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Does contributing code to open source pay off

For those of you that work on open source software- does contributing to open source projects help your consulting business/job search? If so does it pay of because managers say- wow he contributes to open source he must be good or because companies seek you out for your expertise in the area you contributed to?

Daniel Shchyokin
Thursday, April 17, 2003

As a consultant I believe it does help. However, it will not always be equated to industry work.  For example, I help test OpenOffice [http://www.openoffice.org].  I take it through my day using it for as much as I can and reporting any problems I find. 

When I put this on my CV/Resume, it falls under experience.  For some reason, it has been useful in opening conversations.  Then I can express concepts not directly related to coding itself.  Things like remote support of applications, development with diverse workgroups and effective communication with global entities and finally teamwork.

Some people may consider this "fluff" but the market over the past 20 years has changed in subtle ways too.  Now, it is how well do you work on a team?  How do you relate to others you have not met?  How well do you work with people in differing timezones, and cultures?  Hard to gain that experience just "anywhere." 

I would not join an OSS project just for the experience.  But if that is what you need to motivate you, come on down.  Please however, treat it as a commitment.  Others will not agree, but I think if you commit to a certain number of hours a week, month, year, whatever, you get more out of it. 

Next, choose something you are really interested in and  I believe the best place to start is testing.  You get a feel for the application, and the flow. How things work and you can "lurk" on the mailing list to see where the ideas are going.  After a while you will gain some insight and remember this is a collection of people who can disagree, sometimes passionately.  It does not make them right or wrong, so if you have a point to make feel free.

So does it pay off?  I have found it a great plus.  YMMV.

Mike Gamerland
Thursday, April 17, 2003

"D'oh!" I forgot the JOS conventions and linked to a bad address:

http://www.openoffice.org

Mike Gamerland
Thursday, April 17, 2003

Some viewers of your resume will take it a positive, some will think you are a Richard Stallman loving Commie.

I would guess if you want to do it you should do it for whatever personal satisfaction you get from contributing to such a project.  That is about it.

Mitch & Murray (from downtown)
Thursday, April 17, 2003

The benefit of working on open source is that you can actually show potential employers and clients your code, demonstrate the running program for them, and talk about how many thousands or millions of people around the world are using the software you wrote.  Those are things you usually cannot do with the software you write at your regular job, which is locked under confidentiality agreements.

T. Norman
Thursday, April 17, 2003

99% of managers in corporations don't even know who Stallman is, so the chances of them thinking you are a Stallman loving commie are negligible.

T. Norman
Thursday, April 17, 2003

OK, so I should have said " ... and some/most will not know what the hell an 'Open Source' project is ..."

I think my conclusion still holds.

No good leads for you.

Mitch & Murray (from downtown)
Thursday, April 17, 2003

If you've developed anything really good, and you donate it to open source, you're giving away all those months or years you spent on it, and the years of learning that equipped you to do that development.

So, no, it doesn't pay off if you're any good.

Page Name
Thursday, April 17, 2003

Question - does open source still labor under negative images (mainly in non technical, highly stupid PHB nests)?

Such as: being amateurish; tainting the person contributing; being "non-professional self indulgent hobby-only work to absolutely NOT be considered seriously by hiring manager"?

My point is that almost *everything* in the IT world has become politicized to a degree. If you say you "like" a certain kind of tech, you are considered to adhere to a certain world view influenced by peers in that area.

Unfortunately, I have found that associating oneself with anything development-wise that is *not* Microsoft is generally a risk and a show stopper... IE: saying anything about Delphi to VB heads. And so forth.

Bored Bystander
Friday, April 18, 2003

"If you've developed anything really good, and you donate it to open source, you're giving away all those months or years you spent on it, and the years of learning that equipped you to do that development.

So, no, it doesn't pay off if you're any good. "


Thats why I ask, it seems that on a typical product you make more on support and expert services than licensing (at least a-priori) so I asked to see if anyone who has expiremented with both/eaither "proprietary and license" or "open source and consult" had any comments one way or another.

Daniel Shchyokin
Friday, April 18, 2003

Some examples that spring to mind:

- Linus Torvalds (Linux) works at Transmeta
- Larry Wall (Perl) works at O Reilly
- Rasmus Lerdorf (PHP) works at Yahoo

I'm sure that their Open Source projects have been instrumental in getting them their jobs.

Matthew Lock
Friday, April 18, 2003

The thing is, we're not talking about Linus Torvalds, Larry Wall or Rasmus Lerdorf.

If I was interviewing someone and they declared a strong involvement in open source, I would immediately be thinking: how long before my company's quite valuable source code or variants thereof appear somewhere as a "home project."

That line about support providing more revenue than sales is rubbish.

Page Name
Friday, April 18, 2003

" I would immediately be thinking: how long before my company's quite valuable source code or variants thereof appear somewhere as a "home project."

more fool you really.
If a programmer has integrity this will not happen (<g> at least for a couple of years), if not it will happen whether they contribute to opensource or not.

Although there is a whole (interesting) issue there as well....If I come up with good ideas and good code on one project, I am going to try and use that wherever I can..I dont think its reasonable for any employer to expect any programmer to *not* use what they have learnt elsewhere...IMO the best they can reasonably expect is that the programmer will not knowingly perform similar work for similar businesses within a certain timespan.

definitely not going to give my name for this one...
Friday, April 18, 2003

"If I was interviewing someone and they declared a strong involvement in open source, I would immediately be thinking: how long before my company's quite valuable source code or variants thereof appear somewhere as a "home project.""

If your thinking this, why are you not thinking for your regular programmers:

"How long before my company's quite valuable source code or variants thereof appear as a competitive commercial product."

The fact is if an employee wants to steal your source he can, whether or not said employee works on open source projects has no bearing on his ethics or morals in my opinion.

Gerald
Friday, April 18, 2003

>>  how long before my company's quite valuable source codeor variants thereof appear somewhere as a "home project."

SEE? Re: my comment that IT has become political. If you say you are involved in "open source" the business world ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVE *INSISTS* upon slapping a certain accusation and an assumption of a certain set of moral and commercial values upon you.

Just as if (a few years ago) you said you are interested in OS/2, most suits would immediately look upon you as a misguided, Don Quixote type fool and retard nursing a lost cause - totally useless for their purposes.

I sometimes think that there are standardized industry cheat-sheets (similar to Mason's lodge handbooks) that tell HR and execs exactly and precisely how to put down candidates with "unacceptable" interests outside the commercial, MS-centric world. Probably not but it's always appeared to be a concerted, uniform effort.

We geeks need to become *much* more politically aware in order to start defusing and knocking down stupid assumptions and stereotypes like these.

Bored Bystander
Friday, April 18, 2003

Bored Bystander:
Some people just believe that giving software away for free is somehow wrong and mischevious. They are afraid that their golden egg they've been sitting on will quickly become a wooden nickle if they let these commie pinko bastards invade their personal safe haven and steal their precious code.

After one spends a little time developing open source software you become very careful about what you write and even what code you look at because of it's implications on your open source efforts. I don't know any developer that would be willing to steal  and release proprietary code in the name of open source. Maybe they are confusing their own motivations and thoughts with ours.

trollbooth
Friday, April 18, 2003

I once got a job offer thanks to some open source code I had written but, since I already have a job and I didn't feel like moving to another city, I didn't take it.

Apart from that I haven't got anything much from it, except that I enjoy doing it, which is the whole point for me.

Andres
Friday, April 18, 2003

Trollbooth, I think what you're describing is widespread in this industry, in general. The individual isn't given the benefit of the doubt that he's responsible and professional and that he has valid reasons for a "hobby".

Participation in open source is treated like a red flag 'code' by a common and stupid kind of person in our industry who has to read an ulterior motive into everything. Managers seem to have to read something negative into anything but on-the-job paid work. I can think of quite a few more examples, it isn't just open source. The scapegoating can be any technology that has  a 'politically incorrect' image that someone wants to cast on it. This is just one example where "sharing" is cast as anti-commercial.

Bored Bystander
Friday, April 18, 2003

"If you say you are involved in "open source" the business world ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVE *INSISTS* upon slapping a certain accusation and an assumption of a certain set of moral and commercial values upon you"

which business world? the business world i'm in is all about IBM global services which itself is all about open source.

choppy
Friday, April 18, 2003

My 2 cents even though I have never contributed to an Open Source project.

I think the answer to your question is it really depends on whom the potential employer/client is.

Mentioning that you worked on some obscure Open Source project probably isn't going to impress too many employers.

As others have already mentioned most managers, as well as, some software developers don't have a clue what Open Source is all about. IMO, most managers seem to believe that any idiot can design and write source code and therefore are more interested in playing "match the buzzwords" to find the idiot who best matches the technical requirements of the open position rather than attempting to learn more about a person's problem solving skills.

What may impress a potential employer/client:

* Ability to demonstrate that you have prior experience with an Open Source development tool or programming language (Perl, PHP, etc.) that they currently use.

* Ability to demonstrate your C++ or Java programming skills.

* Ability to demonstrate competence in an area of software development (desktop, peer-to-peer, etc.) where an employer/client is currently looking for some help.

One Programmer's Opinion
Friday, April 18, 2003


IMNSHO, contributing to an open source project can count as experience.

When I interviewed with Spyglass in 1992, I told them about a project I had done.  It was a complete C compiler for the Macintosh.  I wrote the entire thing from scratch and it could self compile.  I released it under the GPL when I was done, although nothing really ever came of it.

The folks at Spyglass seemed quite impressed.  I believe my C compiler was a factor in helping me get that job.

Today I read resumes, and if I saw a major contribution to an open source project in someone's experience, I would consider that to be a positive factor.

Eric W. Sink
Friday, April 18, 2003

Personally, I think opinions are changing.

Participating in an Open Source project is a good way to maintain skills that you wouldn't develop on your own.  For example, working on Apache will keep your C skills sharp if all you do at work is Visual Basic and HTML.

Of course, you could spend all your time re-inventing a little piece of shareware that a) nobody will ever use and b) will just be a default feature in the next version of IE or Windows anyways.  It's mine.  All mine.  My precious.

Or you could contribute something to the OSS world or public domain.  You'll get flamed for your crappy c0d3 and your lack of skillz and everything, but after you filter out all the noise, you'll get some constructive feedback too.  If your code is worthwhile, you'll get to build a relationship with someone out there who is really talented and compliments your skillset.  When the right people get together, great things happen and millionaires are made.  YMMV.

As I started this post, I think opinions are changing.  I think in the near future a useful contribution to a decent open source project will be worth more than some home-grown, half-finished, unpolished, and still-buggy-because-one-man-can't-do-design-implementation-and-QA-at-the-same-time application that the interviewer will take 5 seconds to look at and yawn.

No, the shareware model will not transition well to open source.  You will not make money as a single developer on your own open source project.  But "Does contributing code to open source pay off"?  Yes.  And I think the benefits will increase more in the future. 

Richard Ponton
Friday, April 18, 2003

Ok, my view of the perception of open source with hiring authorities is obviously dated.

But still - I still feel strongly that it can *only* be presented to someone who knows something technical and who themselves have some technical depth. An agency recruiter (scum-nuff said), an HR type (career consists of commoditizing people) or a "management @$$hole" (the highly politicized Dilbert type) will choose to not see value in volunteer experience, no matter how deep or however challenging or diverse. But that's the same as with any other type of experience that doesn't push the buttons of the unwashed & unworthy.
(Yes - I'm making value judgements of my sworn enemies as I go, namely those who don't value substance. Godspeed to everyone who does good work, in whatever context.)

Bored Bystander
Friday, April 18, 2003

The problem with having worked on open source is that the management of most open source projects is so horrendous that it's scary to consider employees with much involvement there.

pb
Friday, April 18, 2003

Also, why even bring up the fact that you worked on "open source". You would never note that you worked on "closed source". Just discuss the types of projectw you've worked on and your accomplishments.

pb
Friday, April 18, 2003

Another of the points I would take from someone boasting about open source involvement is that they probably haven't done much else, or at least not in the relevant field.

That seems to be borne out by some of the pro-open source comments here.

Also, developers are of course going to develop competing products and that's good. But that's quite different from instantly making the work available for free to everyone.

Page Name
Saturday, April 19, 2003

The point is not to sell "open source", but to talk about and/or demonstrate the product.  Let the "open source" aspect be secondary to the discussion.

So instead of talking about open source, let them know that you wrote part of the Apache web server which runs their web site. Or if you worked on OpenOffice or Mozilla, bring a laptop to show them the product.

T. Norman
Saturday, April 19, 2003

Does it pay off?

Sure, if I'm interviewing you for a position at the company I work for.

Sure, when I've been contacted numerous times about doing consulting work or a permanent position based on my public involvment in some project I've worked on.

Sure, when you want a job at any company whose business model depends on Open Source, and they know it.  (For example, a web hosting company...  or Red Hat, Google, Yahoo, IBM,...)

From my point of view, involvement in open source is to a software engineer as publishing one's research is to a scientist, pro bono cases are to a lawyer, and as exhibitions are to an artist.  It is skill developed, skill publicized, and a small down payment on the gifts that we have received from our fellow developers.

Does it pay off?  Absolutely.  Does it require educating management?  Of course.  I ask questions like, "How well would hospitals function if they didn't let their doctors teach?  Would you want a doctor to operate on you if they weren't able to see the work of other doctors?"

Actually, management at my company is easy to convince.  It's legal and HR that are the difficult ones.  But with management on one's side things can be made to happen.  As Joel says, it's important to have a reputation for results before you start trying to change the world.

Phillip J. Eby
Saturday, April 19, 2003

It  IS political. It is. It simply is. Rinse and repeat.

To everyone on this thread who denies that the phrase "open source" gives you an adult sized case of the "cooties", see this disinformation and read a bit of the linked PDF in it:

http://www.ohiotaxpayers.com/generic21.html

So there is apparently a very, very powerful wave of propaganda ascendant in labeling the voluntary exchange of useful source code a "crime" and "anti commercial", or at least shady and almost communistic.  (The PDF file has an embedded photo of Richard Stallman that makes him look like a homeless drifter/fanatic - no doubt intentional to buttress their points.)

It doesn't matter what the facts are, people. The kind of people that would read and take seriously things like this are the PHBs that make hiring decisions! Anyone who really *knows* usually doesn't count in most companies.

And I don't care how logical it *seems* to claim bragging rights to a significant open source project. You'd better feel out the thinking of whomever you're presenting such material to, before saying the first thing about it.

Bored Bystander
Saturday, April 19, 2003

I assume by "does it pay off" you mean "will it help me get a job where I am paid for writing code".  If that's not what you mean, please clarify.

As an interviewer I am looking for (as Joel says!) 1) smart, 2) passionate, 3) gets things done.  I don't care whether your experience is in writing software for banks or writing games or university coursework or open source web servers -- those are the three things I'm looking for.

Smart has nothing to do with any flavour of software -- I have entirely separate questions designed to test for smarts.

So I'm going to pick the most interesting thing on your resume and ask a whole load of probing questions designed to find strengths and weaknesses in the other two areas.  I'll tailor those questions based on what I see on the resume.

For example, if I see a lot of banking software on your resume then I am going to spend not very much time on "gets things done", but I am going to spend a lot of time on "passion".  What turns you on about writing software, and why so much financial software?

If I see a lot of open source projects I can usually dispense with "passion" quickly.  Nothing says "I love writing code" more than "I write extensions to nethack in my spare time"!  But I would be very concerned with "gets things done" -- working on code that has to ship on-time to paying customers is a whole lot less sexy than adding new bugs -- I mean features -- to Mozilla.  I'd ask a _lot_ of probing questions in this area.

So does it "pay off"? If I were interviewing you, sure -- provided that your experience with open source made you smart, passionate, and able to get things done on my team!  If not, no hire.

Eric

Eric Lippert
Saturday, April 19, 2003

Eric, I mean -

will it help a person get a job (I am not looking for one currently).

Also I am sking if companies will actually try to find people who created a piece of Open Source SW when they need consulting or training for that particular SW.

Daniel Shchyokin
Saturday, April 19, 2003

Dear Bored Bystander,
                                  Thanks for the Ohio taxpayers link. The .pdf is vile. What I particularly liked is that they talk about proprietory software firms including open source software as part of the product they are charging you for as an act of generosity on their behalf!

                                  I suppose we've just got to get used to corporate organizations deliberately pedding lies as they are about the nature of the GPL.

                                  Also to the Orwellian use of front organizations that actually advocate the opposite of what the name says. Software Choice in this case being between XP Home and XP Pro!

Stephen Jones
Saturday, April 19, 2003

Stephen: it IS Orwellian. It reads like some committee within "Minitrue" concocted it. On the acrobat file: one Scott Pullins is listed as the author, but the document  doesn't contain ANY authorship reference or even a title, just quotations.

Dammit, I need to know who to go and string up by the thumbs...

Bored Bystander
Saturday, April 19, 2003

"will companies actually try to find people who created a piece of Open Source SW?"

No, of course not. While it won't hurt (if you don't make a point of it) it's unlikely to help, and companies certainly won't proactively seek it out.

pb
Saturday, April 19, 2003

"will companies actually try to find people who created a piece of Open Source SW?"

if somehow the open source software is integral to what the company does, of course.  if the company doesn't do anything related to open source, probably not.

the question as asked is too vague to make much sense, it depends on what open source project you worked on, and what you did,and where you are applying for a job. 

If you are applying for a job writing visual basic apps for an insurance company, no one will care that you wrote a perl script and posted it to sourceforge. If you are trying to work at a company that makes routers, it might be a big deal that you contributed a huge amount of networking code to freeBSD. Likewise, the place building routers probably doesn't care about your years of VB experience in the insurance sector, or that you wrote a perl script and posted it to source forge.

Many companies doing web software, embedded devices, robotics, and support for scientific research base much of what they do on open source software.  thus, if you did some relatively important open source thing, that might be important, if you are looking at these types of jobs, and your contributions are relevant to what the company does. 

choppy
Sunday, April 20, 2003

Dear Bored Bystander,
                                  Scott Pullins is relatively well known in your neck of the woods; he appears to be very influential in Repubilican politics and is chairman of the Ohio Taxpayers Association, which is apparently dedicated the principle that Ohio taxpayers shouldn't pay any tax.

Should he ever acheive that goal and have to dissolve the organization he can still count on his PR company "Right (as in Goldwater) Communications LLC", which in its firm defense of family values has him as President, his wife as CEO and his sister-in-law as Director of Development.

He will even send you a photo you can use for target practise if you phone 614-224-2785.

Stephen Jones
Sunday, April 20, 2003

"there is apparently a very, very powerful wave of propaganda ascendant in labeling the voluntary exchange of useful source code a "crime" and "anti commercial""

Bored et al,

Would you care to explain how the pdf you provided seeks to make the voluntary exchange of useful source code a crime? I read it and it looks to me like it says that they support open source and proprietary competing freely in the marketplace, free from government intervention. Their position looks to me to be reasonable, opposing *special* government support in favor of open source, rather than letting open source live or die by it's own merits.

Vile? Perhaps only to someone unable to think or code for themselves.

Dennis Atkins
Sunday, April 20, 2003

Dennis:  You are right that the goal (prevent governments from shunning for-profit software) is fine.  But the means that the authors of the PDF use - making silly overblown implications, distorting facts, using information out of context, etc, are pretty slimy.
Bored Bystander:  The fact that this is the first that any of us had ever heard of this indicates that, umm, maybe this single PDF "wave of propaganda" is somewhat less than "very, very powerful." 

Ethan Herdrick
Monday, April 21, 2003

Dennis evidently believes everything he reads, in the unlikely event he has actually read the whole article.

The .pdf is making wild accusations about open source and the GNU. Nowhere does it suggest it wants open source to compete. The only open source it is in favour of is open source that proprietory software sellers can put in their packet and charge you for anyway.

The organization Pullins' PR comapany represents "Ohioans for Software Choice" doesn't even have an internet address. In fact what appears to have happened was the MS set up a front foundation called www.softwarechoice.org which is now off the web, and then set up statewide branches and then fed the PR firms with its own propaganda ("viral software") asking them to write it up as their own.

Stephen Jones
Monday, April 21, 2003

Stephen, that's really interesting, and I heard something about MS sponsored spin organizations a while back. Sounds like MS is covertly seeding propaganda that can't be traced back to them.

Living in Ohio myself I find it highly objectionable that a goal that I am nominally in favor of (less "gummint") is being co-opted by a blatant commercial interest.

Bored Bystander
Monday, April 21, 2003

Open source software itself is a big spin operation.

With respect to government buying programs, it's not about "voluntary exchange of useful source code" at all; it's about excluding Microsoft to the benefit of big consulting firms such as IBM and the others.

A corrollary will be that provision of source code is mandatory, which harms the best software development firms, big and small, but doesn't have much effect for less capable firms such as big consultants and web studios.

Page Name
Monday, April 21, 2003

What information does page name have about the Peruvian or French government (to name two governments that have passed laws favoring Open Source) contracting with IBM?

The foreign governments who are passing legislation in favor of Open Source have very good reason to. The alternative is to put your countries software at the mercy of a private company with proven disrespect for the law of its host country, which itself has a long track record of ignoring decisions that go against it.

After five years you find that all your data depends on software for which you will never receive another security update and which you cannot write security patches for yourself because you don't have the source code.

With domestic governments the strong argument in favour of Open Source is cost. For a public service that uses computers basically for a couple of core functions, such as police forces or tax authorities, there are strong arguments in favour of using open source.

The question of standards also comes into play here. Microsoft has leveraged itself into somewhat of a standard in the corporate world, and one of the other threads here is talking about how difficult it is to use non MS software because of the demands of big corporate customers. Government is in a position to level the playing field here.

Finally the point Bored Bystander raised is that the arguments given in the paid for propoganda article were totally inaccurate. Just as they write about "viral software" and having to "quarantine" programmers who have the least contact with Open Source, I could write about "mafia software", all your data being kept on programs run by a company with multiple cases of sabotaging code, the fact that the US or UK government could gain control of your programs without your knowledge, and the protection racket of leaving you without security after five years unless you pay continue with the payments. This would be quite unhelpful, but is exactly what Pullins and the MS FUD departments are doing.

Stephen Jones
Monday, April 21, 2003

And don't disregard the power of a label nor the power of tapping into topical items of interest such as general paranoia and terrorism concerns.

Dubbing GNU open source "viral" and discussing "quarantining" of developers implies several negative things about open source: it's not benign, it "taints" and "contaminates" everything it touches, etc. If I didn't know better, I'd think that this article is saying that open source will jump out and ruin commercial enterprises, or worse. The author's use of "viral" is clearly intended to push buttons.

WE know better but we're techies. The intent of articles like Pullins' is to create doubt, worry and distrust in the minds of non technical administrators, managers and consumers. The doubt, worry and suspicion should instead be directed at commercial entities that bankroll and promote outright lies about legitimate opportunities.

Bored Bystander
Monday, April 21, 2003

Microsoft and other commercial software companies are just as free as anybody else to package up their own version of Linux or any other open source software and provide support and services around it.  The decision of governments to use open source has nothing to do with helping IBM or any particular company.

T. Norman
Monday, April 21, 2003

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