foobar on computers, software and the rest of the world

Want to earn more money? Become an open source developer

, posted: 1-Mar-2008 06:09

A while back I gave a guest lecture about free and open source software at a university. One of the students asked me: So, you are saying that it's possible to earn money with open source? Yes, it definitely is. I get paid to develop it, as a matter of fact. It's rather shocking to find that many young people these days are not even aware of that. Decades of brain washing by the proprietary software industry has been way too successful.

A few days ago then this report here came out, which states that these days open source developers can actually ask for 30% to 40% premiums in their salary. Well, I have to say, even I didn't know that. I wish I would have had that information when I spoke to that crowd of students back then.

What's the reason for this? Here are some quotes from the article, which explain:
"There's been a huge wave of people embracing open source technologies ... The rise of open source software in application development puts developers with a specialization in those technologies in a position to ask for a 30 or 40 percent pay increase ... We've gotten more requests from our permanent placement division for open source developers in the last six months than in the last five or six years combined ..."
So, it's simple supply and demand. The demand for open source knowledgeable developers has grown dramatically, and the supply is limited. If you have open source skills, you can make significantly more money with them.

That is, if you live over there (the report was done by a US firm). Somehow, I get the impression this is not quite the same here in New Zealand (yet?). I'm still trying to find an indication of how much open source development is done in New Zealand, or how much open source technologies are used in New Zealand enterprises.

I would love to hear from you: Where you work, has open source been considered? Evaluated? Is used? If so, how? Is any open source development taking place?

Other related posts:
UK government supports open source
25 open source projects for software development
Dabbling in OpenSolaris

Comment by KevDaly, on 1-Mar-2008 08:20

The sticking point here lies in the words get paid.
Where is the Open Source model for what the Microsofties would call the MicroISV?
If you can't sell software, the money has to come from somewhere else (support contracts for instance). This ironically favours large corporations over small businesses.

Of course I do have to commend IBM, Sun, Oracle and the others for their skill in persuading a set of highly talented and intelligent individuals to effectively work for them for free, but I don't see a good model for making a living as an independent software developer.

That said, I think Open Source has a lot to recommend it, and I believe the more people participate in it the better - what disturbs me is the attitude of many proponents that it is somehow morally superior, and that software must be free. This is both arrogant and brain dead.

Author's note by foobar, on 1-Mar-2008 08:44

@KevDaly: There is a common misconception that just because you use open source tools and environments, you will not be able to sell software. The argument for 'free' software aside, this is entirely false. I can use open source tools and make commercial software with it, which is closed source, and which can be sold. Of course, if I decide to open source my software, I have access to even more libraries that I can link against, but that's a different story.

Maybe you missed the point of my posting: Developing open source software does NOT mean that you don't get paid. Quite the opposite. I get paid to develop open source software, for example. RedHat pays its developers (who have contributed hugely to the Linux kernel, for example). And Oracle has provided a lot of fixes as well. There is a ton of open source software coming out of Sun, all written by well paid developers.

And because the involvement of these companies lends further credibility to open source, there are more and more enterprises embracing this software. Thus, these enterprises need people who know open source, can work with it, modify it, use it to develop more software, etc. That's the point of the article.

Comment by Vinay Kalia, on 30-Jun-2008 13:30


Your article on Earning money as an open source developer was an eye opener for me. Thanks for that. I have a simple question here. I love to do programming and looking to earn some money while doing that -- like fixing customer issues for open source software or developing new software. Please let me know if you are aware of any such association or community where software developers get payed for fixing customer incidents and what are the requirements to join them.

Thanks and regards


Author's note by foobar, on 30-Jun-2008 13:45

@Vinay Kalia: There is not an association as such. However, there are now many organisations offering consulting and customisation services around open source software. Large ones here are RedHat, Canonical, Novell, IBM and many more (also smaller ones).

There are also 'professional open source' companies, which are just like any other software company except that their product is open source. The most well known example is probably MySQL, which has developers around the world, but there are now many other companies as well.

There are companies that use open source software, but don't really produce it. This can be any company in any business, which needs to hire people in their IT department that can work well with open source software.

Finally, if you know a couple of reasonable useful and popular open source packages well yourself, you can also branch out on your own and offer services as a consultant on your own.

In general, you can look for any job opening that involves open source.

Comment by dineth, on 16-Jul-2008 19:57

Nice article; somewhat relevant to my google search which ended me up here. My question is this:

if i want to start writing my own open source software (say i have a nice idea for...gnome desktop), what are the chances of me earning a few bucks along the way? what kind of business model is there to earn cash? simply because, my code's freely available for use by others so there's no selling it.

would love your input on this :p thanks!

Comment by monica, on 16-Jul-2008 23:21


I want to ask you how can be earned money from free applications. I saw firefox add-ons, and many other programs that don't cost the user anything. From what are those people earning money? Or they do all those programs in their free time and expect nothing in return?


Comment by anders, on 11-Aug-2008 01:10

@Vinay Kalia: look at which is a place where you can offer your services

Comment by Pathologist, on 14-Jan-2010 02:53

@foobar You've mentioned that "I can use open source tools and make commercial software with it, which is closed source"
Isn't this a violation of GPL? Does it mean that I can use in commercial product some open code that is exposed openly.
I would highly appreciate if you explain this statement as detailed as possible.

Author's note by foobar, on 14-Jan-2010 16:53

@Pathologist: Your's is a common concern. But hopefully I can put that to rest for you.
You are free to sell GPL licensed software (even if you don't make any changes at all) or to incorporate it in your commercial software products in any way you see fit.
The GPL merely stipulates that any changes to the GPL licensed code must be published as well (again under the GPL). Furthermore, if you link against GPL licensed code then whatever code you link against it also must be published under the GPL. In no way does this imply that you can't use it in commercial software, though. It's just that at least part of the source (the GPL licensed portion and anything linked against it) of that commercial software must be published.
'Publishing' here means: On request the user must be able to get the source code. Usually, a commercial piece of software will mention in its EULA that there is some GPL code in use, maybe list the packages, and point to a further document or a web-site on which this code can be downloaded.
So, for example, if someone takes the Squid web-proxy, modifies it and then distributes the executable they must also make a copy of the modified sources available somehow.
The GPL doesn't care if you sell the software or what you use the software for. It merely wants to keep its source open: Once under the GPL, always under the GPL. A company cannot take someone else's GPL source code and suddenly close-source it or any of the changes it made to it.
Note that all of this only comes into effect if the finished software product is distributed, somehow. For example, if your company hacks Squid for some internal application and never passes the finished software on to anyone then you also don't need to publish the modified source code.
Hope this clarifies things.

foobar's profile

New Zealand

  • Who I am: Software developer and consultant.
  • What I do: System level programming, Linux/Unix. C, C++, Java, Python, and a long time ago even Assembler.
  • What I like: I'm a big fan of free and open source software. I'm Windows-free, running Ubuntu on my laptop. To a somewhat lesser degree, I also follow the SaaS industry.
  • Where I have been: Here and there, all over the place.

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