An Argument for Producing Open Source Content

Dennis J. McWherter, Jr. bio photo By Dennis J. McWherter, Jr. Comment

Producing open source content is popular among many developers, but really, what is the gain from it? The benefits are numerous (well beyond the scope of this article), but I€™m going to elaborate on a few. This is also pertinent to those of us whose employers don€™t allow us to contribute to open source due to various reasons (such as my previous employer– though great as it was working there). In any event, this list may convince you that open source is important and make you think about it when you€™re searching for new opportunities.

  • It is (free) professional development. This is one of the most compelling arguments for employers to allow their employees to contribute to open source: it is free professional development. Their employees are improving their personal/relevant skills without costing a dime for the employer; this is great. Moreover, it is also free advertisement for the company (assuming you make notable contributions to popular projects). How so? My logic is as follows: you contribute to open source, people recognize you, people notice where you work full-time, people start to associate good development with that company. Now, it€™s obviously not that simple, but that is certainly a possible (read: over-simplified) scenario. 

    With that in mind€“ from a personal perspective€“ you obviously get to gain €œreal-world€ experience with technologies your employer may not be willing to pay for you to learn. In the end, you can add these experiences to your resume and it allows you greater overall mobility within your career.

  • You start networking. Making a personal name for yourself is a big thing in any industry. Again, notable (being the operative word) contributions to open source begin to build your name. Now, while I agree this is not the only (or even most effective) way to accomplish this task, it certainly could not hurt. Increasing your exposure in a positive way is always a good thing.

    That said, you also have the opportunity to work with developers all over the world and develop working relationships with them. Even if this is behind a computer screen and keyboard (and never in person), you will have people willing to stand behind your work and, who knows, maybe this will help lead to a big opportunity? *cough*bitcoin*cough* Though such successes should not be relied upon due to their rarity, you certainly should be aware that these people will help you where they can if you produce good work€“ even if it€™s not the next coolest startup, just a job-offer or opportunity to interview some place is a good thing.

  • It is low-stress development. This is a big one. It is arguable that most successful developers do it because they love it and not just because it can€“ though not guaranteed€“ lead to a large paycheck. This is a nice perk, but working on full-time paid software projects is much different than simply developing quality code. There is a lot more stress involved including deadlines and money. In general, if you are not doing open source as a business, then your concerns about time and deadlines€“ while they still exist€“ are slightly less important since it€™s donated time on a free project.

    Now, I€™m not saying your contributions should be haphazard and slow just because they can be. Instead, I am saying you can focus on the quality of code you are releasing to the public with your name attached to it. Furthermore, you can do this without real pressure other than when you’re working on a “blocking” component of the codebase€“ these pressures exist in everything we do, however. In focusing on code quality, you can start to develop/improve good habits which may otherwise be tainted by pressing work deadlines where the €œfirst draft€ (you probably don€™t ever go back to that old code unless it€™s broken if you have a steady “new-feature” list) may often-times be rushed to push something out the door (this leads to bad habits and bad code).

So overall, open source is a good thing for the developer. Particularly, those who produce it. While the benefits of consuming open source are obvious, the subtle benefits for producing open source content are equally great€“ if not greater€“ since you have all of these other helpful bi-products. 

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