This GivingTuesday, I'm issuing a challenge to all startups to support the open source software they use to build on. It's become easier than ever to support the tools that provide the backbone for your companies. And to back this up, I've been authorized to offer a 50% discount for startup companies to support NumFOCUS at the Emerging Leader sponsorship level. That's right instead of the usual $5K - 10K, we're asking for only $2,500 to join the community that provides a stable, usable, open software ecosystem required for building technical startups.
Who is NumFOCUS?
NumFOCUS is a 501(c)(3) public charity in the United States. NumFOCUS envisions an inclusive scientific and research community that utilizes actively supported open source software to make impactful discoveries for a better world.
The mission of NumFOCUS is to promote open practices in research, data, and scientific computing by serving as a fiscal sponsor for open source projects and organizing community-driven educational programs.
What is the value?
This day, just a few days after our national feasting, shopping, and internet buying, we are asked to give back to the world. What better way than to fund science? Science builds cures for disease, unlocks the mysteries of the universe, and helps all Earth's inhabitants live better lives. Scientific communities also build software. That software has become a backbone to our digital economy. The challenge is that the scientific community cannot support the need of the entire technical community, which is where NumFOCUS comes in. By investing in a community of practice, you are ensuring timely releases, security fixes, and a healthy governance to sustain the software projects.
For a glimpse of what the money is used for, here is a list of funded projects through our Small Development Grants program. This program was set up to get project the money to iterate on small maintenance needs that are not being funded by major institutions or grants. Through this program NumFOCUS Sponsored and Affiliated Projects have improved usability of their tools, grown their communities, and sped up the time to major releases. Below is just a snapshot of the work that NumFOCUS enabled through our rounds of funding in 2019:
Proposal Title: Improving and modernizing the introductory “Getting Started” pages of the pandas documentation
Proposal Title: SciPy Development Documentation Overhaul
Proposal Title: Cantera Packaging and CI Infrastructure Upgrades
Proposal Title: Developing Spectroscopic Reduction Tools
Proposal Title: Organize Gensim Documentation & Improve Discovery
Why I give
The investment in this community builds better businesses in numerous ways. It's not just about giving back, its about making sure your software can be supported and protecting your users from the predatory practices of software vendors. Let's go through why I choose to build data software with NumFOCUS projects.
First, and most obvious, it allows me to build software free of onerous licenses and fees. This is essential for scientists who usually don't have a spare $100K to install the latest ML platform on their ad hoc clusters managed by graduate students. This allows me to move faster and more precisely than many of my colleague in enterprises. Need to add a new datatype in NumPy, there's a tutorial for that. Need to build a better interpolation function to evaluate your error, there is a tutorial for that. My companies do not go seeking out sales reps to add new features to our software, we do it ourselves faster than you can get a pricing quote from most vendors. While saving thousands of dollars is nice, the rapid iteration on the software is priceless.
Second, building on NumFOCUS projects gives a firm foundation to build my own software platforms. Since development and usage is in the open, I have access to understand what is happening in the platform. I don't have to fear the software provider stopping support or hitting a bug that no one has ever seen before requiring an extra level of support contract to talk to a technical representative. I once spent 2 hours a day for 4 days on the phone with the PowerBI team trying to learn why my Microsoft account was incompatible with the PowerBI account. The fix was kinda crazy: register a new domain name, set up email forwarding, and create a new Microsoft account. Truth is I wasn't their customer, enterprises were and even giving me a phone number was a courtesy. How many times do we seek out the one person who knows how to fix some vendor bug at a corporate conference? With open platforms, there are more people who know the system and if it is a hard bug, there are always folks looking for a contract to go figure it out for you. Want to make a maintainers weekend, pay them $1000 to fix your bug, far cheaper than flying to conferences, gold level support contracts or spending 4 days working through an IT Helpdesk.
Finally, the reason I support the community is to have a community who can keep building great software. It's no secret that hiring good developers is maddeningly hard. The number of recruiters seems to be growing exponentially but the number of candidates linearly. By building on the community software, I don't need high paid recruiters on staff, I can ask the community who wants to work with me. People who have invested in learning the inside out of the tools and like contributing make amazing employees. They already like helping people or they wouldn't dare deal with the craziness of open source software maintenance. Additionally, they have an intellectual curiosity that has guided them to communities that value good software. I've never regretted hiring a software developer from an open source community, even paying for time to contribute to the project.
The reasons can go on but I'll stop here to keep it brief. It's simple, we as founders, entrepreneurs, data heads, or even team leads need solid open source software to build great platforms. The community needs money to keep maintaining their software. Here's your chance to do the minimum to get in the game.
How to proceed
You can find me at:
- email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- twitter: @aterrel
- IRL: https://pydata.org/austin2019/