In 2005 I visited India for the first time. It was a whirlwind tour and one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. The purpose of my visit was to promote open source based on my own experiences, and to get a first-hand understanding of the challenges and opportunities for open source in the world’s most populous democracy.
My first attempt to promote entrepreneurial thinking in India was a complete bust. I met a very smart young man who had just graduated near the top of his class. He was very excited about my story: starting a software company at age 25 using just $2000 of my own capital (and the same amount from two other friends), growing the business, and selling it to Red Hat for more than half a billion dollars ten years later. He said “I’m almost 25, but I could never do that. My father would never approve. He wants be to get a respectable job, which means working at a respectable company. No respectable company in India does any work with open source.” He didn’t say it directly, but reading between the lines he was thinking “oh well, maybe in my next life.”
While traveling between Mumbai and Delhi I gave a lecture about being an open source entrepreneur at Tata Consultancy Services. These folks already had very respectable jobs at one of the most respected companies in India (or the world, for that matter). But some of them clearly knew that there was more to the world than merely delivering a contract to the customer’s satisfaction. They understood that open source could be a creative catalyst for developers and company alike–if they could get past the fact that their top customers were deathly afraid of open source–afraid that open source was so good it would put their legacy proprietary systems out of business.
Fast forward two years, and now the WANEM, The Wide Area Network Emulator is on Sourceforge. It is licensed under the OSI-approved GPL software license. This is significant not only because of the technical scope of the project, but because it sends a powerful message to new Indian graduates: you can do open source while maintaining the family’s honor.
My thanks to TCS for permitting the development of open source software, and my congratulations to the developers who took the challenge and achieved victory.