Last month, Microsoft surprised many people by announcing they are changing their .NET framework to be open source *and* cross platform. It’s a remarkable sea change for the tech behemoth that built a global empire steeped in the spirit of closed gates and proprietary code. Their new attitude speaks to how the world has changed in the past 15 to 20 years.
It reminds me of my own gradual evolution towards transparency and living a more open and exposed life, even as every new spate of headlines chronicles the pain caused by corporate data breaches, the doxxing of celebrities and private citizens alike, and the viral nature of human foibles that is the social sphere of the internet these days. Having grown up in the time before everyone had 24-hour access to one another, I always valued and guarded my privacy. As an Army broadcaster, one of the first tenets I learned at DINFOS (the Defense Information School) is that I should consider the mic “always on,” so I ensured my public utterances were fit for public consumption and would never bring embarrassment to myself or Uncle Sam. I have worked in other data-sensitive careers and have been responsible for the personally-identifying-information of many other people, from Social Security Disability claimants to victims of severe identity theft. I am keenly aware of the impact the loss of control over one’s personal information can bring (whether it be identifying data or simply personal brand or messaging.)
In recent years I have marveled at the way in which it seems many young people have little concern over the permanence of their every internet move. I know they realize that nothing is ever truly deleted, and yet they post photos and comments with which I suspect they may not want to be associated in the future. Then again, that could just be the bluster and exuberance of youth itself. I know I spoke more freely and with more (unearned) authority back before I learned how big and small the world really is. I just didn’t have the internet and a global community of strangers at my fingertips to act as my friends and provocateurs.
But now open source beckons, with its truly communal mechanics, its spirit of shared contribution and benefit. I sincerely appreciate the opportunities it affords, even while I steel my resolve as a new coder to have any work I may contribute evaluated and surely found wanting or begging for improvement. That daunting aspect is also the key to its beauty; of course the code can be improved. In my understanding, that is the very point of open source. (Is this what is meant by the wisdom of crowds? That our work is at its best when it is the product of many different perspectives and skills?) This system also lends a vitality to every coding project, as it is by necessity bigger, more permanent, than the work of any one person could ever be. Open source projects live on past their originators.
While this way of creating code has existed for many years, it is a philosophy that seems to be reaching critical mass if even Microsoft has finally embraced the inevitable. For myself and my own evolution, I look forward to finding a sweet spot, a balance between greater exposure and continued caution when either feels right.