How Comcast does open source - Technical.ly Philly

Software Development

May 15, 2015 12:39 pm

How Comcast does open source

“We have an open source bias,” said Comcast senior fellow Jon Moore. Surprised? You’re not alone.
Jon Moore (left) and Arpit Mathur of Comcast.

Jon Moore (left) and Arpit Mathur of Comcast.

(Courtesy photo)

Full disclosure: Comcast was the title sponsor of Philly Tech Week 2015, which was organized by Technical.ly's events team.

Arpit Mathur was fed up.

His team at Comcast was working on an Android app but it was proving difficult and frustrating to incorporate an unconventional layout. So Mathur took matters into his own hands. He led a project to build a framework that could give Android developers more freedom with their user interface.

He called it FreeFlow and released it on GitHub for any developer to use or contribute to. It became one of the top trending items in the Java library for weeks, Mathur said. Just over a year later, it has been forked (i.e., copied to use as a jumping off point) nearly 350 times.

Some developers were surprised when they saw where FreeFlow lived: on Comcast’s GitHub’s page.

But Comcast has been a big user of and contributor to open source software for years, said Mathur, who’s been with Comcast since 2005 and has been involved in the open source community since then.

“We have an open source bias,” said Comcast senior fellow Jon Moore in a interview last month.

Comcast devs use open source tools like Cassandra, Hadoop and Node.js, have contributed 36,000 lines of code to the giant open source project OpenStack and encourage staffers to work on open source software because, as Moore put it, it’s “important to give back.” (Another example is Xooie, the Javascript framework that accessibility-focused developer Andrew Larkin worked on before he left the company last year.)

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Mathur said that his team’s work is noticeably higher quality when it’s open source, perhaps because it’s going to be in front of the larger developer community. It’s also a recruiting tactic: since much of Comcast’s work is proprietary, open source offers something for Comcast to point to.

“‘We’re awesome but we can’t tell you about it’ is not a great way to attract developers,” Moore said.

The latest development is Comcast’s new open source advisory council. Every open source project Comcast staffers want to release goes through the council, a group of six Comcast staffers, including Moore, intellectual property staffers and lawyers familiar with open source licenses.

FreeFlow was one of the first to go through the process, which Mathur said was quick and straightforward. It involves filling out a form that the council reviews, plus a short meeting with the council. It takes about a month. The council reviews less than ten applications a month but that number is going up, Moore said.

Formalizing the open source process helps developers figure out the best way to go about a project, Moore said. The council will make sure the project isn’t giving away any trade secrets, determines potential liabilities and makes sure developers are prepared to support the project into the future — Comcast wants these projects to “stay vibrant,” Moore said.

When asked if the formal process might add a layer of bureaucracy that would stifle open source innovation, Moore and Mathur said it didn’t. The council, Moore said, “doesn’t exist to say no to people.”

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Companies: Comcast
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