Will Open Source Developers be Well Paid?: Page 2

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Q: Let’s talk about the economic benefits of working on a community open source project vs. working on a commercial open source project. You write in your paper that it makes little sense for the economically rational software developer to invest time in commercial open source. Why?

“It’s always a balancing act. In this paper I’m talking about rational economic models, and in reality there are of course always more factors. [But] If there is a community open source project that is comparable with a commercial open source project, the time investment that pays off – knowing this software, being known in the community – the investment you make will give a higher return if you invest in the community project. Because you take the reputation and influence that you create through your investment – you can take that with you, it’s your increased value. The community open source project is not owned by a single company.

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“Now, a commercial open source project is owned by a single company. So if you invest in that, even if you’re an employee of that company, you can’t take that reputation with you as easily as you can with the community open source project. It generates less value for you if you work on a commercial open source project. If you do this as an employee, the rights to the software and position that’s given to you can be taken away by the owning company.

“Now, if there’s no viable competitor to the commercial project, it may not make sense to invest in a community project. But if you have a choice between a viable community project, and a comparable commercial project, I would always choose the community project as an individual programmer.”

Q: You write that, “Open source reinforces the trend toward employees becoming ‘free agents.’" What do you mean by this?

“With ‘free agents’ I don’t necessarily mean that they would be freelancers. They will be employed.

“If you are a high profile Committer to [for example, community project] Apache, then your reputation is with the community. Your value is based largely on how you can influence and contribute to and have knowledge about this particular product. And that product is not owned by an employer.

“So you can move on to the next employer, you can even be a freelancer. The way you think about what you do is not as strongly coupled to an employer as it was in the old closed source, proprietary source [world]. There, what you were worth to your employer was tied to quite some respect to your knowledge of their product. And you couldn’t take it with you as easily to another place.”

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