How to Sponsor an Open Source Sprint

Your company's IT department probably depends on at least one open source application. The software does the job, is budget-friendly, and it has an active open source community which is constantly upgrading the application. But few applications are perfect, whether proprietary or open source. While the software may do most of what your business needs, you may consider having a few in-house developers add customizations. That's a perfectly reasonable idea. But there may be a better way that benefits the community, is dirt cheap, and oh yeah - is also fun.

In short: In an open source sprint, you can add new functionality to your most important application for less money than your marketing department spent last month on a single fancy client dinner.

A sprint (sometimes called a Code Jam or hack-a-thon) is a short time period (three to five days) during which software developers work on a particular chunk of functionality. "The whole idea is to have a focused group of people make progress by the end of the week," explains Jeff Whatcott, senior vice president of marketing for Brightcove.

An open source project may organize a sprint on its own, but it's also possible for your company to sponsor such an event. Doing so is easier, faster, and less expensive than an IT manager may imagine. Here's what's involved, based on input from several sponsoring organizations. Perhaps you'll be inspired to sponsor a sprint yourself.

It cost how little?!

For many IT managers, the most compelling reason for the company to sponsor a sprint is financial, because you just might be able to cover the costs out of petty cash.

That's because a sprint's basic logistics are fairly simple. For example, the sprint being organized by Brightcove's Whatcott will be held at the online video platform company's offices in Cambridge, MA. Brightcove, which wanted to help the Drupal community improve its video support in the content management system, will give the open source developers a conference room, provide a projector and Internet access - and then will mostly get out of the way.

As another example, ONE/Northwest, a Seattle nonprofit that provides technology and communications strategy assistance to environmental advocacy organizations, organized a two-day sprint to focus on adding specific functionality to an add-on module for the Plone content management system. The half-dozen or so developers were local, with one exception. "We covered travel expenses to bring lead PloneFormGen developer Steve McMahon to Seattle from his home in Davis, CA," says Jon Stahl, director of web solutions at ONE/Northwest. "Our total 'hard' cost was on the order of $300." ONE/Northwest provided the office space and beer.

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