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Are Developers Secret Santas Of The Information Age?

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Secret Santa

During this last holiday season, I read numerous new articles about ‘Secret Santas’ covertly donating thousands of dollars into bell ringers’ kettles. Always associating things with software, I instantly related it to my previous post about the selflessness of OSS developers. Just like ‘Secret Santas’, the more I am aware of their activity, the more I am humbled by these people.

Selflessly giving their time and knowledge to OSS projects, blogs, and forums; developers seem to give so much back into the community. Musicians, artists, scientists, doctors, whomever, all seem to have one thing in common – in the end they all want to be accredited for their work. Never have I seen a musician announce they have created a musical riff to allow anyone to sample, and I highly doubt the creator of the artificial heart didn’t ask for a dime.

As a result, I recently started to rethink an old thought if other careers care about their craft (or disciplines) as much as developers do.

Sure there are a lot of truly passionate occupations. Musicians and artists create works of beauty out of love for the craft, and scientists continually are hard at work solving the next big problem. Not to sound pretentious, but is it our craft’s unique stage of both engineering and craftsmanship that allows us to be more passionate?

So what makes developers uniquely give their knowledge and time away? Do we under estimate what our knowledge and time is worth? Is it our attempt to be part of the fundamental growth of our infant craft? Is this the way geeky introverts act in good will? What is it?

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8 Responses to “Are Developers Secret Santas Of The Information Age?”

  1. John Chapman on January 7th, 2008 7:11 am

    As much as I would really like to believe this, I just don’t agree with it. I think the people you speak of are less than 1% of the developer community. You’re giving too much credit to the vast majority of developers out there. Most of the developers I’ve worked with or interacted with, would not do such things.

    I think there are many people in each profession, doctor, musicians, whatever, where they don’t do it for the money and fame, but rather a love for their “craft”. Keep in mind that the vast majority of musicians don’t make much money. They actually live pretty tough lives, but say they do it because they love the music.

  2. Max Pool on January 7th, 2008 7:58 am

    @John –

    I’ll agree with the fact not every developer gives back into the community via OSS, blogs, forums, or what-have-you, I think this is true for any occupation. I also agree that other people can love their jobs (unless you are an accountant, I really don’t see how anyone can love that job).

    Developers (when they do give back) do so in such a unique way that I can’t seem to find another equivalent online.

    If we were speaking about offline the Peace Corps would walk all over any occupation in my book…

  3. Mitch on January 7th, 2008 8:51 am

    There is one reason that developers give these rather unique contributions to the community, and that is one of community improvement. Whenever a project is improved, it makes everyone’s life easier. For example frameworks: web development wouldn’t be anywhere near as easy as it is today without them and I’m sure the framework developers benefit from their own frameworks too.
    I think being able to help our craft grow more easily is another reason, and a bigger one than the above. It’s painful for me to know some people are out there cutting code that’s existed for years, they just need to look for it.

  4. Ken Egozi on January 7th, 2008 9:33 am

    Well, I did put a secret time bomb in aspview that would make your application to halt and will convert all your beautiful markup to table-tags-with-propriety-attributes, should you not send me a really large paypal donation.
    Or at least a 500g steak with two pints of ale.

  5. Tom on January 8th, 2008 12:54 am

    I suspect it’s a bit like hobbies such as woodworking or drawing — for the enjoyment. Plus there’s a kick from participating in group effort. And for working coders, it’s refreshing to do something without concern for the evaluation of a client or boss, but only for that of your peers.
    While OSS projects certainly have contributed to the improvement, or at least expansion, of information technology, there’s no comparison in impact between this and, say, pro bono legal work to help redress injustices perpetrated against the weak, scientific research leading to relief from disease and pain, or even something as simple as volunteer work at a hospice or homeless shelter.
    I think you are overestimating the importance of our work. We’re making tools, here. As satisfying as that may be, they are still just tools used to accomplish meaningful work more efficiently.

  6. Max Pool on January 8th, 2008 1:04 am

    Maybe I am overestimating our impact. After a little more thought, perhaps the greatest gift to the Information Era are blogs. Now everyone is donating their time, intelligence, and conversation regardless of occupation or interests.

  7. Troy Tuttle on January 8th, 2008 11:31 am

    Would we even have an artificial heart if the developer of that device didn’t get paid for the investment of time and expenses?

    There is a time and place for donating and helping, but nothing motivates people like rewards and compensation.

  8. Karl Katzke on January 8th, 2008 7:29 pm

    “Never have I seen a musician announce they have created a musical riff to allow anyone to sample, and I highly doubt the creator of the artificial heart didn’t ask for a dime.”

    Yes, actually, frequently this happens in Rap. Or did you not know that Jay-Z created a track-only (no vocals) part of his Black Album and distributed it freely? Famously, it was used to create DJ Danger Mouse’s “Grey Album” by mixing in clips harvested from the Beatles’ “White Album”. Music is, quite possibly, the first open-source, attribution-only field. Musicians count on their ‘sound’ to come through and be their signature, which is why you don’t usually hear the attribution. Heck, if you’ve ever done any learning about Jazz as a musical style you’ll learn that most Jazz musicians can immediately sit down and ‘groove’ with fellow musicians because they typically play ‘riffs’ off of a common song — one of the most common is ‘The Flintstones’ theme.

    Open-source developers are usually responsible for their own grandstanding and credit-taking because the source code is abstracted in the end and you don’t necessarily have that ‘sound’ to rely on to communicate the original author to the end user.

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