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Getting Paid for Open Source Development

Not all open source development is volunteer work (Lakhani & Wolf 2005: 40% paid, Hars&Ou 2001: 16% paid). So far I’ve found the following ways to get paid for open source work:

  1. Directly hired to develop open source by the main contributing organisation (e.g. Mozilla developer hired by Mozilla or a Mediawiki developer hired by the Wikimedia Foundation.
  2. Directly hired to develop open source software for one-of-many contributing organisations. E.g. a kernel developer hired by Intel
  3. Being allowed to work on open source by your employer. E.g. 20% time at Google and similar programs in other companies.
  4. Working under a grant extended to you personally. E.g. Google Summer of Code students
  5. Financial rewards for implementing a feature, solving a bug, etc. . E.g bounties used in several projects.
  6. Grants for attending conferences, ability to give talks etc.

Based on interviews with KDE and GNOME developers Berdou distinguishes four types of employment based on the way the reward is given:

  • Free sponsorship: Hired to continue doing what the developer was doing voluntarily.  Category 1 is mostly this, they might get a mandate from the organization that employs them but they’re working directly on the product.
  • Clear mandate:  Hired to develop specific features or other software for a company on an open source product. Matches most closely with category 2. Some might match with category 1.
  • Friendly jobs: developers are expected to work on the companies (closed source) products but are free to spend some time to work on open source products. This matches with category 3 above.
  • Contractor jobs: hired to solve a particular issue, for a limited time or scope. This would be category 5, and some of category 4 and 6.

Not all monetary rewards are equal. Krishnamurthy uses four variables to understand financial rewards:

  1. Distribution pattern: do rewards go to a few or to all?
  2. Type of provider: Non profit organization, individual, corporation
  3. Contingent or fixed:  Is it a one-time reward?
  4. Conditionality:  Are there conditions attached? E.g. reward upon implementing a feature

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