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Written by Ryan Heaton   
Wednesday, 23 April 2008

It's been five years now since I was first hired by the Church to work on the new FamilySearch Web site. It's been a thrilling ride. The project is vibrant and thriving, and its potential appears boundless. I believe that one of the reasons that this project continues to thrive is its open nature and involvement in open-source initiatives.

My specific work is associated with creating a public Web service interface that can be used to access the huge amounts of data that this project is designed to manage. The technologies we use are based on open-source libraries and development frameworks that have enabled us to focus our efforts on our own problem space rather than inefficiently spending time on reinventing the wheel. Not only do we consume open-source projects, we contribute to these initiatives. And there have even been a few open-source projects that found their roots here.

I believe that public involvement in technical communities is critical to the long-term vitality of a development project. I can think of at least four major benefits to being involved in these communities:

1. Improvement in the quality of the product. Engineers who are trained to go first to the community to look for solutions (rather than attempt to design their own solution) will often find that their problems have already been addressed by someone. Furthermore, a community-supported solution is often more complete, proven, and elegant than a proprietary solution.

2. Increase in the viability of employees. Engineers who have learned to be involved in external technical communities are more effective and efficient. Their skills will be more up-to-date and portable.

3. Involvement in industry trends. Organizations that have learned to integrate with external technical communities will be directly involved in the formation and identification of industry trends. By plugging in to the community, projects can keep open the flow of new ideas and reduce the risk of stagnation. Involvement in these communities helps to ensure that products will be beneficial.

4. Image and Respect. Organizations that are actively involved and contributing to external communities will more likely garner respect from other organizations and individuals. This respect will increase cooperation and attract good engineers and partners.

It's been five years now that I've been working on the new FamilySearch Web site. My skills are sharp and I'm enjoying the rush of riding the wave of cutting-edge technology. I work in an environment where we're encouraged to be involved in open-source initiatives and research. I love my job.

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