Getting Paid

Cory wrote up some thoughts on funding OSS that was inspired by the recent decision to stop feature development on hypothesis. There is a problem in the FOSS community where developers get frustrated that the time they invest has a very low return. While I understand this feeling, it is also worthwhile to consider some benefits to investing in open source software that makes it worth your time.

I think most FOSS developers would agree the benefit of working on FOSS is recognition. It feels good to know others are using your software. Beyond simply being recognized, FOSS also are often given respect from other programmers and technical community at large. It is this respect that can be used to

So, what do you get, right now, from working on (successful) Open Source software?

While many developers would like to get money, the reality is you get something less tangible, a reputation as a good developer. You can use your reputation as an open source leader to negotiate for the things you want. Often you can work from home, negotiate for more vacation time, better pay and time to work on your project, all thanks to your reputation. Not to mention, you often can choose to work for well respected organizations doing work you find reasonably interesting.

Companies should support FOSS developers for the code they have graciously offered for free. At the same time, we as developers should realize that it is our responsibility to capitalize on our contributions, even when they may not be directly justifiable to a business. If a company hired a well known Emacs (or Vim!) developer, even though the company may uses Python, the company may still be able to offer time to work on the FOSS code, more money and/or sponsoring going to conferences. These types of expenses are easy to account for on a balance sheet when compared to giving someone money for non-specific work on a project.

Hopefully, in the future new methods of directly supporting FOSS developers come to light, but in the meantime, lets see what we can do today. Ask your manager about having X number of hours to work on your open source project. Request sponsorship to a conference. If they refuse, look for another job and include your project work as part of the package. A new opportunity is a great means of letting your employer know your skills are valuable and your terms for staying include working on your FOSS work.

For companies, support developers to work on FOSS! Even if someone doesn’t work on something directly associated with your current code base or business, that person has proven themselves as a good developer, with the real world experience being available in the open. Similarly, if your organization is strugging to keep or acquire good talent, offering someone 4-8 hours a week to work on a project they already contribute to is a relatively cheap benefit in order to hire someone that is a proven successful developer. What’s more, that person is likely to have a network of other great devs that you can dip into.

Again, I understand why developers are frustrated that they spend time on FOSS with seemingly very little to gain. But, rather than sit by and wait for someone to offer to pay you money for your time, communicate your frustrations to your employer and try to use some of your reputation to get what you want. If your current employer refuses to listen, it is probably time to consider other options. Companies that having difficulties attracting or keping talent should offer FOSS support as part of the benefits package.

Finally, for some developers, it is a good idea to take a step back and consider why you write software. As a musician, it is cliché to say I don’t do it for the money. The reason being is that the music industry is notorious for not paying anything with a long line of willing musicians to work for nothing. While we as software developers do make a good living writing software, there is something to be said for enjoying our independent time writing code. Taking a hobby you enjoy and turning into a business often removes much of what makes that hobby fun. It no longer is yours to do with as you want. If you write FOSS code for fun, then you are under no obligations, other than your own desires. Programming is fun, so regardless of whether 1 or 1 million people use your code, recognize why you started writing the code in the first place.