Microsoft embracing Open Source internally, pushing “Inner Source” initiatives

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Adopting open source development is one thing, but practicing it in everyday engineering is whole other cultural change, and one Microsoft seems to be taking very seriously these days.

According to a report from ZDNet reporter Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft will be embracing ‘Inner Source’ development methods internally to promote more open source-like development practices across the organization.

Contrary to my initial judgment, Microsoft is not looking to take open source development and proprietize it, but instead looking to use the same sorts of open source development methods such a more code sharing and editing amongst its disparate divisions and business interests. Inner sourcing has been around for some time and is a method used by several organizations to help foster better documentation of code development.

Back in November of 2018 a job listing more or less confirmed Microsoft’s new approach as the company was seeking a person to spearhead efforts to integrate inner source practices within the company.

Particularly, the job position would be accountable in identifying what changes to Microsoft’s internal engineering systems and culture are needed to make GitHub one of the tools available to Microsoft engineers, then partnering with both engineering system teams to drive those changes and with product and services engineering teams to adopt those changes so they can start using GitHub.”

  • Identify and design the changes needed to Microsoft’s internal engineering systems and culture to accommodate teams using GitHub
  • Work with an engineering team as a product owner to deliver new engineering system tools and services (and improve existing ones)
  • Partner with other Microsoft engineering system teams to drive the changes they need to make for GitHub use
  • Partner with product and service engineering teams that are interested in using GitHub to help them move

The newer job posting is presumably part of Microsoft’s 1ES (One Engineering System) group that will help the company streamline its core development processes across the entire business and help make better use of open source tools, services, and processes, according to Foley and a new job posting found from Senior Program Manager in Engineering.

The newer job posting continues to emphasize ‘inner source’ as the main component of Microsoft’s 1ES team building and development.

“The broader 1ES team is building the next generation of tools and practices to make engineers across Microsoft more productive and help them focus on building great software. This role is part of an initially small team tasked with bootstrapping, piloting, and ultimately scaling inner source across the company.

You will initially focus on baselining current efforts, finding partner teams across the company, articulating in detail the inner source business rationale and operational roadmap, and understanding opportunities and risks. A big part of your job will be to listen to engineers to understand what they find productive and what is just getting in their way, in order to deliver solutions that successfully address real customer problems and improve engineering satisfaction and productivity at Microsoft.”

In a sort of dogfooding move here, Microsoft’s company-wide inner source initiative is a real-world test bed of the scalability of the process which, if successful, is a major selling point for visiting, contributing and using GitHub and Azure DevOps in the near future. While Microsoft would be cautious to start monetizing any efforts from its GitHub acquisition, adding value propositions for its sales teams seem to be in the company’s peripheral business view.