Are open source developers suffering?

Are there enough jobs in open source for all the great coders who want to work in it?
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

Whenever we have a talkback thread about open source business models, someone is bound to pipe up with the charge that open source developers are not making money, or not making enough money.

(Raheel's blog has a collection of funny programmer t-shirts. This one is available at Zazzle.com for just $21.45. Makes a great stocking stuffer.)

I have been around software developers for over 35 years. I'm married to one. Happily. And one thing I can say for certain is that, while they all like to eat, most don't measure their self-worth strictly on the bottom line.

What most care about, once body, soul and family are taken care of, is that they work on interesting projects, that they see the what they do released, that their working conditions be adequate, and their co-workers tolerable. The best measure tolerability in part on how well those co-workers code.

Most don't care for ties, or the trappings of great wealth and power. They prefer beer to single-malt scotch, and a quiet hike or cozy book to the party scene.

Their values are half-way between those of engineers and artists. There is art (at least craft) in code, and good programmers can identify others' handiwork readily. There is pride in a job well done. Most of the guys can change their own oil, and the gals are unfussy, down to Earth, team-oriented.

This is in contrast to the CEOs, or the marketing types, or the bureaucrats, all of whom are necessary in any organization. If anyone in an open source organization is underpaid, it's these people. Folks like Matt Asay, who might be getting stock options out the wazoo in a biotech start-up.

Now, are there enough jobs in open source for all the great coders who want to work in it? I don't know, but most of the great open source coders I know have jobs.

Certainly, when you're unemployed -- and a lot of us are these days -- you want to find a reason. Open source makes a good scapegoat. The industry is a shell compared to what it was in software's glory days.

But what's most missing from that shell is stuff good developers don't care much about. Hype and ballyhoo, fortunes and the strategies of the great, break room talk of stock options and what the market is doing.

So it seems to me. How does it seem to you? Are you an unemployed developer living in your parents' basement? Will you code for food, but you're unable to pick up work because there's no money in open source?

Or is that just a cliche?

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