Monday, May 20, 2013

Don't sell free software cheap

How can I get paid for free software development? That's a question many developers ask. And it's a good question, because software development is expensive, no matter what the license is. Money is one way to pay for this, but fortunately there are many other ways to get paid for free software. The one thing you should never do, though, is to sell free software cheap.

It's tempting. Put some ads on your blog, a donation button on the project page, get a low paid student job, etc. It's fine, if you can work on free software, right? Some money is better than nothing, isn't it?

No, it isn't. Because it interferes with other ways of being compensated for free software development, such as reputation, control, freedom, learning, or just satisfying your curiosity. Money adds dynamics which can go against these. It changes to whom you are accountable, it alters expectations, and it can actually harm your motivation, because money is a bad motivator. So you need to be very careful when putting money into the equation.

That doesn't mean that there are no good ways to get paid money for free software development. In fact an increasing number of companies have realized that they are better off developing a good part of their software as free software, and they don't compromise on quality or payment. So there are well-paid jobs for free software developers. Guess who gets these jobs. Not those who do it for cheap, but those who have built up a good reputation as a free software developer.

Contributing to free software actually is a great way to build up a career. You are in control. You don't need a university or company program, you can start any time. You can build a reputation doing something you want, something that matters. You can learn and grow following your passion. This is a great foundation for a professional career, and studies show that committers to free software actually get higher salaries than those who don't do this.

Your work on free software is an investment in your happiness, your career, and a better world. Don't sell it cheap.


  1. Great sentiment, couldn't agree more.

    There's a great phrase where I sadly can't find the original source and my transliteration doesn't nearly do it justice, but it goes something like this: "If you'd pay me, you wouldn't be able to afford it."

  2. Yes! This holds true for non-development work too of course. Think of community management, artwork, translations and so on and so on. Don't sell yourself short there either. And Free Software is just as great a career-helper for those jobs.

  3. I fully agree, from my own experience. I've spent years doing Free Software "for free", building up a network of friends and professional peers, reputation, knowledge, experience. All of which played a significant role in where I am today in terms of day job. And I still get to use and do Free Software at work...

  4. Well said...
    This man keept me reading till the end...
    It sort of removed me and pushed me to participate to the adventure.

    Thank you for t.


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