Thoughts on free labor

Been thinking about a few things since reading Ashe Dryden’s (amazing!) post on The ethics of unpaid labor and the OSS community. Go read it; there’s a lot there, and what I’m writing here is just noodling at the margins.

First, I read Linus Torvalds’ “Just for Fun” a long time ago, maybe just after it came out, since Wikipedia lists it as being published in 2001, and I distinctly remember reading it at the beach in Steilacoom when we lived in Lakewood, which was 2001-2002. So my recollection is vague, but it seemed to me that he was in some way being publicly supported (welfare? student?) when he first started working on Linux. And so I wonder how much a good safety net, in assuring some amount of financial stability, would allow more people to participate in open source.

Second, my first fulltime job was at a children’s museum, and I worked with a woman who was an excellent artist but who didn’t get a lot of respect at work. (I wrote a bit about her for Ada Lovelace Day in 2009.) The managers finally started putting her talent to use, but she confided in me once that it wasn’t as awesome as she’d thought it would be, partially because doing art for work left her with less energy for art on her own time. It’s something I’ve since heard elsewhere in other endeavors, and sometimes experienced myself, but I always associate it with Mona because I knew how gifted she was.

Third, the part I can’t entirely wrap my brain around is this idea that you’d want to hire or work with people whose main hobby is the same thing as their job. Doing other things gives you perspective. Even if they’re not serious important things like taking care of kids or working an extra job. I took a class over the summer, and it allowed me to be more of myself AND I got a better idea of what our audience is doing. I knit, and play games, and work on my yard, and those things are intrinsically pleasurable (mostly), and also make me a well-rounded human who talks to people who aren’t programmers and things about problems that aren’t in code. (Except the knitting is totally code.) I believe in my heart that whole people make better stuff.

One Reply to “Thoughts on free labor”

  1. I think what happened with me is good evidence of point 3. I did Drupal 24/7 (figuratively) for a few years and balance was not exactly a thing, and now I never want to do it again. Not only that but I lost sight of what made me feel alive and stopped doing it, because I felt that to have a successful career (especially as a woman) in an OSS world I needed to be spending ALL my free time contributing.

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