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Free Software Development, Money, and the Hacking Experience

by mothra (Hermit)
on Apr 11, 2001 at 20:19 UTC ( #71721=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Okay, as the title might suggest, this isn't stricly a Perl question, but since (IMHO) Perl programmers are often among the most friendly (read, "here use MY code") hackers out there, I think this forum is as good as any for this Meditation.

I seem to battle with myself often over the thought that money is a poor motivator for hacking well. In fact, even a friend of mine and I agree that since we started working for the man it's taken a lot of fun out of the creative process of the self-education and exploration that hacking promotes. It seems like a lot of what I do with computers, even at home, is "work".

I've thought to myself time and again that I would like to find a free software project to join, and wonder if others here can share their experiences in free software.

Some thoughts I'm curious to compare are:

  • Would you also agree that money is a poor motivator for producing good code?
  • Do you find that the free software you develop overall tends to provide a better learning experience/more fun/more satisfying than your day job?
  • Do you have any particularly interesting anecdotes to share about your experiences in free software?
  • Can a career in free software development a.) be possible, b.) be more fruitful (happiness-wise) than proprietary development?

For myself, I've never been the type to agonize over money. I value my happiness and creative satisfaction far above a new car (but hey, I like that one :). I personally believe that money is a terrible motivator for anything creative, and think that the idea of having to show up at 7:30 AM under the assumption that I'm ready to think is something about my lifestyle that may need to change quickly (as in, work for myself).

I also feel that if I were to join a useful (as in, "something I could use") software project I would learn much more than where I am in my current situation (doing Powerbuilder and SQL...ugh), have much more fun, and contribute to something that I've always believed in: that being that money isn't a good stimulus for creative endeavours.

I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts with regards to any of the above questions, and by all means anything else you'd like to add.

  • Comment on Free Software Development, Money, and the Hacking Experience

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Re: Free Software Development, Money, and the Hacking Experience
by arhuman (Vicar) on Apr 11, 2001 at 20:44 UTC
    Would you also agree that money is a poor motivator for producing good code?

    Definitly Yes ! I code for my pleasure (of learning/creating) not for the money.
    Even If I sometimes get paid to code it is rarely fulfilling.

    Do you find that the free software you develop overall tends to provide a better learning experience/more fun/more satisfying than your day job?

    Yes again ! Mainly beccause I don't have any constraint (time, at technical choice...) that allow me to code in good conditions.
    When I code for myself, hubris (the source is available) leads me to produce better code than when my manager say 'I don't care about the tests and your other checkings, just let it like that...'

    Can a career in free software development a.) be possible, b.) be more fruitful (happiness-wise) than proprietary development?

    I'd like to believe that :
    a) A carreer in free software developpement is possible,
    But that the fact is that when you come into carreer talk you'll have to speak about money, and there is MUCH more money in standard devleppoment than in free software developpement.
    b) A carreer in free softeware developpement is more fulfilling.
    But (again) It's more difficut to find a position for this kind of job, just for economic reason...
    I'm not linus, nor Merlyn, nor Damian few company (to be truely honest none) would hired me to work on free project.

    Now just some comments :

    I've never been the type to agonize over money

    Never do I, but I've a family to feed, books to buy, computer to upgrade and a ferrari to paint ;-)


    The worst of all for me, is that my job and duty let me far less time than I'd like to involve on Opensource projects...
    But I try, and often find time to get involved in some (obscure) security projects, or text translations...
    It's enough for me to be happy...


    "Only Bad Coders Badly Code In Perl" (OBC2IP)
Re: Free Software Development, Money, and the Hacking Experience
by PsychoSpunk (Hermit) on Apr 11, 2001 at 23:21 UTC
    Would you also agree that money is a poor motivator for producing good code?

    Money is not a motivator. It is a distraction. It is a necessary evil. Software development is often described as an art. Artists are often known as getting little recognition, tough times, scraping by. So money obviously is not a factor to them. I had a roommate in college who was an artist. He was constantly broke, and indebted to many people. He enjoyed making his art, and he had some really cool sculptures that made our dorm simply strange. Similarly, I never felt the need to demand payment for my ability. It simply happened that I would get paid, and it would be enough to continue doing what I love.

    I have a story that I like to tell to people concerning friends of mine in school that saw that I was a capable person in CS without trying, whereas they struggled through their Liberal Arts degree. Inevitably, we all have that friend who comes to you and says that s/he's changing majors to CS because s/he likes to play with computers. The sentence that follows betrays their true intentions however. If the next words are, "Plus, programmers get paid a whole lot more than x.", you should, as a friend, advise them that they are making a mistake. If the next sentence is not related to the money, they may be doing the right thing.

    Do you find that the free software you develop overall tends to provide a better learning experience/more fun/more satisfying than your day job?

    I find the personal projects make it worthwhile. Even if I wasn't working in a development position, I'd still come home to a nice cozy personal interest. That's equivalent to the English teacher who comes home to work on his own novel, or the Chemistry teacher who gets home and works in his toolshed, or any other person who wants to do nothing more than work on a personal hobby. This is what they love, and it doesn't have to necessarily coincide with what they do, but the important thing is that it is therapeutic. Can't attribute this properly, but, "It's called work because it is."

    Do you have any particularly interesting anecdotes to share about your experiences in free software?

    No, next question. :)

    Can a career in free software development a.) be possible, b.) be more fruitful (happiness-wise) than proprietary development?

    a) It depends on who you are. I'm not suggesting you have to be ESR, but he's done it. He was doing it before "Open Source" made it into the limelight. He's got controversial views. But he's doing it.

    Go read his website, and see the secrets that he reveals. I do remember reading on his page (or an interview) about how he is able to pull it off. If anything, that's a starting point.

    b) Of course. That's a rhetorical question if you've gotten this far.

    Good Luck, in whatever your path leads you to. But I think it's obvious that you already know what you want to do. The question is can you?

    ALL HAIL BRAK!!!

Re: Free Software Development, Money, and the Hacking Experience
by DeusVult (Scribe) on Apr 12, 2001 at 00:33 UTC
    I seem to battle with myself often over the thought that money is a poor motivator for hacking well. In fact, even a friend of mine and I agree that since we started working for the man it's taken a lot of fun out of the creative process of the self-education and exploration that hacking promotes

    someone different...

    Money is not a motivator. It is a distraction. It is a necessary evil.

    You know, I've often wondered about this odd "anti-money" perspective which seems prevalent in certain corners. It seems that a lot of geeks have an attitude about money and employment which is a little, well, juvenile. I don't mean to sound insulting but, really, "the man"? Who talks like that? And a distraction? I'll tell you what's a distraction. Having your credit cards maxed out, that's a distraction. Having your car repossed, that's a distraction. Being given the opportunity to make a living doing what you love, that's a gift.

    The minute money ceases to become an object (read: salary wages, open source development, coding for personal pleasure) the craft is almost elevated to an art form, and everything has it's purpose.

    I really don't think money has anything to do with it, and I don't really think that this conversation is limited to coding. It's really a question of principle and work ethic. Personally, when I have a job, I feel morally obligated to do my best at that job. I think this is true regardless of what that job is. If you're being paid to dig ditches, then dig the best damn ditches that can be dug. Anything less is simple laziness.

    And also, money ceases to become an object only when you've got a hell of a lot of it :)

    I'm paid a salary, but with OT incentives. Given that, it's very easy (and a number of the developers I work with do so) to just hack'n'slash your code and produce 100 kinds of crap

    Don't give them a pass by saying "oh, they're just distracted by the money." Some people just don't give a damn about what they do. It's not that their work ethic has been somehow "corrupted" by being paid, it's that they never had one to begin with.

    The art in programming, I've found, is in how maintainable you strive to make your code

    Don't limit it that much. I have tons of respect for the early era game programmers who had to scratch and scrape for every last bit of memory to get those 8-bit graphics on the screen. There is art in writing maintainable code, but there is art in writing code that squeezes every last ounce of oomph from a machine, in writing code that runs in as little time as possible, in writing code that uses as few system resources as possible, even in writing obfuscated code. There is art in doing anything if you do it well.

    Do you find that the free software you develop overall tends to provide a better learning experience/more fun/more satisfying than your day job?

    Honestly, no. I love my job, and I love the interesting challenges that it throws my way. Now, that may be because I work for a great company, but for the most part I think it's a question of attitude. I enjoy creating solutions to problems. I enjoy accomplishing things. And honestly, on my own I could never write anything as challenging, or that would accomplish as much, as what I do for my job. So when I get an assignment at work, I look on it as an interesting challenge, rather than just "a job." When it comes right down to it, the difference between most programming tasks, corporate or open, isn't technical, its in the minds of the people who do them.

    For myself, I've never been the type to agonize over money. I value my happiness and creative satisfaction far above a new car

    You know, I have to say, I actually like money. It's nothing major in my life, it's not my primary goal, but I like it. I like having money, but most importantly I like not having to worry about money. So when someone gives me the chance to do something I love, and make enough doing it that I never have to worry about the rent, I tend to think of that as a Good Thing.

    ...I personally believe that money is a terrible motivator for anything creative,

    Too limited and too extreme. Money is a mediocre motivator for anything at all.

    and think that the idea of having to show up at 7:30 AM under the assumption that I'm ready to think is something about my lifestyle that may need to change quickly

    I don't know about you, but at my job I can show up pretty much when I want (within reason, I'm in by 9-9:30) as long as I don't leave until 8 hours later. That's a question of business culture.

    I have a story that I like to tell to people concerning friends of mine in school that saw that I was a capable person in CS without trying, whereas they struggled through their Liberal Arts degree. Inevitably, we all have that friend who comes to you and says that s/he's changing majors to CS because s/he likes to play with computers. The sentence that follows betrays their true intentions however. If the next words are, "Plus, programmers get paid a whole lot more than x.", you should, as a friend, advise them that they are making a mistake. If the next sentence is not related to the money, they may be doing the right thing.

    Well, here's another story for you. My senior year of high school, I was bent on pursuing a career as a professional writer, and wanted to be an English major. Luckily, my parents are very wise people. My mom had taken a look at the job market, and knew that I loved computers and was good with them. She summed it up very nicely "If you write a great novel, no publisher is going to ask what you majored in, but no one is going to hire a programmer with an English major. Study something that will let you get a job, and worry about that other stuff later."

    Luckily, I have always been the sort of person who knew logic when he heard it. Now, maybe my case doesn't really apply, because I had already pursued programming for fun before, because I had always been interested in pursuing "an art" of one kind or another. And I wouldn't say I'm in it for the money (I took my current job over one that offered about 8k more, because I liked the stuff they were doing better). But it was originally financial (or perhaps pragmatic) considerations that led me to choose CS.

    Sorry for jumping around so much in my replies. Feeling a little eclectic today.

    Some people drink from the fountain of knowledge, others just gargle.

      You know, I've often wondered about this odd "anti-money" perspective which seems prevalent in certain corners...I'll tell you what's a distraction. Having your credit cards maxed out, that's a distraction. Having your car repossed, that's a distraction.

      DeusVult, I said it was a necessary evil. In nearly every corner of life, money is changing hands. But the most satisfying experiences I have ever had involved very little money, if any. I don't treat money in a juvenile sense. I know that every month, I have a lot of responsibility to handle in the form of bill payments. The question is simply, are you doing it for the money?

      Your statements regarding the above "real distractions" are nothing more than inherited distractions. People who treat money irresponsibly are faced with them. So, in a sense, I'm anti-money, assuming that money allows people the ability to exhibit irresponsibility. It would appear that you also fall into this belief, since you feel that money is a concept to be treated with responsibility.

      I chose the analogy to artist and teacher very carefully. Both of these archetypes are important, far more important, in a civilized society than a software developer. But they made their decision knowing that there are no benefits beyond personal joy. Follow the excellent link from TheoPetersen's recent discussion (the author of the paper is a teacher).

      "If you write a great novel, no publisher is going to ask what you majored in, but no one is going to hire a programmer with an English major. Study something that will let you get a job, and worry about that other stuff later."

      Since the 6th grade, I had wanted to become a chemical engineer. I even began college with a major in engineering. But something happened along the way. I didn't connect with the subject. I loved chemistry, but I wasn't destined to be a chemist, or a ChemE. Of course, I had blindly followed my passion to be a ChemE, that I missed key points that should have been as bright as the Vegas Strip. When I came home, instead of working on chemistry, the beige box would beckon for me to come and try things out. It'll be fun, come on.

      Sound familiar? Nevertheless, even though a CS major has a better chance at that cool job, an English major with the ability to develop software (unrefined, mind you) has a high potential to grab a similar job, especially due to a more creative thought process. I know some people in that boat, so I know that it's not unheard of.

      In my reply to mothra, I simply wanted to state that when it comes down to "lovers" of the process, be that development, art, teaching, or whatever, money as a factor will become a distraction. In your final paragraph, you say it yourself: And I wouldn't say I'm in it for the money (I took my current job over one that offered about 8k more, because I liked the stuff they were doing better). In other words, you were not distracted.

      ALL HAIL BRAK!!!

Re: Free Software Development, Money, and the Hacking Experience
by TStanley (Canon) on Apr 11, 2001 at 20:39 UTC
    I started to get involved with the open source community when I started my current job.
    I have posted some material on SourceForge, most notably, my QuizTaker.pl script for both
    Linux and Windows. I find that for myself, I take great satisfaction in developing software for
    either my company or for myself, because this is the first real software development job I've done.
    So for me, each day at work, I usually learn something new and interesting about programming
    in general, and that makes me a better programmer in the long run.

    I also feel somewhat the same way you do concerning the joining of some useful open source
    project, but again, I would treat it as a learning experience. I don't do it for the money, but
    for the pure enjoyment of solving a problem and providing something useful to the community as
    a whole.

    TStanley
    In the end, there can be only one!
Re: Free Software Development, Money, and the Hacking Experience
by twerq (Deacon) on Apr 11, 2001 at 22:33 UTC
    Would you also agree that money is a poor motivator for producing good code?

    I've always marvelled at the prospect of paying your programmers an hourly rate. Especially when your superiors don't understand the technical in's and out's of what exactly it is you're doing. . .

    The minute money ceases to become an object (read: salary wages, open source development, coding for personal pleasure) the craft is almost elevated to an art form, and everything has it's purpose.

    twerq.
      I have to say something here. Programming as an artform is SOLELY in the arms of the programmer. I'm paid a salary, but with OT incentives. Given that, it's very easy (and a number of the developers I work with do so) to just hack'n'slash your code and produce 100 kinds of crap. On the other hand, if you, within yourself, are an artist, then your code will be beautiful, regardless of whether money is an issue. In fact, having the luxury of being paid hourly, I can see the possibility of taking the time (cause you're getting paid for it) to truly "Do Things Right"(tm). If you're paid salary, then you just want to get things done in the minimum amount of time possible while still looking like you're working the maximum amount of time possible. Thus, you create whatever works and you don't care.

      The art in programming, I've found, is in how maintainable you strive to make your code. If you write with that in mind, then you will improve your code and (generally) come up with near-optimal code. If you code solely for speed or memory, there is art in that, but not in the same way. (In my opinion, of course.)

Re: Free Software Development, Money, and the Hacking Experience
by diskcrash (Hermit) on Apr 12, 2001 at 06:29 UTC

    It has been said - "If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life".

    I don't look at "work" as a trade for my soul. When I code, manage, design etc. its done in concert with other creative people. They stretch me and vice versa. When I code alone its great fun, because the risks are low and I enjoy my results. In fact my home Linux/Perl/C hacking has added greatly to my ability to create at work, where I do relatively little coding. (But I do get paid for going to work.) I am also an amateur astronomer, but I wouldn't like getting "paid" for it. It would ruin the beauty.

    The Open Source world is a lot like early impressionist painters in Paris. They didn't get paid much (or at all) but the freedom and breadth of expression they exercised helped change society in 1890-1910. Eventually their work was recognized as mainstream and was highly valued.

    I have talked to many software and engineering professionals that "don't get" OSS and express uncertainty and fear. I tell them how I post questions right on this web site and get quality answers in minutes, due to the spirit and interest of the community. That is a very different business model than a $XXXK support license from Sun or IBM. The only difference is that I get better answers faster in the OSS world.

    Now OSS is peaking over the edge of mainsteam (support from IBM, governments and anti-redmonium forces.) Can you make money at it? Heck yeah. Write books, do training, sell support, but give away the code. Its all still work, TANSTAAFL, as they say.

    Final OSS thought. A problem in OSS is that it tends to be reactive to hardware, rather than being a design driver. Therefore other software, OS development, vendor lust and marketechtures tend to drive the environment that OSS lives in. Is this good or bad? I wish there were more opportunities for hardware designers to get input from OSS communities. Not just for simple driver availability, but crafting new solutions and business models that cohabitate with OSS support and thinking.

    Follow your muse man, but pay the rent.

    -Diskcrash

Re: Free Software Development, Money, and the Hacking Experience
by indigo (Scribe) on Apr 12, 2001 at 00:21 UTC
    Would you also agree that money is a poor motivator for producing good code?

    Money might be a poor motivator, but it beats starvation. It takes a serious investment to become a competent programmer, an investment few will make unless they can support themselves with it.

    I actually think money is a pretty good motivator. The problem is the work environment that comes with it. Hackers want to put on a high wire act, always trying new, exciting, and potentially risky things. But the guy with the checkbook, all he wants is for the trains to run on time.

    Bottom line, in order write good code, you have to motivate yourself.

    Do you find that the free software you develop overall tends to provide a better learning experience/more fun/more satisfying than your day job?

    Sometimes yes, sometimes no. My personal coding projects I do for fun. I let my muse carry me, and do the parts I like, and just enough of the boring stuff to get by. It is nice to be able to follow your inspirations, but if there is too much boring stuff, I'm not having fun anymore, and I put it on the shelf and go do something else.

    At work, it is a lot different. People are relying on my stuff, so I don't have the option to pick and choose what I want to do. Glossing over logging or error handling or version control will get me an emergency page at 2am. So I am more disciplined about doing the unfun stuff, and when it gets to me, it helps to have some motivating factor other than enjoyment. Coding at work might be more constrained, but what I end up with is more robust, and is more likely to actually get finished.
Re: Free Software Development, Money, and the Hacking Experience
by gregor42 (Parson) on Apr 12, 2001 at 22:02 UTC

    Here's my $1/50:

    I am a Computer Professional. I have held many positions from bench-tech all the way through CTO of a dot.com company. Currently I am a Consultant. (Sometimes referred to as the programmer equivalent of a Lawyer...ack!)

    I LOVE open source software and I LOVE the GNU license.

    Why!??? Simple, it gives me the ability to deliver highly sophisticated solutions to my clients WITHOUT OVERHEAD COSTS. Like ORACLE licenses and OS upgrade nightmares, etc...

    I charge an hourly wage. Yes, the concept of such may be ludicrous to programmers... I read it somewhere that after all is said & done programmers, on the average, write 7-8 LINES of code a day.... (That they KEEP, when the project is complete..Don't flame me over this, it's not my statistic, it's IBM's, but I tend to believe it.)

    Here's the TRUTH, as I see it anyway:

    In THIS situation, money behooves me to take my time & Do The Job Properly. Which is how I WANT to work (Don't you?)

    But Business Pressures (i.e. nagging clients & their accountants) attempt to force me to cut corners to Save Money.

    So, by taking this approach, we create a win-win scenario. Usually I get my way & do a good job & get called back. That's what a reputation is about. When I'm not doing things 'correctly' I whine about it to the client. Sometimes they succumb & sometimes they call me back later & say "I know you're going to say 'I told you so', but could you please fix it now?"

    There's no rule saying that because you're a programmer you can't be a smart businessman. Or at least act like a professional.



    Wait! This isn't a Parachute, this is a Backpack!
Re: Free Software Development, Money, and the Hacking Experience
by thabenksta (Pilgrim) on Apr 12, 2001 at 18:29 UTC

    I aggree that money is a poor motivator for most anything, but it is definately a motivator. While I have not worked on any open source projects, I have worked for "the man", and one thing I have found is that it's different everywhere you go. If you have a good management, they will realize that you need that time for development.

    My first job I was very underestimated, so I had plenty of time to have fun, write my own little programs, actually I spent most of my time MUDing. The job after that, was with a really small company, and I was the only programmer, and let me tell you, that was hell. But now, I have a job with a medium sized software development firm that appreciates it's employees. They realize that you are going to have downtime, and encourage you to use your creativity.

    I'm not saying don't do the open source thing, I've thought about it myself. I'm just saying, don't give up on "the man", sometimes he's got somthing real good in store for you out there.

    -thabenksta

    my $name = 'Ben Kittrell'; $name=~s/^(.+)\s(.).+$/\L$1$2/g; my $nick = 'tha' . $name . 'sta';
Re: Free Software Development, Money, and the Hacking Experience
by koolade (Pilgrim) on Apr 13, 2001 at 19:15 UTC

    Do you find that the free software you develop overall tends to provide a better learning experience/more fun/more satisfying than your day job?

    It all depends on what one finds satisfying. I'm still very interested in growing my technical skills, researching new and exiting things, being creative, and supporting free software. But in the end I think I'm most interested in how the software I develop affects the people that use it. I enjoy seeing people use software that I've created, and I love it when I see that my software has helped make somebody's job easier or produced a good return on their investment.

    That's a reward that you can find working for the man in the commercial world or developing free software. For me it doesn't make it any less rewarding when I get paid for my work, and it fits well within my clients' expectations that I get paid when I give them a product.

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