Open Source: A New Developer Career

Update, 2010-03-19: Linux Magazin made the talk video available. Their data shows that more than 10,000 people watched it live!

I noticed an increasing interest into a general-interest talk of mine on how open source creates a new software developer career. This is not a rara (pep) talk but rather (I hope) an economically rational and sound analysis of changes in the software developer labor market brought about by open source. Here is the current abstract:

Open source creates a new career ladder for software developers, orthogonal to the traditional career in software firms. Advancing on this career ladder can win developers broader recognition for their work, increase their salaries, and improve their job security. Software developers, project and hiring managers, and personnel departments alike need to understand this new dimension in a developer’s career. This talk explains the career and discusses what skills a developer should possess or train to be successful.

I presented an early version of the talk at OSMB 2009 and I will present the next incarnation at CeBIT 2010’s open source forum this coming Tuesday. The preliminary finale for now will be a new release of the talk at the LinuxTag 2010 on June 10, 2010.

I intend to provide the slides for the talk under the Creative Commons license here after I finished the current revision. For now, if you have any thoughts on what open source means for software developer careers, please let me know!

Posted on


  1. […] first part is the thesis of Dirk Riehle’s recent blog entry. The latter is my, hopefully provocative, conclusion that should follow from the […]

  2. monicauk Avatar

    Nice article. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Andre Dietisheim Avatar

    Hi Dirk
    I’d subscribe to Bras opinion.
    1.) company cathegory?
    This company was a large company with a long history. The hiring manager there usually isn’t technically skilled or does not have the time to check code. I heard of big shops that asked for samples and I guess even then, they’d prefer samples to officially available code they have to check out, crawl through and figure out. This kind of company usually uses FOSS but does not embrace it. In consequence they usually fight third party component bugs with support contracts rather than by investing in their own knowledge.
    2.) fullfill company goals?
    I’d pretend this was only the case where my project did not match the company’s business case tightly. I think that they mostly had a cliché of a geek in mind, that has only code in his focus. IMHO a good engineer always balances his own interest with his companies interest. He’s aware that he may only be successfull if the economical frame and his company performs well. In the end I’d pretend that there’s no difference whether you are a FOSS dev or not.
    Being a FOSS developer exposes your skills and enthusiasm for software.
    3.) interested parties?
    There were several companies that were interested in my project. I only checked with companies that had a business case where my project could be a benefit (I prior decided whether I wanted to pursue or resign in my project and looked for employer accordingly).

  4. Brad Avatar

    > Did they ever look at your code and how good it was?
    Haha, I burst out laughing when I read that! Most companies don’t have a technical person conducting hiring. They fear the unknown, and FOSS is definitely an unknown amongst many multinational companies.
    I worked for a huge Defence engineering company as a software engineer, and it definitely held true there. Open source software participation was not at all understood.
    The people that run these big companies are of a different mindset and background, they don’t value community and openness like the younger generations.

  5. Dirk Riehle Avatar

    Hi Andre, thanks for your thoughts!
    I’m curious about that second category of companies, those that were sceptical about your motivation. Didn’t they realize working in open source “certified” your actual technical abilities? Did they ever look at your code and how good it was? Why did they feel that you’d be working on your open source project rather than the company project?
    On the other hand, the project you are a committer on—are there multiple possible employers that have an interest in the project?

  6. Andre Dietisheim Avatar

    I might not be precise enough:
    I think that a OSS product may only be successful if there’s economic sense using it. Being hired as OSS developer may therefore only be possible if you find companies where your product and your skills match the business case of the company you try to get hired from. But your product has to be fit/smart enough to be used in such a context. I think that there’s no true/false but just a match or not. As developer you are a product on the market, whether you are specialized on OSS or not. If you and your project are interesting enough, you’ll find a shop where you can generate benefits for your company and your product. Usually these shops are far more sparse, but if you find them you get a great match and great work.

  7. Andre Dietisheim Avatar

    I am committer for Eclipse CDO and I could experience similar reactions.
    All companies use OSS software nowadays but their reaction towards OSS skilled candidates is mixed though.
    I got in touch with a first cathegory that either invested or strongly used OSS software in their own products. These companies were pretty openminded for the latest technologies, agile methodologies etc. Being a committer was a big benefit when I announced my interest in a position in these companies.
    A second category of companies, typically the ones with classic dev approaches (ex. waterfall etc.) and rigid hierarchies, was sceptical towards my committer status. I was asked whether I was able to invest into corporate goals or only saw my own OSS ‘career’. They mostly also didn’t get the point that they could benefit from OSS software and collaboration to their ecosystem.
    I’d argue that being a committer in a project is a medal with 2 sides. On one hand you get very specialized in a topic and you may live your enthusiasm. You can mostly get all the benefits trelated o your rare skills (special working conditions, working hours to commit on your project etc.).
    On the other hand you strongly restrict the pool of potential employer. You will most likely only be able to hire in a certain kind of company (which likes or supports OSS). To be honest, you most likely didn’t get along that path if you didn’t want to work for that kind of company anyhow 😉

  8. Social comments and analytics for this post…
    This post was mentioned on Twitter by Open_Sourcing: RT @dirkriehle Open Source: A New Developer Career: I noticed an interest in a talk of mine on how …

  9. Dirk Riehle Avatar

    Hi Peter,
    itemis gets some benefits from you being involved with Eclipse. (Are you a committer on any of the projects? Your LinkedIn profile doesn’t show.) But that’s because Eclipse has an open development model—i.e. anyone can join and potentially become a committer.
    That’s different from a closed model like the one Gentleware had. Your comitter status depends on your employment relationship. How would that give you any leverage? (Little, I’m thinking…)

  10. Peter Friese Avatar

    Yes, absolutely – in various ways:
    Employers who embrace open source as a business strategy can draw great benefits from their investment and the investment of their employees. At itemis we’ve acquired a great many clients through our activities as an Eclipse Strategic Development member.
    But I guess you were more interested in hearing if my OSS work helped me to find new employers, and the answer is yes. As an OSS developer you become a publicly visible person and your (future) employer can judge your work. I’d even say that hiring an OSS developer is a safer bet than hiring a non-OSS developer, as you can judge the OSS developer by the results of his work – something which is virtually impossible in the case of a non-OSS developer.
    Re: CeBIT, not sure if I will make it. Will keep you posted.

  11. Dirk Riehle Avatar

    Hi Peter, thanks!
    Yes, I agree, personal satisfaction is a big aspect of this. Some of the early surveys showed that clearly. (Unfortunately, all those surveys also completely exhausted developer goodwill to answer to surveys %-))
    Next to personal satisfaction, have you also found that it helps you with your employer in any way?
    PS: Will I see you at CeBIT?

  12. Peter Friese Avatar

    I am an open source software developer for a little more than 5 years now and I can confirm that this has had a great (positive) influence on my career. Every minute I spent on OSS in my spare time was a minute well invested.
    What I really like about being an OSS committer: you can help other people. Most OSS projects can react to their users’ feature requests / bug reports much faster than any commercial software vendor can afford / achieve. This a major benefit of OSS and people do appreciate that.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share the Joy

Share on LinkedIn

Share by email

Share on Twitter / X

Share on WhatsApp

Featured Startups

QDAcity makes qualitative research and qualitative data analysis fun and easy.
EDITIVE makes inter- and intra-company document collaboration more effective.

Featured Projects

Making free and open data easy, safe, and reliable to use
Bringing business intelligence to engineering management
Making open source in products easy, safe, and fun to use