Book Review: Open Advice

cover of Open Advice

Open Advice: FOSS: What We Wish We Had Known When We Started is a collection of essays revolving around just about every aspect of free and open source software you can think of, from coding to community management to package building. It’s edited by KDE’s Lydia Pintscher, who you might remember from this interview. The book is free in electronic form or can be purchased in print. Although it came out in 2012, there’s a lot of great information in it that will appeal to anyone interested in free and open source software.

The strength of the book is its scope. Because it covers so much ground in such manageable chunks (no essay is more than a few pages long), the reader is left with a surprisingly detailed overview of the advantages and challenges of open source software. The chapters are organized into broad sections, giving a few different perspectives on the same topic. For instance, the documentation section is made up of four different chapters, each of which has a slightly different take on the theme.

The various lessons learned, while deriving from free and open source software, are applicable to all kinds of situations. I found the section on conference planning, specifically the pieces by Selena Deckelmann and Gareth J. Greenaway, to be especially helpful.

Some of the more conceptual pieces were also wonderful. Felipe Ortega’s analysis of the different types of teams in open source projects was fascinating, as was Thiago Macieira’s chapter on “The Art of Problem Solving.” The two chapters on legal and policy were also shocking engaging.

If you’re interested in understanding free and open source software from a few perspectives, Open Advice is a great place to start. Like any collection of essays, it can be a bit hit or miss, but for the most part, it’s a great window into how open source projects come together, told from the perspective not just of the coders, but of everyone who works to make open source software projects successful. There’s no shortage of commercial business books designed to help people thrive/survive in corporate settings, but works like Open Advice are much more rare. Skim it for just a few minutes and I’m sure you’ll find at least one helpful, actionable takeaway, regardless of your vocation.

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