Thursday, July 12, 2007

Interesting article on Compensation for Open Source Developers

Earlier this week, I read an article in Datamation about what the Open Source Researcher at SAP Labs thinks Open Source developers will be paid moving forward. Overall, he has some insightful ideas.

He goes on to state that "Committers" (a.k.a maintainers and other leaders of an open source project) will be compensated to a higher standard than other members of that project. That of course makes sense from a structural point, and we have seen this to be accurate in the marketplace. After making this point, he mentions that he believes the other open source developers (general project contributors) will actually see a dip in pay. I have to disagree with this point. I am not sure anyone is going to see a dip in pay, especially in this marketplace. And, I would hope that these contributors, through hard work and perseverance, will become the next maintainers. As a result they will see an uptick in their pay as this transition takes place. At the end of the day, the open source structure has similarities to other corporate structures in that certain individuals will experience growth and increased responsibilities which will result in higher pay, while there will be others that are not as motivated and become somewhat stagnant in their pay scale. This happens in basically every known entity that I have ever recruited for. Nothing new here.

One of the parts that I truly enjoy about this article is the mention of open source developers being "free agents". I think he is right on the money with this assessment. This is something that I have thought about for a few years, and I think it will take shape, if it has not started to do so already. In fact it has to some extent, with a lot of the open source maintainers being employed by some of the leading open source technology companies. However, I do not think we have seen the compensation piece take full effect yet. Me being a huge sports fan, I put it in that context. I see it no different than baseball players, football players, etc. If you are a good offensive tackle for the Chicago Bears, you more than likely will be a good offensive tackle for the Green Bay Packers. Sure, there is a new playbook, but you know the position well, and you should be able to adapt fairly easily. When these players make that move as a free agent, they reap the monetary effects of such a move. Same will be the case for open source developers. If you are the maintainer of a particular open source project at one company, and there are going to be other companies utilizing that project that are interested in your services, you should be able to continue your work without too many interruptions at your next place of employment. Sure, it is a different company with a different culture, but that is just like a different playbook for a different organization. At the end of the day, you are going to be doing the same work, for the most part, because that is what you were hired to do. They are going to provide you increased compensation because not only do you write solid code, but you are also an influential member of that community project.

My prediction, due to this scenario, is that the open source developer's future compensation levels is very bright. There is no question that the top developer's are going to see the biggest gains, but there will be gains throughout the ranks. We continue to experience a shortage of open source talent in the marketplace and this will just reinforce this notion. The beauty of open source, as has been mentioned countless times, is that you control your destiny no matter who you are or where you come from. You do not have to be a MS in EE from Stanford to excel in the open source world. Throw out the resume, it boils down to who's code is the most solid.

Overall, this is a very good read with other good examples and points that I did not have time to mention here. Take a peak at it when you get the chance.

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