Open Source Developers Are Rock Stars!

When I was a kid, all I wanted to be was a rock star. I wanted to play guitar, get up on stage, and have everyone scream while I cranked out some hard rockin’ tune. I wanted to see lighters held up in the crowd as I finished my last set – dripping with sweat, completely tired, and no energy left. Leave it all on the stage – that’s what I wanted. My friends all felt the same – we talked about it all the time.

Well, that never happened. Instead I went to college and spent more time in the computer center than I did at parties. The only thing I cranked out was code. Later, I got a job writing software and I’ve been working with computers ever since.

While I still listen to a lot of music and have Gigs of tunes on my iPod, my dreams of being a rock star have faded. I still think about them once in a while, but more than that, I now think about open source. So do a bunch of my friends – we talk about it all the time.

I met a guy at the Softpro computer book store off Route 128 in Burlington, MA, a while ago. (I hang out there now instead of the record shop.) He writes financial applications for a mutual fund company in Boston. All he wanted to talk about was JBoss. He’d spent some time working on the JMS implementation but had gotten too busy to continue. He wanted to get back involved as soon as he could. All those people who were building the latest JBoss – he wanted to be one of them.

In his eyes I saw the same stars I used to have. I used to think that way about Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. I wanted to be one of them. When I was younger, I ran out to buy the latest Led Zeppelin album – now I run out to get the latest build of Gentoo or Hula.

Open source developers are the rock stars of the software world. The parallels actually go pretty far. You can say they don’t get the money and fame, but I think you’re wrong. The average open source developer probably makes more at his or her job than most local musicians make. I’ve met open source developers who have founded software companies and are doing pretty well financially. As far as fame goes, they may not do quite as well as real rock stars but some do pretty well; Linus Torvalds is fairly famous, but I guess not like Kurt Cobain.

They’re also usually the most talented developers. Rock stars get where they are in the music world by being great musicians; open source rock stars get where they are by writing great code.

Naming their projects is a lot like naming their bands. When you hear people talking about Subversion, Ethereal, or Excalibur (all open source projects), it’s hard to tell if they mean software projects or rock bands.

A good friend of mine called me once and went on for 30 minutes about how he was submitting a patch to the Jakarta Struts project (a JSP framework from the Apache Software Foundation). His patch would allow you to define validations for one input field based on the value of some other field (e.g., if you fill in a last name, make sure you fill out a first name…). He was totally excited about it and went into all the details of how he built it.

After he was done telling me about it, he was almost out of breath. I reached in my pocket, pulled out a lighter, and stood there holding it lit in the air.

Leave it all on the stage.

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  • Anonymous

    Open Source Developers diminish importance of pay by giving things away; society as a whole suffers a bit as a result…

    By contrast, rock stars are paid handsomely.

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  • Anonymous

    As I propose in the article, the average person writing open source code probably makes as much or more than the average musician.

    Sure, the top musicians make more — but there are lots of musicians that barely make a living.

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  • MoshErsan

    now i can light up a lighter when i finish my work

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  • Karl

    We give stuff away because we like to make the world a better place. We make things because we have a desperate need for an outlet to our creativity. We write this stuff because we’ve felt the pain ourselves, and want to give the next guy a leg up; it increases the efficiency of software development as a whole.

    And do you know what happens? Everything moves up to the next level. With these new tools comes an explosion of innovation and value as more people leverage them to build bigger and more ambitious things than would be possible with those old, clunky tools with nasty licensing restrictions. To take it to extreme, imagine a world where the wheel, inclined plane, and hammer were patented. Innovation would slow to a crawl.

    We still find work that pays handsomely, often because it’s in an area related to our open source work. We found companies because we’re people who can actually ship a product. We leverage our self-directed expert knowledge into consulting gigs.

    Some of us come out millionaires. More of us come out well off. But the money isn’t why we do it, and until you shed your money-centric viewpoint, what we do will always mystify you.

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  • MikeY

    That was an awesome post.

    I too whipped out my lighter as I read the final paragraphs… In awe and wonder with my Bic held high I – with bated breath – was swept away by the power of verbs/words. Then: “Leave it all on the stage.”

    With hand held high I closed my eyes and bowed my head in a silent acknowledgement of a piece well crafted.

    The first sign that something was amiss was when the chunks of curtain landed on my back in flames.

    The fire department said that the worst of the damage was caused by the water used to douse the inferno, and that it would probably only be a day or two until the structure is deemed safe and I’m allowed back in.

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  • Anonymous

    Thanks Mike! You’re awesome!

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  • Open Source | why & how can I get involved « The Tipping Point

    [...] Yes, open source software programmers are ROCKSTARS..!!! [...]

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