You Can, and Should, Write Software For Free

Ryan Vanbelkum
Oct 24, 2019 · 3 min read

“Free” doesn’t pay the bills, but it makes you and your community better.

Find something that you enjoy, and figure out a way to get paid doing it. Isn’t that everyone’s goal? I was lucky enough to find that I enjoyed writing software. Mostly web and mobile apps. Now the question becomes, do you always have to get paid? The answer is both yes and no. Here are some reasons you might write software for free.

Build your portfolio

As a young developer you need a way to show your skills. Jobs are plentiful, you just need a way to make yourself standout. Fancy words on a resume only go so far. Show off your personal GitHub (or other repo of choice). In an early stage of your career this probably means creating and developing projects on your own time. A good one for me was a project I started that would animate the Christmas lights on my house. I purchased the Raspberry Pi hardware, many trips to the hardware store, and created a node js app. Not only did I enjoy the project, it was something I was proud of and could share publicly on my GitHub. I didn’t get paid a dime of this work. As you progress in your career you should have work to display that you have been paid for (if your client or employer allows you). If you’re in college, make sure to save any coding you have done for classes. Interviewers should be more interested in your work vs. words on a resume.

Contribute to open source

Just like it sounds, open source software is open for the world to use, study and change. It is relied on by millions of individuals and corporations. Creating software and releasing it as open source, or contributing to an already established open source program is a great way to contribute back to the community. It can also be a great resume boost. Many companies love open source software because it keeps costs low and allows them to get feedback and support from the community that created that application.

Creating projects for fun

I briefly mentioned my Christmas light project. This allowed me to play with technologies that, at the time, I wasn’t familiar with and wanted to learn. It was a great excuse to just start tinkering. Find something you’re interested in and use it as an excuse to start coding. A couple months ago, a friend of mine brought up an idea for a mobile app to help cyclists plan which route they should ride for that day. About a month ago we released our first version for iOS and Android. We haven’t made a dime from the app yet, and maybe never will, but we really enjoyed the process and learned a lot about a tech stack we don’t use for our day jobs.

Paying the bills

You can make a great career for yourself writing software. The job market is hot for developers in most of the country. Jobs ranging from entry level to senior and above. Everyone has bills to pay, you can’t just sit in your basement and write software for free all of your life. The suggestions in this article may not only make you and your community better, but could help you land a good paying job. Justifying that software you wrote for free. Who knows, maybe that app you wrote will take off and become the next Flappy Bird.


Just because you can make money doing something, doesn’t mean you always have to get paid doing it. Software is a great example. Another example would be professional athletes playing a pickup game. Any way you can improve your skills, do it. You may end up making money for it in the end, anyways!

Ryan Vanbelkum

Written by

Front end engineer @ Grubhub. JS, HTML, CSS, ect. ect. ect.

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