Open Source Principles Give the Workplace Soul

As part of the 20th anniversary of open source software and the Open Source Initiative , the OSI is reaching out to our community of individual and affiliate members, sponsors, current and past board directors, and supporters to share their success stories. We want to hear from those who’ve succeeded in, and with, open source software, development, and communities. This time, we’re hearing from OSI Premium Sponsor Cumulus Networks.

Why did you choose open source? How did you build your team? What issues did you overcome? Where did you find support? What are the benefits you’ve realized?

We hope that by sharing these stories of success from you peers and colleagues, we can help those just beginning their journey with open source software, those just joining the open source community. We’ll post these articles here, and then add them to for archiving and future reference. — Thank you to all of those who are sharing their stories here and again contributing—in another way—to the success of open source.

I started thinking about what exactly makes my employer, Cumulus Networks, the way it is. And the conclusion I’ve arrived at is that the principles of open source that make our technology so innovative and forward-thinking also extend to the workplace. An open development environment translates to an open working environment, and the beliefs of the open source community translate into positive influences in the workspace. Anyone who’s spent time at our office, in our bootcamps, with our people, etc. can feel that Cumulus Networks has “soul.” We’ve got a passion, substance, life and feeling that pulses throughout our space like a funky bass line.

My former employers are pretty varied, ranging from a restaurant to a university, but all of those jobs had one thing in common — they had no soul. To these Pink Floyd-ian businesses, employees were just cogs in the machine meant to forfeit passion for profit. Each day I dragged myself out of bed, drudged to work and slogged through my day. And I’m sure everyone reading this has experienced at least one of these soulless jobs in their life. Specifically, in the world of networking, I hear engineers talk about how they “did their time” at proprietary businesses as though they had served time in prison.

If you work with or follow Cumulus at all, you probably know all about our initiative to bring S.O.U.L (Simple, Open, Untethered Linux) into networking (for the uninitiated, feel free to check out our S.O.U.L page to learn all about the movement!). You could argue that S.O.U.L is what gives us “soul.” With that in mind, I’m not exaggerating when I say that, from the moment I started my first day at Cumulus Networks, I felt like a weight was lifted off my chest. Stepping into the business of open source software and open networking felt like walking into an open field, where I was encouraged to explore, collaborate and create. Never before in my career have I felt so supported and encouraged to think outside the box. And I’m not the only person who feels this way — Cumulus Networks was ranked as one of the best places to work for the Glassdoor 2017 awards!

So how exactly does that happen? Let’s break down some of the principles of open source development and communities, and how we’ve incorporated those through S.O.U.L to show how they change the office environment.

Simple solutions from complex minds: We believe that networking shouldn’t be complicated. That’s why we promote open source solutions like Network Command Line Utility (NCLU), automation and Zero Touch Provisioning (ZTP). Our amazing engineers make it look easy, but trust us, a lot of hard work goes into making life easier for network operators. So what does this look like in the office? It looks like groups of employees openly communicating with each other to find the best solution possible. It looks like efficiency in all departments. And, if you want a real-life example, it looks like a couple engineers putting their heads together and figuring out how to reconfigure the coffee grinder so the switch only needs to be pressed once, expediting the caffeination creation process. Now that’s zero touch provisioning!

Open hardware, open environment: Cumulus Networks is all about white box and open hardware. So, it makes sense that our office “hardware” is equally open and customizable. Forget traditional, closed-off cubicles; they have no place here. Instead, the space is open and full of large, adjustable desks with no dividers. If I need to talk with engineering, I don’t have to navigate a maze of tiny, grey prisons to find someone to talk to. I simply walk (or roll my chair) through the open, sunlit office. Plus, our higher-ups aren’t sectioned off in big, private offices. If I have a question for the CTO, all I have to do is turn around and ask (he sits right behind me, and sometimes he lets me pick what music we listen to).

Untethered creativity = limitless possibilities: Nobody here is just a cog in the corporate machine. Cumulus is founded on the idea that we’re driving forward, not keeping up. The limits associated with proprietary networking don’t hold back your network, and they certainly don’t get in the way of our engineering team’s ingenuity. It’s how we’re able to create amazing products for our customers like Cumulus NetQ, and contribute innovations like ONIE to the Open Compute Project. There’s nothing quite like working at a company where you can see creativity and innovation in action.

Linux — a language everyone can speak: Linux provides interoperability throughout the stack, which is why it’s often referred to as the language of the data center. And that’s how easy it is to communicate among teams at the Cumulus office. From sales to engineering, no matter what team you belong to, we care about every step in the operation. It’s all about complete interoperability — no bottlenecks here. We take the time to understand what’s going on in all parts of the company to keep things running smoothly. Here’s an example: you may think that a member of the marketing team wouldn’t know CI/CD from AC/DC, but did you know we’ve all taken Cumulus Linux training courses so we could seamlessly communicate with engineering? That’s right, we even configured switches using Cumulus VX! Everyone at Cumulus cares about Linux networking, but we also care about helping each other out and keeping communication as open as our network.

Cumulus Networks is dedicated to thinking outside of the box so we can innovate what’s inside of the white box, and the open source culture that ideology fosters is what gives us soul. It’s like the lyric from that song by The Killers: “I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier!” We’re not being marched around and having orders barked at us. Working here, working in the open, and working with open source means being an individual, and that’s the beauty of having both S.O.U.L and soul.

By Madison Emery, Marketing Intern,
Cumulus Networks, OSI Premium Sponsor

Image credit:
Soul.png” by Open Source Initiative, 2019, CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication, is a derivative of “160512-D-DB155-107.JPG” a U.S. Department of Defense photo by E. Joseph Hersom, availabe under Public Domain, via the U.S. Department of Defense.

“Open Source Principles Give the Workplace Soul” by Madison Emery, copyright 2018, originally appeared on the “Better Networking, Cumulus Networks Blog at, and is used and adapted with permission.