OSS career pathways

One of the biggest challenges for an OSS team is finding (and keeping) resources that know the industry, know their technologies and know why / how their OSS helps their customers (ie tripods).

One approach is to get battle-hardened OSS resources from outside, put them into senior positions, and build teams around them. This approach might work in other industries, but is much tougher in OSS because all technical solutions are vastly different. Besides, delivering benefits tends to only come from knowing the technical solutions and back-stories intimately. Customers also tend to have vastly different approaches.

Some individuals have such a wealth of experience that they can walk in and contribute from day 1, but will still take months to reach their most productive levels. Even longer to build the tribal knowledge that allows stuff to happen.

That’s why my preferred team building approach (in OSS at least), is to promote from within. Get great junior staff and let them build their careers from the ground up, building up the experiences that carry them and the team forward.

In most cases, it’s much harder to find the right person for a senior role than to build the pathways for your team. Pathways come from many places. Operators, Testers, Coders, Documentation, Engineering and Support give an outstanding product knowledge, leading to more influential roles such as Product Leads, Business Analysis, Enterprise / Solution Architecture. Project Coordination and Governance roles track towards leading teams. They are all building up the tribal knowledge on your specific solutions, environment and customers that no outsider can immediately replace. They’re all pathways to building those oh-so-valuable tripods.

[One interesting contradiction though – the big benefit of hiring from outside is the influx of new ideas you get from an experienced hire. It makes sense to not “always” hire newbies. Hopefully you have a team of trusted OSS consultants who you can call upon for “outside” ideas too :D]

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