When I started doing free software in 1999, I came for the technology. I wanted to practice my C++ skills. I was fascinated by developing graphical user interfaces with Qt. I wanted to scratch my itch of organizing my life digitally. I started to work on KOrganizer.
I stayed for the community. I stayed for the friends I met, for the amazing people I work with, for the people using my software. There is this feeling, when you go to an event such as a conference, and you meet the people you have worked with over the internet for the first time in person, and it feels like meeting old friends. No matter how diverse their backgrounds are, there is something which holds the community together. This is why I’m still there.
And while I didn’t plan it, doing free software became my career. I did free software because I was curious, because I could apply and hone my skills, because I could learn, because there were real challenges, because I could shape what I did and how I did it, because I could work in a brilliant team, because I got direct feedback from other contributors and from people using my software, because what I did mattered to others. Putting all that together made the ideal job, and it turned out that this is something companies need and pay for.
My learning experience in the free software community went beyond technology. I also learned a lot about people, about how they work together, about organization, about leadership. I became a member of the board of KDE e.V., the foundation behind the KDE community, and this was the ideal place to learn about a lot of the non-technical aspects.
I’m an engineering manager and distinguished engineer at SUSE today. My free software work was essential in developing the technical skills which make me a distinguished engineer and the leadership skills which make me a manager. I’m still contributing to free software. It’s part of my job. It still is a way to learn, and it keeps me grounded.
I have written and talked about this before, and somehow I feel this comes together nicely in three key points which summarize what I consider to be most important: