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Jyothi Bacche, Head, Open Source Practice, Mindtree talks to Linux For You about the promise open source holds for FOSS professionals and IT companies

Website: Linux For You (LFY)

MindTree Limited is a global IT solutions company specialising in IT services, independent testing, infrastructure management and technical support (IMTS), knowledge services and product engineering. Jyothi Bacche, Head, Open Source Practice, MindTree, talks to Vanisha Joseph of LFY about the promise open source holds for FOSS professionals and IT companies.

Q: India is witnessing a rising demand for open source technologies. Elaborate on the factors driving this demand and the resultant demand for FOSS/Linux professionals.

A: In India, there is a growing demand for open source experts with FOSS/open source becoming a hot favourite for fulfilling IT and product development requirements for companies across segments. Our own experience has shown an increasing demand for open source based frameworks especially in the area of content management, content creation, B2B portals, ecommerce, etc and also an interest from product companies to leverage open source tools to build a robust product. Thus, we see huge demand for FOSS professionals from both the ISV market and enterprise market. While most of this demand is generated across sectors, a lot of traction for open source is arising from the media, entertainment, retail and government sector.

Q: What are the advantages of using open source in project development?

A: Cost is a major advantage of using open source tools in project development as the proprietary counterparts are very heavy on the pocket. Further, with the growing maturity and stability of FOSS software, it is becoming de facto choice for IT companies looking at addressing dynamic business changes in an organisation or time-to-market needs as FOSS allows one to build a solution very quickly without worrying about run of the mill development work. Thus, one can focus on other priority tasks like hardcore IT building or addressing their business needs.

Q: But aren’t the advantages, especially the cost advantage, diluted if one chooses a nascent platform as they come with additional risks, development costs, etc?

A: It does effect if the company hasn’t evaluated the FOSS adoption early in the project phase. You most definitely cannot go and pick up any tool from the community. A nascent platform does involve more time in fixing problems/bugs and the cost advantage might get diluted as the development costs are high. Thus, there is a need to evaluate the tools, and maturity and feasibility are key factors that must be taken into consideration while evaluation.

Q: How does MindTree mitigate such risks?

A: We conduct extensive R&D and then arrive at tools/platforms suitable for our customers. Further, we have a governance model/methodology in place, under which we evaluate the tool based on the multiple dimensions like maturity, community activity, licencing restrictions, integration issues, etc to show the customer the depth of the software. We also try to map customer requirements and the open source tools/framework. This way we can warn them of roadblocks in using nascent or unstable platforms and mitigate risk regarding the same.

Q: What are the open source tools you use for project development?

A: MindTree being a services company uses a range of open source technologies. We extensively use the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP or Perl or Python) basket. We also work on the Linux kernel and various applications. With respect to operating systems, we use multiple flavours of Linux. We also use Android for our mobile-based applications and many business enterprise requirements are based on Java open source frameworks. We use the GNU C compiler for our Linux solutions.

Q: There is a lot of uncertainty on the future of MySQL. What has been MindTree’s experience?

A: We are keeping our fingers crossed at this point of time. Having said that, the uncertainty cloud over the future of MySQL has not affected any of our solutions yet. Our customer used to buy support from MySQL and they are continuing to do so as Oracle is supporting MySQL. Also, we haven’t had customers asking for competitor products like PostGres or Ingres. People still have faith in MySQL.

Q: What are MindTree’s open source offerings?

A: We offer open source based consulting services, development and implementation services. We also do separate evaluation of open source tools and frameworks for our customers. We focus on specific domains like content management systems and ecommerce for our open source solutions. We also offer Android-based mobile applications.

Q: At what levels has the community been involved @ MindTree? How have your developers contributed back to the community?

A: The community has always been crucial for us and we work on collaborating with the community. Such collaboration has advantages for both sides. It gives the community a business point of view allowing them to understand the user needs better based on our feedback. Alongside, it gives our developers a supporting hand, as the community has always been there to help them. For instance, our developers found bugs while using Richfaces, an open source Ajax enabled component library for JavaServer, and reported it to the community. The community resolved the issue for us. They have always been supportive to our engineers.

MindTree believes in a two-way collaborative effort with the community and initiatives like the release of Insight back to the community speak for it. Insight is an analysis tool developed as a collaborative effort by different project team members at MindTree. Apart from that, our FOSS developers actively participate in the community filing major bugs, suggesting code changes and ideating. We also sponsor user groups like JBoss and conduct tech talks for the whole community. Recently we had invited the FOSS community in Bengaluru for a session with Gavin King, the author of Hibernate.

Q: Could you elaborate on the strength of MindTree in terms of open source-trained resources?

A: Across the board, every developer knows open source frameworks as many open source frameworks or tools have become mainstream technology. Right from the time of induction, we impart training on common open source platforms/frameworks/tools like Spring framework.

Alongside, MindTree has an open source centre of excellence (CoE), which consists of professionals with in-depth knowledge and experience in open source technologies like LAMP, Drupal etc. Currently, we have around 150 niche open source professionals in our CoE. However, those numbers fluctuate based on the training programmes and external hiring that we undertake on an ongoing basis. This CoE has been the supportive hand behind every project we have executed. They have helped our customers successfully deploy new open source software and multiple open source platforms together, resolving integration issues etc.

Q: For a FOSS professional, a challenging work environment is crucial. How does MindTree ensure that?

A: We have never faced a problem where our open source CoE professional has complained about the lack of a challenging environment. The fact that we work with both ISVs and enterprises, give developers a good learning curve and a challenging work environment. Working with ISVs allows FOSS professional to be directly part of product engineering throwing a challenging technical environment. On the other hand, working with enterprises offers FOSS professionals not only technical challenges but also non-technical challenges in terms of integration issues and understanding the business domain.

Q: What kind of training/upgradation programmes do you have to help developers sharpen their skill sets?

A: Right from the induction programme, we focus on sharpening the developers FOSS skillsets. We give them training not just on basic Java but also common open source frameworks/tools. Further, we conduct formal training programmes on the latest versions of FOSS software or something new that we are planning to use. Such formal trainings are conducted once per quarter and stretch along 4-5 days.

We also have a mentoring system where in senior architects are expected to mentor technical leads, developers etc. Training is a key responsibility area (KRA) for senior architects. The developer/technical lead can also choose a particular mentor for learning a FOSS skillset. We also encourage internal discussion groups on open source projects for brainstorming, ideating and fostering a culture of collaboration.

Q: Have you faced any hitches in imparting training to keep your developers well versed with the latest on open source technology? How are you overcoming them?

A: Yes, there is a lack of good FOSS trainers with both in-depth knowledge and hands on experience. Many a times, we have even realised that we are way ahead of the community in terms of knowledge and exposure, thus we decided to focus on training by our in-house experts to overcome this hitch.

Q: The wide scale use of open source tools or frameworks isn’t free from challenges. What are the challenges you faced and how did you resolve them?

A: Some of the major challenges faced in the use of open source for project development revolved around understanding licencing and integration issues, especially while integrating and packaging multiple open source frameworks. Further, there is a lack of documentation/scattered documentation for many open source frameworks compared to the commercial counterparts which have reached a certain level of maturity, depth and user interactivity. But, with the growth of our technical competency, these issues have been resolved. Our governance model, for instance, has helped resolve integration and licencing challenges as it provides a strong knowledge base preventing our engineers from making apparent mistakes.

Q: Is there a problem regarding sourcing FOSS talent?

A: We have had little or no problem finding talent with exposure to popular open source frameworks or platforms but when it comes to recruiting for our CoE, the required depth is missing. It isn’t that India doesn’t have open source talent with both the depth and breadth in open source. But, they are limited and come usually at a very high price. We constantly look for people with the required depth in FOSS i.e. active contributors, who understand the way open source software is developed, licencing intricacies etc.

Q: Are you hiring FOSS professionals? If so, what skillsets are you looking for?

A: We are on the constant lookout for open source experts and plan to expand our CoE significantly. We are currently looking for Java-based open source skillsets like LifeRay, Alfresco, Springs; professionals with core Linux kernel experience, and Android skillsets. We are also open to hiring freshers. For freshers, we require good programming skills and knowledge. Freshers with exposure to open source projects at their college level would be given preference.

Q: What is your message to the community? And also, what is your advice to technology firms planning to use/using FOSS for project development?

A: We hope to see collaboration on new technologies like cloud computing, security, etc from the Indian community. We also wish to see the Indian community address specific Indian IT needs. I would also advice technology firms planning to use/using FOSS for project development to set up a governance model, depending on the kind of customers they are working with.

Q: What is MindTree’s FOSS vision ahead?

A: Considering support is a big issue today with regards to adopting open source software, we wish to channelise our energies on certain FOSS project and emerge as Gurus in FOSS frameworks like the Red Hat stack, Drupal etc. We also plan to collaborate more with the authors/community so that we can emerge as a one-stop shop for the open source service needs of our customers. That is the FOSS maturity MindTree hopes to achieve this fiscal.