Friday, January 10, 2014

Biggest regret in my IT career would be participating in open source projects.

Sometimes you look back at your career and think you could have done things differently. But the past is the past so it really doesn't matter. Once you move on you tend to forget anyway. However I do have one regret and that is contributing to the open source projects. I figured when you help others, others will help you. What I found was completely different.

One person who I exchanged emails with put it very clearly for me to see. He said, "I take what I want and give what I want". To me that is just greedy and is largely how I now see open source. Notice how 'i' is mentioned a number of times. It is never about what someone else may need.

In my case I had a client who had many tens of thousand of dollars of illegal software which had most likely been installed by their previous IT support person. I assisted the client in purchasing what they needed to become legitimate. To provide additional but not mandatory functionality I selected for the client. This approach saved the client around $30-$40,000 in software purchases. At the time there was no Australian dictionary for and only a British dictionary. The problem is if an Australian dictionary became available and the client started to use the Australian dictionary, any old document would no longer spellcheck correctly, so potentially every document would need to be updated and that wasn't acceptable. In my own time and at my own cost I built the Australian dictionary. This was a couple of weeks worth of work for no income. Some could say I got paid installing the software, but the reality is I didn't need to create the dictionary and if I hadn't, would not have been used. I then decided to contribute the work to the open source community. I was hooked on assisting the community. I tend to be like that. I had hoped that this may lead to some additional work but nothing came from it.

Then the Firefox project took a copy of the work. They had no desire to contribute back. Google Chrome took a copy of the work. Again nothing back. Even Coles Myer contacted me with regards to the licence and gave nothing back. Yes hundreds of thousands of people use my work every day and gave nothing back. One company with thousands of users contacted me for the dictionary but as soon as they heard the dictionary was open source I never heard back from them.

I got sucked into the romantic notion of contributing to the greater good by some very slick companies and individuals. Had I known better I would not have done it. When you see companies like Mozilla/Firefox and Google making hundreds of millions or billions, and you know they've given nothing back to assist you directly, it is a reminder every day of decisions that could have been better. I have no regrets with any of my career choices with the businesses I worked for. I contributed and was paid in return. With open source I now feel I was simply used.

I share this story because often people convince the next generation entering IT, those IT people needing experience, to build their skills by working with open source projects. The problem is this simply uses the time and energy of young people and based on my experience, they are unlikely to get anything back in return. The only people I saw making money from the open source projects were those who worked for the companies encouraging others to give away their time for free. These people are building their businesses at the expense of others. In addition, those wanting a career in IT may potentially be damaging the future of their career and the career of others in IT. When you give away your time you are in effect taking away someone else's income.

I'd highly recommend to people looking to gain experience to look for commercially related work. People and businesses are attracted to open source software because it is free and they save money. They don't want to spend money. They will however spend money on commercial software. If it wasn't for Microsoft software and the ongoing support required, I would not have made money over the last two decades and been able to support my family.

If by sharing my experience it helps a single person make a better decision in their life then this post will have been worth it.

Kelvin Eldridge
Ph: 0415 910 703

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