Oct 292008

Tim has a post where he advises developers to contribute to open source projects so that hiring managers will look favourably on them. I have some problems with this, as do many of the commenters on his post.

First off, I agree that contributing to open source projects is admirable and to be encouraged. There are, however, a number of developers who work for companies with employment contracts that say, more or less, anything vaguely code-related that you come up with while employed by us is ours, not yours. Which means contributing any code to any outside project is liable to cause problems, or at least a certain number of hurdles. There are other ways of contributing to any community that are arguably just as valuable, such as taking part in organising events such as local conferences, volunteering at local centres that teach people how to use computers, assisting users on web forums, or teaching at local community colleges. Concentrating on writing code for open source projects seems restricting.

The second issue is that it’s discriminatory against those who simply don’t have the time. Working single parents suffer particularly from this issue, but any working parents of school-age or younger children have the problem to some extent. By the time you’ve picked the children up from school or day care, fed them and the rest of the family, cleaned up, taken them off to sports/music/whatever, helped with homework, and done the laundry or whatever other chores are necessary for that day, all you really have energy for is to unwind and relax. Especially if you suspect that the toddler will sleep as badly as previous nights this week, waking you up at midnight, 4 am, and 6 am. When you have to be awake for the day job, as that’s the one that’s currently paying the bills, staying awake into the wee hours isn’t an option for those who need more than just a few hours sleep a night to function properly. No matter how passionate they are about coding.

In my case, the project I’m working on for my day job is the one I think about in spare hours at night and at weekends. If I were writing code, I’d be writing code for that project in preference to an unrelated open source project. I don’t think that attitude should be penalised by hiring managers either.

  One Response to “Contributing”

  1. For me, open source contributions primarily serve as code samples. It’s not a proxy for dedication or passion, and it’s not a reverse proxy for burnout-prone lifelessness. Never the less, a good code sample is positive proof of skill. While other ways of contributing to a community are no doubt valuable, they aren’t necessarily a good way of weeding out false positives when searching for a software developer.

    A company’s policy towards open source contributions is something a software developer should seriously consider alongside other benefits. I’m not a single issue voter–I can understand trading it for a lot of money, good health care for a family, being near a significant other, etc.

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