The cost of Open Source

I came of age as a programmer during the Open Source revolution. That
heady period when Open Source went from being a term a few geeks had
heard of to a force of nature that stormed through the industry and
left it forever changed.

I’m successful today in a large part due to projects and programming
language that were given to the world free of charge and free of
restrictions out of other programmers’ spare time and the goodness of
their hearts. Every day I learn about and incorporate new FLOSS tools
into my work. Every day I benefit from blog posts, services, e-books,
and hundreds of thousands of lines of code provided by amazingly
generous individuals who give their work away for free.

I’ve released a fair amount of OSS code myself, but I don’t measure up
to the real Open Source heroes, or even the bloggers who turn out
amazing, high-quality educational content on a weekly basis.

And now I’m selling books, and getting ready to sell screencasts. And
part of me feels bad about that; feels like a poor citizen of the
ecosystem I inhabit. I feel like I should be releasing this stuff for
free like so many of my peers do.

But I look around at my peers: the ones who are churning out
astounding amounts of free material, and the ones who aren’t. And
there’s a pretty clear delineation between them. With a few notable
exceptions, the ones going above and beyond to serve their communities
don’t have kids.

And I worry I will always be an ungrateful jerk in some people’s eyes
because I simply don’t have the option of allowing myself to work for

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  1. Samuel Mullen May 31, 2011 at 21:00

    You contribute where and when you can, but in the end, with the exception of your relationship with your spouse, everything takes a back seat to what the needs of your children are.It’s temporary. As your children get older and become more independent, you have more time to give to whatever area you want. You might even be able to contribute to open source with your children. Love is sacrifice.

  2. Time to think like a manager.If you raise your kids to recognize and be considerate of FOSS and it’s practices, they’ll be able to carry the torch even further. By temporarily sacrificing your own potential to help the community, you’re enabling others to one day do the same.That seems like an entirely worthwhile goal to me 🙂

  3. Agreed – and I had this conversation at RailsConf. The Ruby Heros awards are an awesome way to honor those that give their time and make the community a richer place… but it was telling that they were all young guys.These people deserve all the props they get, and Whuffie (wikipedia: is awesome… except you can’t use it to pay rent, or doctors bills, with it.

  4. JamesIArmes June 1, 2011 at 13:04

    Being an advocate of open source and a frequent contributor, I can understand how you feel. While I don’t have children (yet) I still have bills to pay and I can’t give everything away for free or devote all my time to open source. Sometimes I feel bad when I can’t give something away, or when I have to spend a week or two ignoring my issue queues so that I can get some paying work done, but that’s just the way life is. Not all of can be paid by some large company like Google to work on OSS all the time.

  5. The issue with kids isn’t just money, its time. WIthout kids I’d have more time that I could then devote to FOSS, but with young kids around, any time not devoted to making $ is devoted to them. As they get older, the time dynamic should change and hopefully that will allow me to pay back some of the FOSS debt that I’m accumulating.

  6. This is a big chunk of the disparity between my desire to contribute and my actions (I don’t contribute much), which, for me, tends to produce guilt. I’ve blogged a lot on this topic lately and have got a lot of good feedback. Jesse Noller is re-prioritizing now that he’s got a kid, while Wayne Seguin cranks on OSS for 4+ hours per day with 4 kids. I am trying to reframe and take the long view: you don’t have to do OSS work for hours per day (or even per week) to have a significant impact, looking back on your life. And it would be a hollow victory if your OSS work came at some significant expense to your kids in time lost with them. No answers here, but I’m with you in the journey. ping me if you figure out a balance.

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