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Atlassian taps crowdsourcing, open source for charity

Launches new 'MakeaDiff.org' platform to make it easy for developers to help not-for-profit organisations

Sydney-headquartered software developer Atlassian is building a new platform to crowdsource developer talent to work on charitable projects. The software built in the projects will then be open sourced for re-use by other non-profit organisations. The platform goes by the pun-heavy name MakeaDiff.org and is an initiative of the developer's charity arm, the Atlassian Foundation.

Atlassian operates on a '1 per cent' charity model, according Atlassian Foundation manager Melissa Beaumont Lee. "So 1 per cent of profit, 1 per cent of equity, 1 per cent of employee team and 1 per cent of software licences are all donated to not-for-profits," Beaumont Lee said.

The foundation's work focuses largely on education-based not-for-profits, notably Room to Read, established by former Microsoft Australia executive John Wood.

MakeaDiff.org will allow charities to post technical projects they need help with, allowing developers or other people with technical skills to contribute to them. The platform is the brainchild of Graeme Smith, a senior developer on Atlassian's product growth team, and Matt Jensen, developer relations engineer at the software company.

"Through talking to Melissa we found that a lot of charities contacted Atlassian asking either for money to build websites or that sort of thing, or for our time, and we didn't have a really good way to co-ordinate all the incoming requests," Smith said.

At Atlassian, staff get five days of paid leave every year to work with not-for-profit organisations.

"A lot of people are really excited about it, but in reality we don't use as much as we like because people don't know where to find volunteering opportunities and they don't know how to find projects that they care about," Smith said.

Smith and Jensen both independently came up with the idea of building a platform that lets developers find charitable ways to use their skills.

"There's a lot of people out there who, even if they don't have employee volunteering at their workplace, just want to help and do good work. When you've got these kinds of skills you can donate much more value with your time than you can with your money."

"We're going to open it up so any non-profit or charity can go in and create their own projects, then we're going to advertise for a project champion role to volunteer for each project," Jensen said.

Project champions will break down a project into tasks that can be described in terms of what technical skills are needed to complete them.

"Then, as a technical volunteer I'll be able to go into MakeaDiff and find all of the tasks that align with my skills and I'll be able to pick the one that I'm interested in," Jensen said.

"The champion is going to be turning those really vague requirements into something that can be developed," Smith said.

The second role of the champion will be finding solutions that can be reused. "Another real benefit from this program is that we're going to be open sourcing all of the projects and building up a library of reusable components that we'll be able to share between different charities," he added.

MakeADiff.org is live now, but still in a pilot phase, with Atlassian aiming to get it fully operational next year, possibly in the first quarter. The Atlassian Foundation has already had discussions with a number of charities about using MakeaDiff.

"When we started talking to people, all of them had a list of projects that they needed doing that would be great for MakeaDiff, and all of them were totally on board with the idea of open sourcing it and having volunteers work on it," Jensen said.

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