automated message as soon as they join. Based on these ground rules, the {code} Community members engage each other in collaboration at both strategic and engineering levels. The members continuously discuss new ideas and challenges around cloud native projects, persistent storage in containers, virtual reality, hardware hacking, drone racing, and much more. They help each other get inspired, suggest reading and learning material, and debug and fix issues, regardless of organizational affiliation.

By the time the {code} Community celebrated its second anniversary in June 2017, it had more than 3,600 members. It’s still growing at an exponential rate, leading up to more than 5,000 members in December of 2017.

By having an open mindset and using modern communication and collaboration tools, the {code} Community has worked to institute best practices for how Dell Technologies integrates into the open source community. There are large and small open source projects run in the open by Dell Technologies’ employees and business units, shared between and collaborated on with thousands of community members. This direct feedback-loop enhances innovation, speeds up development and shows that Dell Technologies is focused and invested in the future of open source software, driving the future of IT.

The DevHigh5 program

“How can we make it easier for users, partners, and employees to open source and promote their projects?”

That question drives the DevHigh5 program. After starting the {code} Team, it was quickly realized that many individuals within the organization shared the belief that software should be open source and shared with the world. Employees had been working on tools, scripts, and applications to augment existing products and solutions, and the {code} Team was delighted to see that this was not just a one-time occurrence but rather that ongoing projects lived and thrived in the open source community. The fact that there was a group of individuals who were interested in contributing and giving back to the open source community made the creation of the DevHigh5 program easier than anticipated.

The DevHigh5 program was launched in November 2014 to recognize and promote open source contributions from users, partners, and employees. This promotion is done through social media, prominent placement on the {code} Team’s project site, guest blog posts, newsletter, visibility at open source tradeshows, and featured conference sessions. DevHigh5 projects range from those developed by individuals to those developed by business units.

The DevHigh5 program helps projects go from unpublished to fully open sourced. The program gives guidance on how to structure the project code; helps with naming, documentation, licenses, and logos; and gives the project a place in the {code} Community to continue working on the project in the open.

Throughout the lifespan of the DevHigh5 program, many project owners have approached the {code} Team with questions about how to run projects in the open, build communities around their projects, and work as good open source citizens. They ask for guidance on how to best approach the open source community, how to share information without sharing confidential IP, and how get feedback and contributions on projects by utilizing the {code} Community. The {code} Team has been very fortunate to see many of these interactions end up in successful open source projects such as REX-Ray and RackHD, with internal staff, external partners, and users working and collaborating side by side in the open to create and innovate.

By being inclusive and acting in the interest of building a community focused on promoting the work of others, the DevHigh5 program has shepherded and promoted more than 100 open source projects. This has helped to support an open culture between Dell Technologies and its users, partners, and employees—leading to more customer deployments, faster feedback loops, and greater innovation that enrich both the community and the business value it provides.

The {code} Catalyst program

“How can we help promote the work of great open source minds across the world, and create an ecosystem of those who lead and advance emerging technologies?”

That question guides the third and final component of {code}’s community strategy.

As the {code} Community and its projects continued to grow in popularity, there was a need to expand the community to involve open source leaders who are passionate about new technologies and sharing knowledge.

Launched in December 2016, the {code} Catalyst program brings together prominent members of the open source community across the globe. The members are passionate open source aficionados, bloggers, professional speakers, book authors, community leaders, and developers. The program is designed to promote the work and advocacy of the {code} Catalyst members, and establish an ecosystem of creative individuals who improve and advance the open source space.

With the focus of the {code} Catalyst program being on global collaboration and promotion, individuals who may seem like competitors based on their respective organization affiliation are now part of the same community, all pushing for the same goal: bringing the best out of the open source community.

As a way of giving back to the open source community, the {code} Catalyst program covers several ways of supporting and promoting each member. This includes promoting their work on social media, producing public video interviews, supporting them in the CFP process, co-presenting to a global audience at virtual and physical events, participating in engineering roundtables, providing early access to project information, attending exclusive {code} Assemblies that bring together open source leaders at events worldwide, interacting with the {code} Community, and networking with industry luminaries.

{code} Catalyst members are seen as open source leaders and provide advancements in many areas of the open source community. They are teaching others by sharing knowledge in the {code} Community, presenting at monthly {code} Webinars or at global events, and blogging and writing on interesting open source topics. They are also a part of larger conversations around current and possible future {code} related projects, giving valuable feedback that helps inform project roadmaps. The members are also asked to give feedback on how to improve the program to ensure that the {code} Catalyst program is constantly growing and changing to become a better and more engaging place for everyone involved.

Final thoughts and conclusion

By focusing on transparency, inclusivity, adaptability, collaboration, and the {code} Community, a space has been created within Dell Technologies for open source to thrive. Several factors have led to the success of the {code} Team and the {code} Community:

  1. Executive support was critical for getting the open source initiative started and for its continued growth. This helped the {code} Team greatly when getting started as we needed to encourage other internal teams to fully understand open source and its consequences and benefits.
  2. The fact that there were already many individuals within the organization who shared our open source mindset helped make the transition from closed-source-only to open source-friendly an easier (but still daunting) task. This was the basis of the {code} Community and also drove the DevHigh5 program from the start. The support from the DevHigh5 contributors has been extremely important for the team’s mission and the community.
  3. The corporate support we received from legal for licensing and marketing for public relations ensured that projects were vetted and promoted properly. This led to having a simplified process that lowers the burden on the creators and on the {code} Team, while still ensuring accountability and responsibility when publishing open source code. This was crucial to the success of several open source projects.

Supporting the organization as it continues to shift toward becoming a large contributor has furthered Dell Technologies’ trajectory in this area. By being involved in open source projects, taking leadership roles, and embracing the community, we are now involved in many large open source projects that transform the way users all over the globe manage their IT. This provides high strategic value for the organization’s products and its relationships with its customers. This also strengthens our credibility with customers: Visible contribution to projects they are leveraging builds trust by demonstrating a commitment to a shared vision of future IT management.

By ensuring that the {code} Community, the DevHigh5 program, and the {code} Catalyst program are completely open to everyone, foster creativity, and value member contributions, {code} now has the ability to reach and collaborate with more people than ever before and be involved in new trends that are impacting the global IT market.