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Chris DiBona on the (Computational) Value of Sharing

Chris DiBona is the Open Source Programs Manager for Google. I've been a programmer since I was 12 years old, so I always knew I would get...

Chris DiBona is the Open Source Programs Manager for Google.

I've been a programmer since I was 12 years old, so I always knew I would get into computers, computer science, or information technology. I started using Linux when I was in college back in 1995. Then as my professional career developed I realized I really liked Linux and the ideas behind it, and I liked the ideals behind open source and free software. That lead me to where I am today. Right now I'm Google's open source program manager. What that means is that I monitor open source compliance for all the open source software that we use with the company. I also make sure that stuff that we release is under a proper open source license and, in the case of content, is under a proper Creative Commons license.

When you get involved with broad open-source movements-like Linux or Creative Commons-which are about sharing your work and expanding computer science for everybody, you actually get a lot from it individually. It's incredibly fulfilling in ways that just programming for a large company wouldn't be. Having the ability to go out there and be part of that means a lot to me. So at Google I get to help people release code and data using these licenses. I know I can look back on my time at Google (and previously at Linux) and say I didn't just make myself or my employer better; I made computer science better.

When we were working on the Android cell phone operating system, we didn't start from scratch; we started from Linux and open source libraries and then we built a ton of software around that. So now, for instance, if you were to build a new phone you might consider starting with Android rather than starting from Linux like we did, or from the bare metal skeleton the way that some manufactures will. So, when I look at computer science going forward I think to myself, Well wait a second, there's three and a half billion lines of open source software out there on the internet; think of how much functionality that is; think of how foolish you would have to be to rewrite things that you don't have to rewrite. I think that people want to concentrate on creating the new thing. But if you can start with this enormous base of functionality, why wouldn't you?

I wish I could tell you that I had some great understanding of why regular people out there are so eager to share the things that they do with the rest of the world. I think I do understand it from a code perspective, but when it comes to sharing music and the rest, I think people get out of it what you get out of sharing anything: You get to find other people who are interested in those same kinds of things. You can share a piece of music and then, through either the criticisms or the adulation you receive, you might become a better musician. You get to make that which you share better, and I think that's the coolest thing of all.

Interview as told to Eric Steuer. Click the play button below to listen to a full version of the interview.

Eric Steuer is the creative director of Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that works to make it easier for creators to share their work with the rest of the world. It also provides tools to make it easier for people to find creative work that's been made available to them-and the rest of the world-to use, share, reuse etc., freely and legally. This is the third in a series of edited and condensed interviews called "We like to share," in which Steuer talked to people who work across a variety of fields who use sharing as an approach to benefit the work that they do.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

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