Code for Other People

I know this is going to sound crazy – but not so long ago – I heard a voice. It was at a Allman Brothers concert. I was 18, sitting in the balcony, and Dicky Betts was wailing up and down the fretboard. And in that brief moment, the music stopped. All I heard was the guitar – and it spoke to me. It said, “Live life for other people”. I’ve told this story over the years to mixed reactions (understandably), no one can really argue with the message, though. I’ve tried to live it, often failing, and constantly reinterpreting what it means. I’ve never felt it really meant straight volunteerism. Volunteerism is great and all, but in terms of comparative advantage, it would be hard to argue that its worth my time to be digging up weeds in a community garden versus what I can provide in terms of my unique skills. For a while this has meant living and working for my wife, letting her pursue her dreams, and working my ass off so we can have all the things and experiences that we want. She just finished her first year of Graduate school at Mills College in Oakland and I couldn’t be more proud.

Open source in itself is in some ways for other people. It’s one of the things that got me into OSS in the first place. Other people in this context means a community of people looking to solve a collection of problems. When you release an OSS project you’re gifting it to these other people and hopefully they’ll return the favor at some point by allowing you to be the other people side of this equation. That’s not always true or possible, though, and thats OK. It’s part of the OSS contract that its a community, and you should try, but aren’t required to always give back to the people and projects that help you.

A while ago, GitHub allowed an option on projects to allow for creating a pledgie per-project. The idea being that people could donate a couple bucks to a project and its creator so they could buy themselves a beer. Just a little way of saying thank you. I think it wasnt that succesfull, maybe because remote beer buying just isnt there yet. Or maybe because its a question of what you’re actually buying? I never did this on Sammy.js or any of my other projects because, really, I don’t need the $5 for beer (thats not to say I wont take a free beer if you want to meet up at a conference or meetup and buy me one :)). I just didnt see the point. Save your money, I thought, I’m doing this for the community.

Heres the new idea – I will take your money. In fact, I really, really want to take your money. Not for me. For other people. I’m starting a rotating Code for Other People fund. Every time we hit $500, well donate the money and rotate to a new charity. I’m very open to suggestions on that front as well. For example the first charity is the Anita Borg Organization. I’ve worked with them before, and they are consistently doing awesome things for women and diversity in the tech community. Other charities on the horizon are DonorsChoose and the Gary Greenberg Fund.

If you have an open source project, consider linking to this fund or promoting it on your blog or site. Your work on Open Source can not only help people in the OSS community, but help raise money for causes that need and appreciate it.

If you’re a developer or a user of other people’s code, consider donating some of your (probably healthy) paycheck – even a single dollar – to the fund. It shows your support for the different projects you use and also shows the communities commitment to the greater good.

I have $220 dollars of surplus from the recently awesome CodeFoodBar x JSConf Dinner. that I’m donating to kick off the fund.

Now when I release or work on an open source project, I’ll be working for something bigger – for other people.

2 Responses to “Code for Other People”

Dude, I LOVE this.

You’re actually attacking an issue I’ve been thinking about for a while. My first idea for Ohours was to solve my pro bono problem. I want to support Big Brothers and Big Sisters, but what can they do with my “skills”? Non profits are very inefficient at using skilled volunteers’ time. HOWEVER, the free market is very efficient at using my spare time. The idea was to charge for my Ohours/Office Hours but the money would go to the charity of my choice, thus perfecting the pro bono market.

Anyway, sounds great.

Always much more to learn than great coding practices from talented social hackers like yourself.


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