Why I Write Open Source Software

I’ve been wanting to write this post for several months now, but I haven’t quite been able to find the words. Now, I think I’ve got it, and I’m ready to tell you something very important; something very important to me, and something that should be very important to you.

When I accepted my current job, my folks wanted to know what I’d be doing. To explain why this position was so different from my previous full-time gig as a Drupal developer, I had to explain what WordPress is. Now, my parents prefer a simpler life; they’re proud to be behind the technology curve. They check email once a week at most, while I check it about once a minute. But, they’re hard-working people. They believe in doing an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. So, the value of open source software is a hard one for them to grasp. They seem to know what it is, and they know contributing to the open source world has boosted my career. But I’m not sure they understand why I or anyone else would give away our work for free, why we’d spend hours writing and debugging code just to let other people have it, build money-making sites on top of it, or even sell our hard work as part of a solution they offer a client.

Why do I do open source? Sure, I could go on about how it built my reputation in the development community, and how I suffered in obscurity in the proprietary software world. I could talk about how a rising tide lifts all boats, or the value of community, or any of that business case justification stuff. But the truth is simpler. So much simpler.

I write open source because I love you.

Wow, that’s some serious hippie-dippy feel-good shit there. But it’s the truth, and I haven’t found a better, more succint way to put it. It’s also why I favor the MIT license over the GPL. I want to see all of you find happiness, success, and great fortunes, and if my code helps you reach those goals, I’m proud to have helped.

I don’t want to put any restrictions on how you use my code. Some people object to less-restrictive license terms like the MIT and BSD licenses because someone could steal their code and use it to build proprietary, locked-down software or devices, laughing all the way to the bank. But I don’t care. If someone does that, I wish them well. If money is all they want out of life, then I hope they get it. I hope that along the way their employees are paid and their families are fed because of my code. I hope their kids get clothes and shoes and iPhones and college educations and pony rides and funnel cakes and all that good stuff.

With all the political turmoil in the world, it feels good to know there are people using technologies I helped build to tell their story, to reach out to the world for help and understanding. And yes, I worry that something I write might someday be used to hurt people, maybe even by a cartoonishly maniacal dictator straight out of James Bond. But, the truth is that I love them, too. And if they’re going to do something like that, I’m very disappointed in them. They probably don’t care that some nerd in Boston is disappointed in them, but I am. And they’re probably not the kind of person who cares about violating licensing terms, either. So I might as well put my code out there with as few restrictions as possible and trust that most people are good, and that they will use it to bring joy, knowledge, and beauty to the world.

And to be perfectly honest with you, I think of open source software every time I go to the bank. This community has been very good to me. I’ve built outstanding sites and applications on top of WordPress & Drupal over the years, and I’ve been paid very well for my knowledge and experience. Yet, that’s not why I give up nights and weekends to work on open source projects. It’s not why I speak at Meetups or WordCamps. It truly is a labor of love for me, and I hope everyone reading this finds a way to make the world better by giving just a little of their time and skill to an open source project they believe in.

And if you’re not into the hippy-dippy love-the-world crap, Amy Hendrix has some totally, utterly petty reasons to contribute to open-source.

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