Hide your real name in Open Source

If you’re thinking about contributing to Open Source, please take a moment to think of the negative impact it could have on your career. In this post, I will be honest about some of the very serious downsides you may experience and a way to avoid them.

You will have been sold a story about how contributing to Open Source projects will give you exposure, and that companies will be fighting to hire you. Sorry, it’s all lies: it was true 20 years ago but no longer.

I am a very active contributor. My github profile is alive with tickets, commits, successful projects and users (although I am moving to gitlab because of FSF guidelines). I do it because I love to solve problems. Do you know what I’ve been asked by most companies I’ve interviewed with? “we are suspicious that you are too active on github and will not commit to this job”.

In each case I pointing out that other hobbies are just as time consuming yet not visible, but the fact that I had to explain myself should give us pause.

There is also an increasing trend to ignore github profiles, in an attempt to avoid discrimination: I may not agree with the logic, but I approve of the sentiment. This industry certainly needs more diversity.

But it gets worse.

I have done a lot of charity work and I can see the same patterns emerge in the Open Source community: if you are successful at doing something altruistic, then there will be people who attack you. Privileged members of a toxic community feel it is their moral duty to create do-not-hire lists, “call people out” with a hot-take, and contact your employer if you have an argument. If they arbitrarily don’t like you, they will call you a Nazi like a 17th century villager crying Witch!

I’ve not only experienced these things personally, but I’ve seen them happen to contributors from marginalised backgrounds. To the commentators who assume that I must be a far-right conservative: please engage your brain for a moment. I’m a vocal advocate of free software, free education and free healthcare, and I live in a country with a socialist government that I voted for.

So how do you avoid having your career harmed by contributing to Open Source? It’s actually very simple: do not use your real name. In addition, hide your location, gender, race, political alignment, and sexual orientation.

Create multiple email addresses, create multiple github accounts, and use hacker names. If one of your accounts is attacked for wrongthink, then there is no consequence for your character or career. Learn to use `git config user.email` effectively.

Furthermore, think long and hard about why you want to contribute to Open Source. Are you doing it to scratch an itch, to share something you are proud of, or to create exposure for yourself? If you only want to scratch an itch or share something, then you never needed to use your real name in the first place. If you are doing it to improve your career opportunities with companies who care, then there is a workaround: include a list of all your accounts on your CV. You can also reveal your identity to close collaborators once you have watched them for some time and are certain that they are not one of the politicians. There is nothing stopping a company from approaching your pseudonym and offering a position!

I’d say the biggest benefit of contributing to the Free Software and Open Source community is meeting people at conferences, and immediately being able to launch into a fun technical discussion. I’m very passionate about technology and I love these kinds of interactions. This, unfortunately, is a casualty if you hide your identity. I do not know how to workaround this, but I am open to suggestions: perhaps a permissioned blockchain could help?

It’s too late for me to hide my real name in Scala, but if I ever return (which is always an option) it will be under a pseudonym. Haskell by all accounts has a more diverse and welcoming community than what I am used to. So far, I trust the Haskell community. But I keep wondering if perhaps I should flip to an anonymous account. We shall see.