Business landscapes around the world are constantly evolving with every organisation clambering to innovate so that they can better react to the changing conditions in which they exist and uncover new opportunities to help them to drive their growth and profits. However, in a world where true innovation is scarce and many companies resort to rehashing old ideas, how do you foster an environment that truly cultivates ideation?

Why open-source?

Open-source software has seen its fair share of innovative languages, tools, frameworks, and products in recent years. Some notable examples include Docker, Kubernetes, Gatsby, React and Elasticsearch, not to mention numerous machine learning frameworks like Scikit-Learn, Tensorflow, and PyTorch. The most interesting element of this growth is the fact that a number of these open-source products and tools are generating revenue like regular software development companies that do not openly publish their source code, often through hybrid licensing or hosting. The industry as a whole is already estimated to be worth over $20bn and is expected to continue growing to reach around $33bn by 2022.

In 2014, Digital Ocean unveiled its first open-source hackathon, Hacktoberfest. The requirements have changed over the years but the core message has stayed the same: several contributions to public code repositories that positively impact the projects earn you a limited edition t-shirt and some stickers. Fast forward to 2020 and Hacktoberfest has grown to become a juggernaut that drives the open-source community to new heights year after year. Key metrics for the event have soared, from 768 participants in their first year to a whopping 61,871 completing the challenge in 2019 – an impressive growth of over 8,000 percent! But why has this explosive growth happened, and how does it affect businesses?

Why has this explosive growth happened?

Both open-source software and hackathons encourage collaboration between a number of skilled individuals, often rallying them around a single goal or challenge. This leads to a positive and collaborative environment for a number of like-minded people to bounce ideas off each other for new features (or even whole new products). In the case of hackathons, people are also motivated by the prospect of a reward or prize. Hacktoberfest’s offering of merchandise in return for contributions is part marketing campaign and part motivator, encouraging participation and contributions to both the event and the wider open-source community. This amalgamation motivates by fulfilling a number of elements from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, fostering a sense of esteem, belonging, and recognition amongst contributors, as well as also providing them with clothing and shared knowledge in return.

How does it affect businesses?

Over the years, a variety of well-known companies have contributed to, sponsored, and supported Hacktoberfest (notable examples ranging from Indeed to Twilio to Auth0). A handful of these, including Indeed and SendGrid (which has recently been acquired by Twilio), have published papers and hosted talks discussing their takeaways and the associated statistics from their participation in Hacktoberfest.

Companies participating in Hacktoberfest have seen the participation in their projects increase in recent years, helping to accelerate their product development. Umbraco recorded an increase of 40% in participation between 2018 and 2019, with the total number of pull requests in 2019 coming in at 436. Most recently, Indeed talked about the statistics from their internal Hacktoberfest events at DevRelCon Earth 2020. Between 2018 and 2019, they recorded an increase of 1,322 contributions and 170 pull requests. SendGrid saw the number of pull requests increase from 43 in 2016 to 1,249 in 2017, with over 1,000 of those being changes to source code. These pull requests equated to 1,385 story points of effort (equivalent to around 3.4 years’ worth of work!).

Innovation is vital in a highly competitive world, with each organisation scrambling to stay one step ahead of their competitors. Companies that participate in open-source hackathons and Hacktoberfest create a culture of innovation and are seeing dividends in the form of increased development velocity. Failing to iterate and innovate means that a business’ products or services can start to stagnate. This can be catastrophic in fast-changing markets. Cultivating and encouraging horizon scanning, ideation, and iteration through open-source channels such as Hacktoberfest are fundamental to survival in the modern world of business.

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