Key Factors Driving Open Source Software in 2019 and Beyond
October 10, 2019

Roger Magoulas and Rachel Roumeliotis
O'Reilly

Given the collaborative, transparent nature of open source software, one of the best ways to determine what's driving the industry — and what stands to impact it in years to come — is to simply notice what everyone is talking about. More specifically, it can be particularly enlightening to review speaker proposal topics related to open source software, which is why we recently analyzed presentation submissions from the past three years (2017-2019) for O'Reilly's Open Source Software Conference (OSCON), where the open source community has gathered for more than 20 years to promote the benefits and latest technological advances of open source.

In reviewing the speaker proposal data, we were able to determine how interest in popular open source software topics have evolved, how industry professionals are approaching and interpreting them, and which tools are becoming increasingly prevalent. Below are three core findings that are indicative of where open source software is headed:

1. Cloud native momentum continues to build

Over the last three years, we've seen big increases in attention to cloud native topics across all OSCON conferences. Demonstrating open source developers' continued interest in promoting resilience, scalability, high availability and improved responsiveness, the term "cloud native" climbed significantly in this year's OSCON proposals, following a notable increase in popularity in 2018 compared to 2017.

While we saw slight declines in references to specific cloud native topics like Kubernetes, microservices, and containers, compared to 2018, we suspect that developers and architects are taking a more holistic, all-encompassing look at how they build their digital presence meant fewer explicit references to those topics. We do see cloud native references supporting the need for high-availability, scalability, and developer productivity.

Additionally, the larger shift to a cloud native paradigm introduces a new set of challenges for developers. In order to accommodate this shift, industry players are acquiring new knowledge and mastering new skills. For example, according to our data, Helm, a package manager for Kubernetes, increased tremendously in speaker proposals. "Knative," a Kubernetes-based platform optimized for serverless workloads, appeared for the first time in proposals this year and "Kubeflow," another Kubernetes-related term, also made its first appearance in 2019.

2. AI and ML use cases are increasingly solution-oriented

Given the role that open source software has played in the mainstream diffusion of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) tools and techniques, it's not surprising that the frequency of the terms "AI" and "ML" increased significantly among 2019 OSCON proposals, following two years of exponential growth for the terms "AI" and "ML."

That said, some terms related to AI and ML decreased in frequency this year. "Deep learning" and "neural networks" both declined in popularity following a surge of proposals in 2018. Other related terms such as "natural language processing" also decreased.

A probable explanation for these findings is that the focus of problem solving is changing. The types of AI and ML use cases that are typically associated with early adoption are giving way to solution-oriented use cases, resulting in a shift away from implementation to operationalizing AI and ML by deploying services that are designed to perform specific functions or tasks. We see the move towards operationalizing driving the need for AI- and ML-related knowledge and programming skills, in addition to expertise in a constellation of supporting or adjacent technologies, such as automation, monitoring, data ingestion, and integration.

3. Data remains a top priority

A testament to the role data plays in the applied work of developers, architects, and other industry practitioners, "data" was one of the top five terms among 2019 OSCON speaker proposals. Additionally, a cluster of terms relating to data acquisition, integration, management, and analysis trended upward between 2018 and 2019, including "Kafka," "streaming," "Spark," and "SQL."

The growth of AI and ML supports these findings, as data collection and analysis are a prerequisite for understanding and improving the customer experience through customer-focused analytics. At a higher level, speaker proposals have pointed to a renewed focus on the customer experience. After all, the cloud native paradigm, more solution-oriented AI and ML technology and data-driven approaches aren't happening in a vacuum. The customer experience is a critical component of these trends, as any resulting benefits are passed on to the customer in the form of improved responsiveness, availability, and performance.

This new emphasis on the customer experience has grown among the developer community, who are focused on delivering products and services that better align with the needs, expectations, and priorities of customers. In this year's proposals, a cluster of terms that relates to user experience (UX) trended upward, including the terms "UX," "user experience," "interactive," and "empathy."

Considering the rapid pace of open source innovation, it's difficult to say which terms and topics will dominate in 2020 and which will decline. Despite the rapidly evolving open source community, certain themes have clear staying power, and problem solving — with the customer ultimately in mind — has proved time and time again to be particularly important.

Roger Magoulas is VP, Radar at O'Reilly, and Rachel Roumeliotis is OSCON Program Chair and VP, Content Strategy at O'Reilly
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