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Why Do You Contribute to Open Source?

  • Kyiv, Ukraine
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You probably remember my half-a-year-old article: Why Don’t You Contribute to Open Source?. I said there that if you don’t have your own OSS projects or don’t give anything back to those you’re using—something is wrong with you. Now I’m talking to those who actually do contribute without demanding anything back—guys, you’re doing it wrong!

The Untouchables (1987) by Brian De Palma
The Untouchables (1987) by Brian De Palma

Open source almost always means free, as in beer—nobody will pay you anything for your pull requests. However, it doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to make money.

Of course, you will not earn any cash directly by fixing a bug in docker/docker, but you may earn some intangible value, which will be converted to cash later.

Moreover, you must earn it—this is my point. Otherwise, if you contribute out of pure altruism, you will lose the motivation very soon. Not because you’re greedy and only money can motivate you, but because without money you won’t feel your efforts are being truly appreciated.

The intangible value I’m talking about is, of course, your resume. If you are an active contributor to docker/docker, your resume says so, and you’re in the list of contributors—your hourly rate or your salary will definitely be higher.

I would recommend, before becoming a contributor, you ask yourself a question: How will this affect my resume, my profile, and my reputation on the market? Will they put me into the list of contributors? Will they promote me in exchange for my pull requests? Will I be able to mention their name in my next job interview?

Most projects won’t do anything for you unless you explicitly ask. I’m a maintainer of over 40 GitHub repositories and at least six of them have over 200 stars (yegor256/tacit, yegor256/takes, yegor256/rultor, yegor256/eo, jcabi/jcabi-aspects, teamed/qulice). If you submit a pull request to any of them, I will just review it, merge and forget your name. I won’t do anything else, simply because you didn’t ask.

However, if you ask me to put your name and a link to your blog in the list of contributors, I will do it without any hesitation. Moreover, if you do that right inside the pull request you are submitting, I will merge it and your name will go right into the repo, into the very place you find the most suitable.

Over the last six years of my active participation in open source development I’ve never seen anyone asking me that. Why? I don’t know.

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