The Stack Overflow Podcast

Open-source is winning over developers and investors

Episode Summary

Matt and Cassidy talk about the open-source startups winning investors and attention, why even small contributions to open-source projects are important, and how founders can encourage those contributions.

Episode Notes

Supabase, the open-source database-as-a-service company, raised $80 million in Series B funding in a round led by Felicis Ventures. In case you were wondering: YYes, the company is named for the Nicki Minaj song!.

Today in tech recs: Cassidy recommends budgeting app Lunch Money for everything from crypto to cash. Matt recommends Magnet for window management.

Today’s Lifeboat badge goes to user dfrib for their answer to Error "nil requires a contextual type" using Swift.

Episode Transcription

Cassidy Williams I think a lot of open source startups are raising a lot and it seems to be a very growing trend in tech where it feels like open source truly is the future. I might be very bold in saying it, but it feels like a lot of the really big alternative companies that are coming out, or companies that are just growing quickly, are open source or at least have an open-core or open source parts of it even if it's not the whole thing. And whether you look at Supabase where the whole thing is open source, or you look at something like Netlify and Vercel and a bunch of these other companies that have a lot of open source packages related to their company as a whole, it seems to be a trend that I am very on board with.

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Matt Kiernander Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of the Stack Overflow Podcast. Cassidy, you have our first news item up today, and that is going to be talking about Supabase raising $80 million for its Series B. 

CW Yes. So I am a huge fan of Supabase. First of all, I like their name. Fun fact, it is actually named after the Nicki Minaj song– I asked them. They named it that just as a test name and then it just stuck. And so, there you go. Use a database thanks to Nicki Minaj. But anyway, they're an open source Firebase alternative, as a summary for those who haven't played around with it. And it's really, really solid. I've only played with it a little bit, but I really liked seeing them grow and claim the hearts and minds of a lot of developers. And what is very cool about this, and granted, full disclosure, there is some bias in my head because I do a lot of startup advisory work with OSS Capital, I think a lot of open source startups are raising a lot and it seems to be a very growing trend in tech where it feels like open source truly is the future. I might be very bold in saying it, but it feels like a lot of the really big alternative companies that are coming out, or companies that are just growing quickly, are open source or at least have an open-core or open source parts of it, even if it's not the whole thing. And whether you look at Supabase where the whole thing is open source, or you look at something like Netlify and Vercel and a bunch of these other companies that have a lot of open source packages related to their company as a whole, it seems to be a trend that I am very on board with. 

MK We've talked on the show before about how difficult it is for open source projects to monetize and even get people to contribute to open source. And you'll be able to speak to this with more authority than I have, but from somewhat of an outsider perspective, it seems like companies are either owning part of an open source project and then pumping money in to develop that up, so for example, like Facebook and React. That's something that was owned by Facebook, and then you've got all these other spinoffs that have come from it. Or you have these super companies that are being recognized and getting a ton of funding through that as an open source alternative. 

CW Yeah. And you see it similarly with like versus Calendly. Very similar, but is open source. And then you see OpenBB is one that I discovered recently, and they're basically doing an open source version of the Bloomberg terminal. 

MK Oh, wow. Cool.

CW Yeah, it's actually really neat. So there's all these really interesting startups coming out of it. And I think open source, first of all, allows the community to learn from your code and stuff in general, but also if people want some feature in the software, they can make a PR and just use that pull request to add the feature themselves. And that could be beneficial to everyone, or they can fork it and then make their own version of the software and hopefully stick to the licenses that are attached to it. I think it's great for education and creativity, and also just better software in general, because if there's a bug, it won't just be this thing in a black box where you're just like, "Don't worry, people. We'll fix it." Anybody could fix it or at least tell you more about it. 

MK It's one of the things on my development to do list for my career. I've never actually contributed to an open source project before. So it's going to be like a big milestone to figure out what open source project I'd like to contribute to. I want to do something in terms of either a home automation open source project or something to do with graphics and creative art, that kind of thing. So that is on my radar. I will be doing that this year, but I haven't figured out where or what I'll be contributing to yet. But I'm going to document the whole process and that’s going to be a thing I'll be able to share.

CW So, there's one thing that you said where I feel like I should say this. Open source doesn't have to be a big grand PR where you're like, "I'm adding this giant feature to something." A lot of my open source contributions are fixing a typo or clarifying a little bit of documentation, or even just jumping on an issue saying, "I was able to reproduce this as well. This is a real bug." I think a lot of people think you have to add this whole grand feature or something to an open source repo for it to be a 'valid' contribution to open source, but you don't have to write a lot of code to just make it work. You could write a test to test a single component and now that component will be tested and it wasn't done before. And a lot of really great repos out there or a lot of great projects out there have tags called 'good first issue', where it's very purposely small and something that anybody could take on, it's just something you've got to do. For example, I did one recently with where I noticed that there was an issue with time zones and I said, "Oh, this dropdown should be fixed." I didn't even make the PR itself, I just made the issue and showed all the reproduction steps. Someone else said, "Oh, I was able to duplicate this as well so it's real." And then someone else actually made the PR to fix it. All of us were contributing in our own different ways, it's just not always writing code. And so I'm encouraging you, Matt, and anyone listening, it's okay if you haven't contributed at all to open source, but also you don't need to make a massive deal out of it. You could just say, "Hey, do you need help? I could replicate this, make an issue, make a PR," anything. 

MK I'm very curious, for the people who are very active within the open source community then, do you typically get different flavors of person, where people are more interested in finding bugs and reporting those, versus the people who are bugs fixers, versus the people who are all in on, "I want to make big grand features to help out this project." Do you typically run into different streams of people? 

CW Yeah, that is everywhere, constantly. Some people, they just update the Read Me, or they're just like, "I'll improve the docs here and there." It can be anything and I think that's what's really exciting about it. You can do what plays to your strengths the best because open source needs all kinds of different people because it's kind of like a company. A company doesn't just have devs that all do front end development, even if their software is just front end development. They have project managers, they have technical writers, they have dev advocates, they have all kinds of stuff. And some people, their biggest open source contribution for example, was making sure that the code of conduct for the repo was inclusive, and that was huge for that repository. And there are people who specialize in those kinds of things. I am much more of an ad hoc person where I'm just like, "Oh, I could fix that." Or, "I could update that issue," or something. But I think that is definitely a misconception that a lot of people have. I used to work with Ryan Florence and Michael Jackson who made React Router Reach UI and are making Remix now.

MK Ooh. Those are some pretty heavy names to drop, Cassidy. 

CW I know, I know. Look at me. But I remember in meetings with them they were saying, “I wish we could just tell people that it's not the most helpful thing to just make a new feature in the router, or a new feature in our framework. The most helpful thing would be just telling us– yes, I was able to replicate this bug. Because if they were able to, that means it's real and we can prioritize it." And triaging those issues so that you can actually dedicate time towards it is so, so huge, but it's not publicized as often. 

MK In terms of people who contribute to open source then, is it coming from purely an altruistic, like, "I'm just doing this to help?" Or are there other ways in which they can kind of get credit for the work that they're doing? What positive flow-on effects, apart from just within that framework itself, might arise as a result of contributing to open source work? 

CW So, first of all, yes, it's good to do the right thing and contribute to the community and that kind of stuff. That's great. But also, first of all, some open source companies and projects and stuff, they do split up any money from donations or funds or anything amongst the contributors. And so sometimes there is a monetary factor, and I'm not going to get into money and open source because that is a problem that hasn't necessarily been solved and there's lots of solutions, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, but there is that factor in some projects. Also it's pretty good resume material, because if you say, "Oh, I actually help debug issues for React," or, "I help do X, Y, or Z for Supabase," I know some people who have gotten jobs because of their open source contributions. They said, "I actually added the login with Discord feature to Supabase." Now they work there. I don't actually know if that person works there but it's an example. Whenever I talk to open source founders, they almost exclusively hire from their contributors when it becomes a 'real company.' They will hire others and stuff because diversity in open source is definitely still a problem and everything, but I think in particular for newer developers who are trying to get their foot in the door, and developers who come from underrepresented groups, if you make open source contributions, that is amazing for the job hunt and really, really important resume material that can get your foot in the door in ways that is more nontraditional.

MK How do you approach open source work considering how extremely busy you are? Do you block off time for it a week? Do you have a schedule? Or, you mentioned it was very ad hoc. Do you just kind of use the products that you use, and then when something comes up, you jump on it? 

CW Mostly the latter, where I mostly use a product and if I know it's open source, I am ready with my issue button finger, where I can say, "Okay, if I see a bug, I'm going to make an issue for it." Because it's something that's so important. It's user feedback. And the best thing that you can do for these open source companies in particular, but projects in general, is give them solid, quality feedback that they can use to fix it and make the product better. If I have a real hankering to code something, there's actually quite a few websites out there that say, "Hey, these are some open source repositories that need fixing. Go and you can look at the good first issues," or anything where people might need help. Some people add bounties to issues so that way you can say, "Okay, if I fix this PR, then I'll be able to get a bounty as well as fix the product." But then also, for example, there's this one website, I think it's called 24 Pull Requests, and it's like an advent calendar type of thing where your goal is to just make a pull request every single day on a GitHub repo. And it has suggestions based on the tech you want to use or the category you want to follow and you can go ahead and do that. And there's a bunch of sites like that. And sometimes open source project maintainers just put their repos on these lists because they need the help but they don't know how to do that type of 'recruiting' without just tweeting, saying, "Hey, we have these problems. Help!" and see where it goes.

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MK Okay, we are running into the recommendation portion of the podcast. Cassidy, did you have any recommendations or shall I launch forward my own? 

CW I'll put in a recommendation for one, and it's Lunch Money, It's a really nice budgeting app and it handles everything from crypto to cash and is really solid.

MK Having moved to Vancouver and realizing how expensive it is here compared to little old New Zealand– 

CW Yeah. Vancouver's pricey. 

MK Yeah, it is not cheap. 

CW Well, there you go.

MK I do have another app recommendation as well. I've noticed there's a trend on YouTube recently where a lot of people are switching over to the Mac Studio's and coming over from PC land to do development, all that kind of thing. And they're complaining about window management and it irks me every time I see it because there is a very simple solution for that and it's called Magnet. It's a very cheap app you can download. It's tied to your Apple ID for the duration that you can bear to use Mac OS X, but it's incredibly good. Mac has a very poor windows management system implemented already. Windows does it incredibly well, so does Linux. And Magnet is essentially bringing that over to the Mac. And you've got hotkeys to move windows around, move between desktops, all that kind of stuff. It's absolutely fantastic, can recommend. It is paid, but it's cheap. It has saved me frustration. I think it was $1.50, is what I bought it for at the time. So Magnet is my recommendation. 

CW That is something where I switch between a PC and a Mac fairly regularly, and whenever I go to the Mac I have the window snapping in my PC in my brain, and I try moving it and I'm just like, "The window didn't move. It just stayed there on the edge. And that processing power in my brain!"

MK I had the hotkeys mapped the same between Windows and Mac so that muscle memory stayed the same, and it's saved my bacon many, many, many times. Right, let's move on to the lifeboat of the day. A lifeboat, if you did not know, is an answer score of 20 or more to a question score of -3 or less that goes on to receive a score of 3 or more. The lifeboat for today is awarded to dfrib, who answered, "Swift nil requires a contextual type." That is actually quite relevant to me. I'm studying to learn iOS and Swift. AR glasses are going to be quite fun, so I'm wanting to have a play around with that whole ecosystem. Thank you very much, dfrib, for going through and providing value to the Stack Overflow community. That is our podcast episode for this week, so thank you very much, everyone, for listening. My name is Matt Kiernander. I am a Developer Advocate here at Stack Overflow. You can find me online @MattKander on Twitter, YouTube, many other social places. 

CW And I'm Cassidy Williams. You can find me @Cassidoo on most things. 

MK Alright, everyone. Thank you so much, and we will see you next week.

CW Bye!

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