Unpaid Labor and Hiring Decisions Based on Free Software Contributions

Ashe Dryden with an older article on the subject of who can give their development time to free or open source software, and who benefits from it:

I don’t know that we can easily measure how much labor actually goes into creating the software that we use every day. Software that we not only benefit from by saving us time, but also makes us quite a lot of money. We work at startups, consultancies, and large enterprises that pay our salaries thanks to the financial benefit of OSS and the mostly unpaid labor of those contributing to it.

[…]

People who are contributing their unpaid and underpaid labor are investing their time into companies that are profiting greatly and giving little back in terms of financial support.

We’ve somehow been culturally talked into accepting this arrangement, not realizing how businesses are using it to further extract value from us. Businesses are choosing candidates based on their open source contributions, knowing that they are getting more value for less money out of them. These are candidates that will continue to work on things in their free time because it’s something they care about and are passionate about. This is akin to not paying someone for overtime.

Open source originally broke us free from the shackles of proprietary software which forced us to “pay to play” and gave us little in the way of choices for customization. Without realizing it, we’ve ended up in a similar scenario where we are now paying for the development of software that large companies financially benefit from with little cost to them.

We are being judged on how much we contribute to the bottom lines of companies we don’t work for and what’s worse, we are policing this amongst each other as well.

I’ve spent the past 17 years helping free and open source projects flourish as best I can, it’s not a profitable experience and it’ll tax whatever passion you have for the project you’re working on. While some things are worth doing for reasons other than money, and it has helped me in getting some work, I’m not sure I’d recommend it to anyone at this point, and demanding it of people who are applying for work is ridiculous.

There is one problem I have with the article, I see this paragraph and instantly know what some unprincipled managers would want to do:

As part of the interview, have one of your developers who is familiar with the project and is a good teacher pair with the candidate on an actual issue. See how they reason through problems, become familiar with new codebases, and what questions they ask.

“My team is having a problem, lets ‘interview’ some developers and get them to solve the problem for us.”

I have always hated when interviewers demand “homework” or in-person work that solves their actual problems today. That’s why a company hires someone, to solve business problems.

One way to work around this would be to have a set of free software projects, that don’t benefit the company, for the interviewing developer to work on. Pick a few current issues for those projects, let the developer decide which one to work on. Work on those together.

Delete Uber Part 4000

Susan Fowler writing about a year working for the illegal taxi service, Uber, and describing what happened after reporting sexual harassment:

I was then told that I had to make a choice: (i) I could either go and find another team and then never have to interact with this man again, or (ii) I could stay on the team, but I would have to understand that he would most likely give me a poor performance review when review time came around, and there was nothing they could do about that. I remarked that this didn’t seem like much of a choice, and that I wanted to stay on the team because I had significant expertise in the exact project that the team was struggling to complete (it was genuinely in the company’s best interest to have me on that team), but they told me the same thing again and again. One HR rep even explicitly told me that it wouldn’t be retaliation if I received a negative review later because I had been “given an option”. I tried to escalate the situation but got nowhere with either HR or with my own management chain (who continued to insist that they had given him a stern-talking to and didn’t want to ruin his career over his “first offense”).

Don’t worry, you weren’t there and nothing anyone ever reported has happened:

Myself and a few of the women who had reported him in the past decided to all schedule meetings with HR to insist that something be done. In my meeting, the rep I spoke with told me that he had never been reported before, he had only ever committed one offense (in his chats with me), and that none of the other women who they met with had anything bad to say about him, so no further action could or would be taken. It was such a blatant lie that there was really nothing I could do. There was nothing any of us could do. We all gave up on Uber HR and our managers after that. Eventually he “left” the company. I don’t know what he did that finally convinced them to fire him.

This kind of harassment happens at every company in SF and the valley. The men are allowed to threaten and cajole women until the women either give in or get fed up and leave because human resources refuses to do anything.