Would you do it again for free?

Thursday night I finally made it to a BLUG meeting. Stormy Peters from OpenLogic gave a talk titled “Would you do it again for free?”

Her talk covered some familiar ground — intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation, a list of motivations that free software developers claim (or that are claimed by others), the various methods of payment. Her slides were beautiful; she seemed a bit nervous though not overly so.

She also talked a bit about inequality in projects. She claimed that 40% of developers on free software projects are paid to do so; a show-of-hands at the meeting showed similar results.

OpenLogic is running the Open Source Census — kind of a cross-platform popcon. If you read her blog a bit you’ll see that she uses this information when talking to VCs and the like. That’s a smart idea and I’m generally in favor of hard data over speculation anyhow.

She was using an Asus, kinda cool. And Neil, sitting next to me, was using an XO. Weird times we live in.

Motivation, of course, is a psychological phenomenon, one with which we all have direct experience. That is, everybody has an opinion… so one commenter from the audience rejected most of her list of motivations in favor of — you guessed it — his. I suppose this is the bikeshed effect in a different form.

I didn’t agree with everything in Stormy’s talk. At one point she gave a sort of economic history of mankind which, I think, was badly mistaken on the facts, though perhaps not our experience of them.

After the talk I asked her about the pretty photos and consistent palette in her presentation. She said they were CC-licensed works from flickr and from some stock photo site… nice. (Also I noticed her slowly backing away while we talked. Whoa! Like, I’ve always been afraid of being that person. And now … hard data. Crap.)

She also talked a bit about the relationship developers have with open source. One idea was that a hacker might leave a project (suppose the project dies) — but will just switch projects and keep working. Also, supposedly nowadays open source developers make more money than proprietary developers; but, conversely, often claim that they would take a pay cut to work on open source (the intrinsic motivation thing). Let’s hope our bosses stop midway through that sentence.

I’m fascinated by the social dimension of programming. Partly this is defensive; over the years I’ve developed some heuristics that I use to evaluate developers (sorry. But it is true. And of course I like you.) and projects, mostly to try to keep away from painful experiences. But, I’m also interested in a more general taxonomy of projects — my suspicion is that many of the things we think we know about running projects either aren’t so, or are “don’t care” boxes in the Karnaugh map of administration. What is cool is that the free software movement is so big, now, that we have an excellent laboratory in which to study.

One Comment

  • Thanks for blogging about the talk – I like hearing other input as the talk is about other people.

    Funny you picked up on me backing away after the talk – two reasons. 1) I dragged my cousin – my non-software developer cousin – to the talk and I was trying to see how he was doing. (He was supposed to ride back with boyfriend and kiddo but kiddo got taken home early.) 2) I was trying to include everyone trying to get into the talk which turned out to be the whole room!

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