Open-source and employment...

Posted 29 Oct 2002 at 22:39 UTC by DrCode Share This

Does being an open-source developer help when one needs to find employment?

Obviously, those of us who write open-source code don't expect to make money from it. It's our contribution to the community, and, for me, is payment of a sort for all the free software that I've had the privilege to use.

But somewhere in the back of my mind, I've had the notion that, perhaps, when I needed a job, my free-software work would show employers that I'm passionate about what I do, and that I can lead and complete large projects. I also thought that the numerous pieces of fan mail our project has received was fairly decent proof that those of us who created it would be worthy staff members.

So I'm looking for advice from other developers: Has your open-source work helped you find a job? Are there any employers or groups that see the value in open-source developers as compared to people who only work for pay?

lets hope so...., posted 30 Oct 2002 at 01:58 UTC by snorp » (Journeyer)

I am graduating soon (and therefore, trying to find a job), so I will be finding this out the hard way. My grades are really bad (like, 2.3 GPA), but I have experience working at a couple pretty cool places as well as a little bit of work on GNOME under my belt. Hopefully, it will be enough to counter my shitty grades and get me a job.

2 sides, posted 30 Oct 2002 at 08:23 UTC by salmoni » (Master)

I should imagine that this depends upon the employers attitudes towards OSS. On one hand, participation in OSS development shows that:

1) You love programming enough to do it as a hobby (ie, you're not a monkey whose signed up to one of those "earn $$$'s as a programmer" type things);
2) You can organise yourself well enough to either integrate into a team, or have people working for you if you're the project leader;
3) You have the knowledge and skills to be able to contribute;
4) You may have principles governing your software development;
5) You are willing to open your work to the wider world (confidence in ones ability);
6) You are willing to participate in a wide community;
7) I'm sure there's more to add.

However, against this, some employers may feel that:

1) You may have principles governing your software development - they may worry that you want to GPL everything;
2) You are just a "hobbyist" programmer (we know lots of OSS developers who are top class, but try convincing someone in an interview) and don't have the "professional" quality skills;
3) You have no social life!;
4) The employer may just hate OSS software (unreason exists everywhere);

It will depend to a large extent upon the employers attitude, but another important factor is selling your work (and yourself) in the most positive way. Use the stuff on the first list when you apply for a job. OSS participation should show that you can take part and contribute towards a project which shows practical experience in the sometimes harsh world of OSS development where users can be far more savage than employers. The experience you have gained is something valuable to a potential employer. Let them know that.

Connections, posted 30 Oct 2002 at 12:27 UTC by abraham » (Master)

I have got all my jobs at workplaces where people I already knew worked and recommended me. I think this is pretty common, at least around here. An effect of this is that I have yet to be at a "real" job interview, usually the person doing the interview has already decided he want to hire me, and just want to convince me to take the job. And they have never asked for grades.

Writting free software that people actually use is a great (and fun) way to make connections, both among co-developers and users. For example, one co-student who worked on GNU Objective C got headhunted by NeXT, and apparently AOL have been hiring people from the Mozilla project big time.

PS: A surprisingly large fraction of the work done on free software is actually getting paid for, so don't give up that either.

Wanted. Open-Source programmer., posted 30 Oct 2002 at 13:13 UTC by Tofu » (Journeyer)

Were I work open-source is VERY important. We are just a group of 7 people that use open-source tools to solve problems. One of our goals is to go into a meeting with a client and when we come out of that meeting we have a working pro-type with a good idea of what the users want. We also pride ourselves in the speed we bring a project from developement into production. It would be impossible to meet these goals without open-source. The open-source community gives us tons of software at our disposal. It also makes our team of 7 no longer a small team but a huge community of developers. Not only with the help we get from open-source projects we have started, but with the many other projects allready out there. I could go on and on about how great open-source is, but I am drifting off topic. Anyway, my place of employement looks for people who would work on open-source projects. A person that is self-driven, curious, and knows how to solve problems. And if you have worked or started an open-source project then you have all these qualities plus more, ussually. It is rare, in my experience, to find a good problem solver that is just doing what they do for the money.

It depends ..., posted 30 Oct 2002 at 15:40 UTC by Stevey » (Master)

 I think it depends upon the field you're interested in, and the kind of work you do.

 For example if you're deeply interested in compilers and understand the murky depths of GCC you've got to be more hirable than some other random body - to a compiler company.

 Personally I do open source work for a hobby and consider it entirely seperate from my day job as sysadmin.

 I did find out, later, that the guy who picked me for an interview used my MP3 streamer at his home - I don't know if that helped me get the job, but I suspect it got me the interview.

OSS only has upsides (for me), posted 31 Oct 2002 at 04:15 UTC by coolvibe » (Journeyer)

Yes, it can get you a job. I don't really have to explain why because I share most of the opinions that were uttered before me.

The best thing of all is that OSS will keep you busy and safely away from that detrimental state called boredom. Boredom is what made me actually look for bugs, create bugreports and submit patches. It led to code/project generation. It led to projects being written. And if people use it enough, you can chalk it up on the ole resume.

Boredom, and the occasional gallon of coffee is what usually powers up my productivity :D

PS: Ey Stevey, I suspect there is something amiss with gnump3d and gcc 3.2. I'll send you a heads up when I start getting bored again (after I've slept. It's late.)

It also depends..., posted 31 Oct 2002 at 06:37 UTC by zenalot » (Journeyer)

It also depends on who is reviewing you for the position and whether they have prior knowledge of the project your are working on. The real difference is the work environment, the difference between making a valuable contribution to an open source project compared to making a valuable contribution to an industry project with a budget and deadline. I think the bottom line is that if you have a significant experience in an area that fits the job description and have a proven record then you have a greater chance of being selected for the job.

Sell your OSS-related skills, posted 1 Nov 2002 at 13:53 UTC by Denny » (Journeyer)

I've generally found that potential employers didn't understand all the ways in which contributing to OSS might impact on my ability to do the job they were considering me for. Obviously it tells them I like to code (which is a good start), but there is more to it than that...

It doesn't hurt therefore to point out the less obvious things, such as (if you hack on one of the larger OSS projects especially) the fact that OSS experience can be extremely good for developing the interpersonal skills related to coding as part of a large (and usually distributed) team. Employers like team skills, and distributed projects are becoming more common (in my limited experience) with companies becoming more diversified or more geographically dispersed.

I work in 'net development (mainly web but also some other networking stuff). In this case, mentioning the fact that the 'net is built on not just open technology, but open principles, and linking in the fact that you _understand_ this philosophy, has worked out okay for me in the past - although I'm always aware that I tend to get a little evangelical around this stage which isn't ideal behaviour for an interview...

Mozilla, posted 1 Nov 2002 at 15:28 UTC by gerv » (Master)

One of the reasons Mozilla has fewer good non-Netscape contributors than you might expect is because Netscape has a habit of hiring all the good ones :-) I once saw a Netscape org chart with ex-external-contributors highlighted. The percentage was pretty high.

So (although I think they are in a hiring freeze at the moment), working on Mozilla is certainly good for your job prospects. :-)


Of course it helps; frame the question differently, posted 4 Nov 2002 at 01:39 UTC by jds » (Journeyer)

In your question, "Does being an open-source developer help when one needs to find employment?" you imply that there needs to be a gap between open source development and financially secure development.

I say do not compromise. Seek only those jobs which PAY you to do open source development, if you desire to make a living at programming.

I recently quit a great job to do open source full time. The folks I was working with were talented programmers but unwilling to make the leap into open sourcing the code; fear of "competition using our own code against us" which I tried very gently to overcome; gently because there is no use being shrill about something that has so much integrity as free software.

Silly. If your competitors start using your code... they've just become your employees! Get a grip on the much larger picture, and these little "competition" and "money" worries fade quickly.

People are people., posted 4 Nov 2002 at 11:44 UTC by realblades » (Journeyer)

I don't think there's a simple answer as to what kind of effect things have when dealing with people. A lot of the immature job market related to computer is on very very shaky foundations.

I think you're lucky if you've managed to find an employer that understands a bit of what this kind of thing means. As mentioned in at least one comment, some people may even consider this kind of experience as a bad thing. On the other hand many think there's no such thing as bad publicity and the ones that insult most serious people get merits etc.

Such are people. It would be nice to think that there's good companies particularly on some fronts that can take good arguments and merits and weigh them intelligently and that then there's some of them that turn things upside-down, hire idiots and then go bankrupt. Unfortunately competency and success don't seem to correlate.

It will probably end up being a question of personal chemistry and chance, as usual. I would still consider mentioning OSS projects along with paid projects a good thing. Wheather you emphasize that they have been done for no profit apart from the result itself is yet another thing.

Personally, I try to keep a clear record in everything and see that when I (and perhaps someone sharing my views?) looks back at what I've done and said, I'll have no regrets and it will be seen that I try to hold a consistent, honest and logical approach. I wouldn't hide my involvement in such a project even if I knew someone might not like it. How I would advertise it in an interview would be a whole other thing.

It sure helped me, posted 7 Nov 2002 at 13:39 UTC by gby » (Journeyer)

I was recently in need of a job after quitting the last one ("PHB: The managment does not approve of your working hours", Me:"I see. I will take this under consideration". PHB: "Good! that's what I wanted to hear!". Me:"No, you didn't." and I gave him my resignation notice the next day...) and I can testify that contribting to Free/Open Software projects and being involved in the community helped me ALOT!

Not only did a lot of my friends for Open Source land help me get my CV to their work places and reccomended me based on our mutual work together, I also had somethong to show and talk about at job interviews. Think about it! all the closed source work you do is simply not there and you are barred to discuss it in much details, but you can talk all you want about your Free code and show it to the interviewer.

Sure, not all of them looked, but the ones that did where generally the ones I wanted to be hired by moast anyhow :-)

And yes, I am happily employed right now at SGI and I got emplyed (also) because of skills I learned doing Free Software work.


Magic Pixie Dust, posted 11 Nov 2002 at 20:12 UTC by garym » (Master)

Opensource per se doesn't mean anything, but because it is open, when I, as a contractor, need to evaluate someone for a contract, I turn to Google first. I don't trust references or academic credentials because, while some may be perfectly valid, all I have done is shifted the trust problem from the candidate to their references.

With opensource developers, I can see their work, I can inspect it. I can see their discussions in the project mailing list and evaluate how well they interact with others, how much they lead the innovations, the stamina of their enthusiasm.

Thus, it doesn't matter if I am building OSS or not, or even how I feel about using OSS in my business (if we could replace QuickBooks with OSS, we'd be 100% OSS, but that's beside the point). What matters is that in hiring someone there is a trust problem where I have this unknown person who is going to be very biased in selling themselves to me, and unless I can see the goods, I am basically gambling (and it's an expensive gamble) when I get them to sign on the line. The bottom line is that I cannot afford to hire or contract anyone who is not an opensource programmer.

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