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Dion Harvey: Business lessons I’ve learned from software developers

Writer: Dion Harvey, Regional GM of Sub-Saharan Africa for Red Hat



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Since starting my career, I have gone from being a programmer to a sales manager to a business leader, and my experiences working with software developers have taught me many valuable lessons that guide me to this day.

Dion Harvey

Dion Harvey, Red Hat

Open source software developers work in a way that allows the best ideas to surface and results in products that are greater than the sum of their parts, but the open source way doesn’t only apply to software development.

It encompasses a set of principles that can also be applied to general ways of doing business. These are just some of the lessons that I think we can all learn from developers.

Make collaboration open

At the most fundamental level, an organisation is only as valuable as its people. Every employee is hired to work towards achieving a common organisational goal, and every individual helps reach that goal by contributing their unique set of skills, strengths, and experiences.

Collectively, every valuable contribution improves a company’s chances of success, but finding the best ideas or solutions will only happen if the work environment is conducive to open collaboration.

In the world of open source software development, the best ideas always come from a diversity of ideas, perspectives, and technical knowledge.

With collaboration at its core, the open source community has thrived because everyone has equal access to every line of code and there are no limitations to what someone can contribute to. But the same isn’t true for every organisation.

Organisational hierarchies often determine the opportunities for collaboration and whose voices get heard.

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That does not mean that organisational hierarchies themselves are the problem – hierarchies help provide structure and define roles and responsibilities. The problem arises when hierarchies impose limitations or dictate who is allowed to contribute. Instead, businesses should try to foster meritocracies where collaboration is open, and all employees have the freedom to bring the best ideas forward and showcase their true potential.

Software developers also teach us how to collaborate more effectively. DevOps exemplifies this by combining development and IT operations with the aim of shortening the software development cycle and enabling continuous delivery of high-quality software.

DevOps refutes the ‘top-down’ prescriptive approach by breaking down communication barriers between departments and giving employees a better understanding of how their work affects each another.

In DevOps, cooperation leads to better product quality, higher employee productivity, and a faster speed to market. All businesses can reap the same benefits by breaking down siloes between teams and departments that inhibit collaboration and ingenuity.


Instead of prescribing how employees should do their jobs, business leaders are there to ensure that their teams understand both the end objective and why it’s important, and then free them to achieve that in the best way possible.

Listen to your users

Your customers can tell you a lot about what makes your product or service successful, or what’s holding it back from giving them what they really need.

The developers I’ve worked with don’t assume which features their customers want or what will provide a competitive edge; they rely on user feedback instead.

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When it comes to open source, transparency amplifies the voice of software consumers. The vast number of contributions made to open source projects are used by countless organisations, many of which are industry-leading enterprises, and all of them share the same interest: to create, use, and share better software.

Every line of code that is shared is subject to scrutiny and improvement, and everyone has the opportunity to make changes.

Liten, Software Developers

Customers and stakeholders are an integral part of a continuous development cycle, rather than outsiders to stalled innovation.

Every business can benefit from this way of including customers in the product development process. Before making any bold assumptions, learn their wants, needs, goals, and preferences, and then take them with you on the development journey.

Fail fast, fix fast

Programmers know that reliable software isn’t built in a day, but it’s better to expose problems as early as possible, rather than ‘finishing’ a project and finding out that it was based on unsound principles.

This is why most developers use Agile practises to develop products incrementally, and in cyclical steps of building, testing, receiving feedback, learning, and building again.

Some start with a minimum viable product that has only the essential features, allowing for earlier feedback, problem identification, and improvement.


This approach allows development to be guided by users and it saves developers from wasting precious hours on something that may not meet user requirements.

Every coder understands that crashes are an inevitable but essential part of the development journey. For businesses, the aim shouldn’t be to avoid failure, but to design a process that allows you to learn from it so that you can fail fast and fix fast.

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Elon Musk built SpaceX on that model, and every time one of his rockets failed, he quickly discovered a weakness that could be addressed in the next iteration.

A brave new world

When I look back at my career, my only regret is that I didn’t discover the world of open source sooner. It has shown me the value of sharing ideas, asking for help, and embracing mistakes.

Most importantly, open source software has introduced me to an incredible community of altruistic pioneers who share the same passion: to create a better world by working together.

With less focus on protecting ideas and more focus on making sure the best people can improve them, we all stand to benefit.

@TechEconomyNG connects past-present-emerging technological impacts on Businesses, People and Cities. All Correspondence to: [email protected]

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