Google layoffs show the perils of working in an OSPO

Companies establish open source program offices (OSPOs) to manage the company’s transition to proficiently using, contributing, and leading open source projects. Among the leaders in open source is Google, yet in its recent round of layoffs, it decimated its OSPO, including its founder and many other high caliber open source enthusiasts. While nobody knows Google’s intention, I would like to add a rational explanation to the layoffs that goes beyond the usual outcry.

OSPOs play a support role. They can be an important strategic tool to reach long-term goals and empower line-of-business units to increase profits. However, OSPOs never make money directly. This makes it a continuous struggle for any OSPO leader to show how the OSPO helps meet shareholder expectations.

In the early days of an OSPO it is often carried by the company’s need to establish itself in open source. Later in its life, if the OSPO did its job well, open source competence permeates the company and is present in its line-of-business units. Hence, only a small coordinating OSPO is needed. This may be where Google now thinks it is at.