A big ruckus came up on the Gentoo development list in the past couple of weeks, and part of it involved Gentoo contributors and their motivations. I’m sure most of us have heard that open-source software is about scratching your own itches, but I’m not sure that everyone really understands what that means.
For me, what it means is that my time on Gentoo needs to fulfill me in some way. If not, then I’ve got tons of other places to invest my free time. It does not mean every change I make fixes a problem I encountered. It does mean every change I make has some return in value. What’s value?
- Functionality: A feature or bug fix that directly affects a program I use
- Pride: My reputation as a developer relies upon clean, bug-free code. It’s important that my code is beautiful and functional.
- Gratitude: Thanks from someone else for the time I spent on their problem
- Reciprocity: An expectation that others will contribute in areas I care about if I work on things they care about
- Stimulation: Spending time around other smart people who care about the same things
All of these are selfish, because I’m directly getting some sort of value out of my time and contribution. Many times, Gentoo developers have said they develop for themselves. That’s what they mean. Consequently, the people I care about making changes for are people who give me something I value in return. If you’re contributing in some way, I want to help you. If not, what’s my motivation?