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When your whole business revolves around open source, community participation, and upstream-first development, it's a reasonable assumption that you’re going to get asked about how all of that works. 

Oh, do we ever.

And it’s not like we’re secretive about it. My colleagues in the Open Source Program Office have posted guides, FAQs, and white papers. We’ve had then Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst do TED talks. He even wrote a book! Yet still, there are a lot of individuals and organizations who will come up to us and ask us how Red Hat makes this all work.

A question that gets asked a lot is usually along the lines of this: "how can we manage what our developers contribute to open source projects?" A variation on this is often: "how can we control which projects our developers contribute to?"

The truth is… we don't try. When we answer this question, we often explain that our associates are free to contribute to any open source project they want, on the company’s time or on their own time. (If it's on the company's time, there's some expectation it relates to their job, of course.) What the specific project was did not matter, so long as we were contributing to open source projects and we were doing so under whatever governance and contribution guidelines were in place for that project.

But there was always one question that caught us up short: "Do you have this written down somewhere?"

The reason it was difficult was because, at least until the Spring of 2019, Red Hat did not have a policy or guidelines written down. If you looked across the company, there were some team-level guides scattered around here and there, some documents on what to do with third-party contributor guidelines (tl;dr—check with our legal team), and one long-standing sentence in the Code of Business Conduct and Ethics that said that participation in an open source project is not a conflict of interest. And that was pretty much it.

This might seem a shocking omission for a company that lives and breathes open source, but it is because of that total immersion that we never put down in writing how to participate in open source projects. 

We just do open source. So, despite the many times a customer, partner, or curious community member asked, we had not documented our contribution practices.

Writing it down

In the spring of 2019, the Open Source Program Office decided that it was time to change that. Naturally, Red Hat being Red Hat, we wanted to do it in an open and collaborative way. We partnered with the legal team, drafted an initial document, and then opened it up to the entire company to weigh in. The feedback was very positive and extremely collaborative. The result was Red Hat’s first open source contribution guidelines, published internally in late 2019.

To be clear, this document was never intended to remain internal indefinitely. The goal was always to have an external version of the document prepared and published as soon as possible. But life in early 2020 became more disrupted than expected, and so the project was delayed.

Until now.

Announcing the Red Hat Open Source Participation Guidelines

The Red Hat Legal Team and the Open Source Program Office are immensely thrilled to announce the publication of Red Hat’s Open Source Participation Guidelines on redhat.com as well as on GitHub under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

The Open Source Participation Guidelines reflect the values and culture of Red Hat in the most appropriate way possible: a collaboration of many associates working toward a common goal, documenting how Red Hat is committed to contributing to any free and open source project in the most collaborative ways possible.

This is a working document, used by Red Hat associates as a reference in case they have any questions about how they should be contributing to projects. Put together using The Open Decision Framework, this is a document that might seem a little rough around the edges. But it is a labor of many people and a collaboration that reflects what Red Hat believes within its culture.

These guidelines focus on the core practices that we strive to apply to all our work with open source communities: using open source whenever we can, participating as good citizens in open source projects, and "upstream first."

By sharing the open source participation guidelines, we hope to accomplish two goals.

First, we want to help as many people as we can to understand how open source works. Through development, content creation, event management—whatever form it takes, open source and collaboration can greatly benefit anyone who wants to commit to using these practices.

Second, these guidelines are here to tell a story. They are telling people that this is Red Hat; this is who we are. We are more than a little excited to be sharing this story, letting the world know once more:

We are open.


About the author

Brian Proffitt is a Manager within Red Hat's Open Source Program Office, focusing on content generation, community metrics, and special projects. Brian's experience with community management includes knowledge of community onboarding, community health, and business alignment. Prior to joining Red Hat in 2014, he was a technology journalist with a focus on Linux and open source, and the author of 22 consumer technology books. 

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