Caleb Cushing's Blog

Unpaid volunteer work is a job

So the common misconception in the open source community is, “I don’t get paid, I don’t have to do it”. Actually, it’s not a misconception, you’re absolutely right, you don’t have to, you can stop, leave, go away. It’s also well know that FOSS software is without warranty or guaranteed support. But by the vary nature of being a volunteer you are offering to do a job for free. No? have you tried working for a volunteer organization and telling your boss there “I don’t have to do it because I’m not paid”. I highly suspect this attitude will get you a ‘then we don’t need you’. I also suspect if you’re say, working a food drive, and someone asks you something and you say “I’m not paid to explain it to you” what do you think that would look like? Basically when you volunteer to do something you’re volunteering to do a job. If you are unwilling to perform all parts of that job should you be there?

With open source software you’re volunteering to support the entire software life cycle. This means design, development, documentation, and maintenance. Most open source developers love doing the first two, but abhor the last. It’s a job, some parts of it suck, if you can’t be bothered to document your stuff or find someone who will, don’t show up. You know what else? you’re not perfect so people are going to have problems, it’s your job to support them as part of your ‘best effort’ support. Best effort support doesn’t mean bitching when someone asks you to improve something. If you reason for saying no is, “I’m a volunteer so I don’t have to” come up with a better reason, there are better reasons.

If you tell people, hey I’m really swamped at the day job, they’ll probably understand if this is something more than a 2 line of code fix. My wife is ill, just recently on ironman one of the dev’s (sorry I’m not looking it up and I don’t remember the name, condolences all the same) is taking a leave of absence due to his wife having cancer, we get that. I’m on vacation, no computer access right now. All this stuff is saying is, “now is not a good time for me”, and that’s ok. But saying using “I’m a volunteer” ever is not acceptable. This gives FOSS software the ugly taste that some people complain about.

Before anyone else calls me an “entitled piece of shit” (yes a FOSS developer said that to me today after calling me a “fucking asshole” for filing a bug that he didn’t understand what I’d said ). I’m sorry? I just wrote a patch to help fix this problem elsewhere, is my asking you to fix your own a problem? I maintain 250+ packages in the Arch User Repository, including yours. I help people use your software, and I’m not the first one to complain. How does me telling you I’m having difficulty with your software and asking you to fix it make me entitled? do you take no pride in your work? seriously, if your responses are going to be no patch from you know fix, and fuck you because I didn’t understand what you were saying… I’d rather you deleted your modules and went away.

I had a project that I didn’t want to take the time for anymore, and no one was helping, but I was getting bug requests. So after asking for help, I put sign up that said, “project is dead because I couldn’t do it by myself”, or some such. ceased work, and left the code up. This isn’t wrong because at some point everyone moves on. You don’t have to maintain your work, but you should at least let the world know that not maintaining it is your intent, and that you’ve quit. 150-200 of the modules I maintain on AUR were from someone who went from Arch to OS X and is no longer around, and although it took him longer than it should have, IMO. He did eventually say, “I’m not doing this anymore, relinquishing control”, essentially, which was acceptable and I took over.

I couldn’t always do what I could now, but wonderful communities like Gentoo, and Postgres have made me a better person, now to where I contribute where I can. I’d also like to note that Linus (and others?) have, and do, turn down patches and remove kernel code if the developers are unwilling to maintain, and support them, I endorse support concept.

You may disagree if you’d like, but this is my opinion. Just let me know if you feel this way before I do something for you so I don’t waste my time. I don’t want to do your job for you, and I did not volunteer to do your job.

I’m going to cover the horrible response that equates to “fix it yourself” in another post.


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