People tend to ask me why do I do work for free, while I have a company that provides similar services to those I’m giving away to open source. I must say that I don’t completely agree with their way of perceiving contributions to open source. While it superficially looks like working for free, there are a lot of benefits to gather from it, both concrete and abstract.
Let me introduce you to a few benefits I see in contributing to open source.
“Free to work”, not “work for free”
Working with open source software keeps me busy, but usually only when I want it to. There is absolutely no requirements on how much or often you must contribute. While there are some small things that I must take care of as the Xubuntu project leader, most of the time I can delegate things to others, or postpone them. There is not too many cutthroat deadlines to meet!
Having possibilities to be creative in any way you want to nurtures the creativity. When you are contributing to open source projects, you are able to try the wildest things, use the latest technologies and design things which you would never be able to design in the commercial projects. Working with projects with no pressure gives you new ideas for the work with your clients too.
It’s free, both ways
Doing my work well with open source projects helps my business too. While the work is taking some of my time from working with commercial projects, I’m still getting a reference to point to for future negotiations with possible clients. Working with open source projects will also give you loads of new contacts and possibly new clients and job opportunities. Just keep your eyes open and remember to mention you work for money too now and then.
More importantly, everything I’ve created for open source is available for my commercial work too. I have a handful of essential tools to be able to do my commercial work well, and over half of them originate to open source projects. It’s not always a large part of a project you can directly copy or something that is easily pluggable in and out. Small things are useful too, though, and sometimes creating the smallest thing takes the most effort.
Finally, it simply makes me happy. Being able to create that makes peoples’ computers run faster or enhance their workflows is great. Making people wonder how something as good as an open source product is free is great. Making people want to give something back is the best.