Feeds

Amazon's 'schizophrenic' open source selfishness scares off potential talent, say insiders

Moles blame Bezos for paltry code sharing

3 Big data security analytics techniques

Exclusive Amazon is one of the most technically influential companies operating today – but you wouldn't know it, thanks to a dearth of published research papers and negligible code contributions to the open-source projects it relies on.

This, according to multiple insiders, is becoming a problem. The corporation is described as a "black hole" because improvements and fixes for the open-source software it uses rarely see the light of day. And, we're told, that policy of secrecy comes right from the top – and it's driving talent into the arms of its rivals.

Over the past three months, The Register has interviewed numerous Amazon insiders* about the tech giant's attitude toward open-source software, and how the cash-flush business interacts with the tech community.

The impression built up is of a company that harvests code from vast fields of open-source software while obscuring its code donations and distancing itself from the wider world of computing.

"Amazon cannot exist without open source," said one former Amazonian.

"All of the standard web technologies were in there," said another ex-employee. "We had everything from Perl to Java to C++. In a number of cases where performance [was] really important, we looked at the [Linux] kernel ... We really ran the gamut of usage."

But you wouldn't know this from Amazon's public contributions to open-source efforts: as far as El Reg can tell, the internet titan has submitted patches and other improvements to very few projects. When it does contribute, it does so typically via a third party, usually an employee's personal account that is not explicitly linked to Amazon.

These code contributions include additions to Apache Hadoop, jQuery, the Linux kernel and Ruby, we understand.

"Within Amazon it was well known that [CEO] Jeff Bezos didn't think that Amazon would gain from participating in open source except in very limited ways at the fringes of its tech," said one ex-Amazonian. "Amazon really kept its code closed."

Of course, the web giant is under no obligation to share its enhancements for open-source-licensed software if it's not distributing the code beyond its walls (or if the license doesn't require it to in any case).

This secretiveness may give Amazon a competitive edge in the short term, but – crucially – there's evidence that it could be damaging the company in the long term because few of today's most talented technologists want to work at a company that shuts them off from the wider technical community.

Many companies choose not to donate code and instead involve themselves in the community in other ways, such as attending or organizing conferences and publishing academic papers, but here Amazon is withdrawn as well.

"When I arrived [at Amazon], one of the things that was very striking was very few people went to conferences except quiet observers," explained another. "We lost a number of key technical prospects in terms of hiring people."

Where employees from Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Oracle, IBM, and others regularly speak at conferences and meet-ups around the world, Amazon's employees are instead trained to fade into the background at conferences, revealing little about themselves or their employer.

Your El Reg correspondent saw this himself when he attended Symposium on Operating Systems Principles (SOSP), the influential computer-science confab, last year. That was a week spent walking the halls of the cavernous Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Pennsylvania, brushing shoulders with luminaries from Google, Microsoft, Cambridge University, Carnegie Mellon, and others.

Though there were a large number of Amazon.com and Amazon Web Services developers there, none of them spoke up in group sessions or made explicit reference to their company. The only Amazon-related presentation your Reg writer saw was given by Peter Vosshall, a senior engineer at Amazon.com, and this was more about the culture and management of a technical organization than a disclosure of precise techniques.

This secretiveness, "comes from Jeff," claimed another source. "It's passed down in HR training and policy. It's all very clear."

Though a select few are permitted to give public talks, when they do, they disclose far less information about their company's technology than their peers. El Reg has been to numerous obscure presentations by Amazonians where the audience is left dissatisfied by the paucity of the knowledge shared.

"Amazon behaves a lot like a classified military agency," explained another ex-Amazonian.

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
This time it's 'Personal': new Office 365 sub covers just two devices
Redmond also brings Office into Google's back yard
Batten down the hatches, Ubuntu 14.04 LTS due in TWO DAYS
Admins dab straining server brows in advance of Trusty Tahr's long-term support landing
Inside the Hekaton: SQL Server 2014's database engine deconstructed
Nadella's database sqares the circle of cheap memory vs speed
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Oh no, Joe: WinPhone users already griping over 8.1 mega-update
Hang on. Which bit of Developer Preview don't you understand?
Half of Twitter's 'active users' are SILENT STALKERS
Nearly 50% have NEVER tweeted a word
Internet-of-stuff startup dumps NoSQL for ... SQL?
NoSQL taste great at first but lacks proper nutrients, says startup cloud whiz
Windows 8.1, which you probably haven't upgraded to yet, ALREADY OBSOLETE
Pre-Update versions of new Windows version will no longer support patches
IRS boss on XP migration: 'Classic fix the airplane while you're flying it attempt'
Plus: Condoleezza Rice at Dropbox 'maybe she can find ... weapons of mass destruction'
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.