Creating Jobs the Open Source Way

December 4, 2009

by Jim Whitehurst, President and CEO

Yesterday I had the honor of attending President Obama’s Jobs and Economic Forum at the White House. The event gathered around 130 leaders from U.S. companies, small business, academia, labor unions and government to talk about job creation and how to jump start the economy as we look to emerge from the global economic recession.

Just this morning the Department of Labor released the latest unemployment rates for November 2009. Unemployment has ballooned to a staggering 10% in the United States. These numbers may seem daunting, and there won’t be any quick fixes, but I see a lot of opportunity for government and business to apply the core concepts of open source to help spur job creation.

Many interesting ideas were discussed for getting people back to work. Things like changes in tax policies to spur hiring, public sector investments in infrastructure, initiatives to encourage lending, and efforts to reduce uncertainty that discourage so many businesses from hiring . . . . just to name a few. These are great ideas, and I’m sure many will be acted upon to help restart job growth.

That said, as the leader of Red Hat, I think I bring a different perspective. As indicated in our recent filings, Red Hat has grown – both revenue and people – and has done so at a double digit pace in the worst recession of modern times. And so, while it is important to restart job growth in stagnant areas of the economy, I think it is just as important to look to approaches that are working to inform our country’s broader economic efforts.

So why has Red Hat thrived throughout the economic downturn? From a product-market perspective the answer is clear. This recession has been a wake-up call for many CIOs, who have been asked to deliver more value with reduced budgets, to look to open source. In the process, they’ve found that not only is open source a cost-effective solution, but it’s also secure, reliable, robust and effective in increasing productivity and meeting mission-critical IT infrastructure needs.

But whyhave we been able to deliver these benefits in a way that no other competitor can? The simple answer is that Red Hat has leveraged the power of participationto deliver value to our customers that no individual company has matched. The power of participation is real! From Wikipedia and the Human Genome Project to Facebook and Red Hat, many 21st century successes are built around architectures of participation. There is a growing base of academic research and empirical examples: more and more innovation will occur via open networks of participation.

In order to create and sustain real, long-term, high value jobs, we must recognize and harness the power of participation to drive innovation in this country. The suggestions I made yesterday were in the spirit of ensuring that government policies and initiatives foster participation at a national level. Specifically,

  1. We must invest in education to address key skills gaps. Three things come to mind:
    • Increase our absolute investments in education and training. There are many, well established vehicles for this.
    • Leverage the power of technology to enhance the learning experience. We must seek ways to leverage the low cost and rich multimedia capabilities of technology to augment traditional education techniques and help capture the imaginations of the new generation.
    • Establish policies to accelerate broad access to learning materials and promote open collaboration among educators in creating, developing and continuously improving course materials and curricula. Explicit support for initiatives like the OpenCourseWare project would be a good start.
  2. We must ensure every American has access to the World Wide Web so that each person has the opportunity to participate – be that in software, government, or society in general. Specifically,
    • We need a national broadband policy to make access ubiquitous.
    • We need to ensure equal access and use of the network, i.e. Net Neutrality.
  3. We must ensure there are no artificial barriers to collaborative innovation. Specifically, we must reform the patent system as it relates to business methods and software patents. In areas where open networks of collaboration are powerful, impediments like software patents severely limit the innovation we need to create jobs.
  4. We must continue to encourage a culture of transparency, openness and collaboration. Red Hat is successful because we directly leverage the knowledge and experiences of our customers and partners and contributors via the open source model. This administration is doing the same with government, and I think we should applaud their efforts. Yesterday was a great example: bringing business, labor, academic, government and non-profit leaders together is a powerful thing. I know there were a few voices who dismissed the session as a “media stunt.” At one time, there were also voices who dismissed Red Hat’s open source model as “good for hobbyists” . . . and now our products power the infrastructure of the New York Stock Exchange. We can do more when we work together. Never underestimate the power of participation.

Red Hat has built a successful, growing S&P 500 business on the power of open source, not just as a development model, but as a business and organizational model. While ours isn’t the only solution, I do believe business, government and society can unlock the value of information and create good, long-term jobs by sharing and working together.

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