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I started working with Microsoft platforms professionally at age 15 or so. I worked for Microsoft as a software developer doing integration work on Visual Studio. More than ten years after I first wrote a line of Visual Basic, I wish I could never link against a closed library ever again.

Using software is different than building software. When you're using most software for it's primary function, it's a well worn path. Others have encountered the problems and enough people have spoken up to prompt the core contributors to correct the issue. But when you're building software, you're doing something new. And there are so many ways to do it, you'll encounter unused bits, rusty corners, and unfinished experimental code paths. You'll encounter edge cases that have been known to be broken, but were worked around.

Sometimes, the documentation isn't complete. Sometimes, it's wrong. The source code never lies. For an experienced developer, reading the source can often be faster... especially if you're already familiar with the package's architecture.

I'm in a medium-sized co-working space with several startups. A lot of the other CTOs and engineers come to our team for guidance and advice on occasion. When people report a problem with their stack, the first question I ask them is: "Well, did you read the source code?"

I encourage developers to git clone anything and everything they depend on. Initially, they are all afraid. "That project is too big, I'll never find it!" or "I'm not smart enough to understand it" or "That code is so ugly! I can't stand to look at it". But you don't have to search the whole thing, you just need to follow the trail. And if you can't understand the platform below you, how can you understand your own software? And most of the time, what inexperienced developers consider beautiful is superficial, and what they consider ugly, is battle-hardened production-ready code from master hackers.

Now, a year or two later, I've had a couple of developers come up to me and thank me for forcing them to sink or swim in other people's code bases. They are better at their craft and they wonder how they ever got anything done without the source code in the past.

When you run a business, if your software has a bug, your customers don't care if it is your fault or Linus' or some random Rails developer's. They care that your software is bugged. Everyone's software becomes my software because all of their bugs are my bugs. When something goes wrong, you need to seek out what is broken, and you need to fix it. You fix it at the right spot in the stack to minimize risks, maintenance costs, and turnaround time. Sometimes, a quick workaround is best. Other times, you'll need to recompile your compiler. Often, you can ask someone else to fix it upstream, but just as often, you'll need to fix it yourself.

Closed-software shops have two choices: beg for generosity, or work around it.

Open source shops with weaker developers tend to act the same as closed-software shops.

Older shops tend to slowly build the muscles required to maintain their own forks and patches and whatnot.

True hackers have come to terms with a simple fact: If it runs on my machine, it's my software. I'm responsible for it. I must understand it. Building from source is the rule and not an exception. I must control my environment and I must control my dependencies.




This is part of the reason why I really appreciate m2clipse (Maven Eclipse IDE) ability to download the source code (when available in the repository, which, in Java land, almost always) when I tried to navigate to the Class definition, method implementation, interface or whatnot.

It's very empowering to read the source code because one can learn a lot.

A few more things to add from your points:

To work-around a software, sometime I have to understand how it works internally and given the source code, I don't have to spend a lot of time to reverse-engineer it.

Having said that, sometime the customers do care if it's my fault or IBM faults if we stated clearly in the deliverable that "hey, we're using IBM WebSphere for this...". They would give IBM some time to fix it, or ask us if we can work-around it, or they would bend certain requirements (i.e.: work-around the requirements, not the code).

This is why sometimes, probably a dying trend given the quality of open source software, an outsource project chose software based on the company behind it.




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