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Open Source and a Healthy Dose of Capitalism

This is part of a series of posts about decisions we’ve made at Sentry over the last 15 years. I genuinely feel we’ve been through a lot with Sentry and our learnings provide value to others. More so, I believe most people in this industry, most successful people, do others a disservice by not having honest conversations about the hardships and endurance it takes to succeed.

Sentry’s been talking a lot about our Open Source values lately, but it’s still only a glimpse of how we’ve operated over the years. There’s one area we’ve invested that I think more companies could learn and benefit from: funding developers who contribute to your projects. This will be a quick read, but I’m hoping it convinces you to give this approach some more thought.

Since as early as Sentry started generating revenue we started investing it back into the project. Not on our own salaries, but on giving back to the community in a variety of ways. One of those ways was to identify people who were helping the project and offer them a running contract. That is, if we saw someone contributing in a meaningful way to one of our repositories, we’d offer them a standing hourly contract paying them for their time. We didn’t need to do this, but we recognize they value they added, and in some cases these were serious time commits that people were voluntarily spending.

This was particularly beneficial for areas where we lacked expertise. Sentry has to support every runtime out there, and while it’s amazing that folks contributed back open source clients for many of these, that on its own isn’t enough to run a stable business. We needed stronger guarantees on our ability to support and maintain those SDKs, and we simply were incapable of bringing on enough dedicated engineering support to pull that off. So instead, we tried to identify contributors who might be willing to help us with those challenges, and as everyone should, we paid them to do so.

There are other experimental models of this in terms of bounty programs within a few startups these days (Polar for example), but they’re all trying to achieve the same thing: bringing a healthy dose of capitalism on to an ecosystem that is continuously overwhelmed. Time will tell if these models work, but I personally think they’re great experiments, and we’re certainly going to continue investing in our contributors.

While not many of you actually build your product in the open, I bet you still have a variety of open source components you ship. Often those components are API bindings (SDKs if you will), and often they’re in a variety of programming languages. That’s a great area to fund your community.

Some folks are going to have odd fear to this approach: what if those free contributions go away. So what if they do? Are they really deserved in the first place?

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