Knee Jerk Open Source-ialism
I have a few conservative friends. I can’t help it. I live in El Dorado County, not Berkeley. One of my conservative friends who I haven’t seen in a few years used to say that his quarrel with liberals was that they had a lot of knee-jerk ideas. A search for “knee jerk liberal” returns 431,000 Google results, while “knee jerk conservative” returns only 408,000, which proves (scientifically, of course) that liberals have 5.6% more knees than conservatives.
**What Has Liberalism to Do With Open Source? **
Surprised? You may find one of your mental knees trying to jerk as we speak. People seem to innately associate open source with Barrack Obama, gay marriage, and the rest of the rebel alliance, while of course when we think closed source, we generally think of Microsoft, which conjures up Darth Vader, Dick Cheney, and the tanks at Tiananmen Square.
Hey, don’t blame me. I didn’t make up your mental categories.
I do however find this very interesting. I was beginning to think about this as I started to notice that everywhere I turned when starting to think about creating an Employee Owned Software Collective, I found that the companies out there were all open source companies. The first company I came across was the Ronin Tech Collective, who describe themselves thus:
We are a worker-owned and operated technology collective, focused on workplace democracy and promoting a democratic society while supporting progressive businesses, non-profits, and cooperatives by providing open-source website development and consulting._
I have an email out to them, because that’s all good. (I’m not religious about languages – good socialist that I am, I’m atheistic about them). My point, again, though is that the assumption is that progressivism and open source go together. Check out the United Federation of Worker Cooperative’s welcome of their newest member, which I’ll reprint here since ultimately they’ll end up with a still newer member and the link would be no good:
Welcome to our newest member! Passionate about sustainability,this web design and custom application developer has deep roots in Seattle’s progressive communities.
Now if you navigate to the company in question, you’ll find that they “[serve] sustainability-driven businesses and organizations with professional Internet expertise. We build highly interactive websites with open source software to help you achieve your goals.”
Of course, if you’re going to “support progressive businesses” or serve “sustainability-driven businesses”, you need to be open source, right?
Why? For the same reason “stark” doesn’t go with “hungry”. Nobody’s stark hungry, though we know stark means completely. If you’re stark, then by golly, we all know you’re stark naked.
When I mentioned to my wife that I was thinking about starting an employee owned collective, fine wife as she is, she didn’t say, “What, are you crazy? You have a good job, you’ll go broke.” What she said was: “You should look into Open Source.”
Is There Anything Wrong With This?
So what’s wrong with a company using Open Source and being Progressive? Nothing at all. Here are a few ideas though:
Don’t Limit Your Customer Base
Yes, there are a lot of companies who are building curly light-bulbs or selling low cruelty mochas, but why should we as an employee run business sell only to them? What if the National Rifle Association wants a web site? Do we turn them down?
**Serve Your Employees
**I just talked to a friend I’ve known for some forty-nine years or so, when our mom’s used to stick us in the same playpen so they could talk. He told me the story of how a bank he used to work for as a DBA wanted to switch from SQL Server to PostgreSQL, and his initial reaction was: “I don’t want that on my resume.” He went on to tell how he met some folks at a PostgreSql conference who told him the story of how they were travelling in a van and concerned that if the Van crashed, there’d be no more PostgreSQL support. Programmers want to work in a place where there skills are transferrable. This is so they can take their marbles and go home if your project gets too stupid. Try this: go up on Dice and search for “Ruby on Rails”, then search for “ASP.NET”. I will wait here for you.
**Open Source is Good Because It’s Free
**Well, this is partially true. I’m always amazed at how many blogs _about _ASP.NET are _running _on Wordpress or Blogspot or another non-ASP platform. At the same time, I see the fact that open source Application Service Provider companies don’t offer an upgrade and consulting path for medium to large businesses who want a Microsoft hosted platform to be hosted in house to be a huge opportunity.
Moreover, as a programmer, free software is not good. Software that I own (in whole or in part) and can sell is good. Does that mean I’m going to do a bad job or not offer my clients a fair price? No, it just means I’m not working for free.
Labor union organizers had a word for people who did things cheaply for the bosses. They called them scabs. Of course, in the course of things, labor unions and socialism gave way to liberalism. (Love me, love me, love me, I’m a Liberal). Today we who are afraid to be called liberals are known as progressives, and we lament the fate of workers around the world while refusing steadfastly to pay for music, software, or anything else of artistic value.
Win-Win or Don’t Play
The problem of course with working as a programmer for a big company is that you’ don’t have a say in how the software is created. Working open source, you can do whatever you want for free, and then try to sell that to people who by definition don’t pay for things. Working as an employee-owner in a closed source shop, you can build your skills and own the software that is sold and forms the basis of the consulting business – the “means of production”, if you will. Your clients will benefit from your longevity to the company and the dedication with which you take a long term view to create outstanding software. Everybody wins. And nobody gets run over by a tank.