Recently, Greg Kroah-Hartman, the maintainer of the Linux kernel, blocked developers at the University of Minnesota from submitting Linux patches because several of them had deliberately tried to introduce bad patches. It was bad enough, but besides the security aspects, he also pointed out that those responsible for the code “have enough real work to do” without wasting time to find and destroy deliberately bad code. That’s for sure.
This is because the job of an open source code maintainer is difficult. While developers fix bugs and build features, and reviewers review their code, the code owner is the maintainer. He is responsible for the ongoing work on large parts of an open source project. As you can guess, there are more developers than reviewers and more reviewers than maintainers. Maintainers are the conductors of an open source project. If a bug has not been fixed by a developer, they fix it. If the code has not been revised, they revise it. And, with big projects like Linux, there are often hundreds of code fixes, which need to be maintained per week.
Considering all of this, you might think that free software maintainers are well paid. Think again. While top maintainers like Greg Kroah-Hartman and Linus Torvalds for Linux are making big bucks, a new survey from Tidelift finds that 46% of open-source project managers don’t get paid at all. And among those who are paid, only 26% earn more than $ 1,000 a year for their work. It’s horrible.
Money makes happiness
Tidelift, which offers free software management tools, found in its survey of no less than 400 managers that nearly half of them are unpaid volunteers. So why do it?
According to the survey, the top three reasons managers enjoy their jobs are:
- “Have a positive impact on the world” (71%);
- “Help meet a need for creative, stimulating and / or enjoyable work” (63%);
- “Work on projects that are close to my heart” (59%).
It is not a surprise.
As the recent Linux Foundation, Open Source Security Foundation (OSSF) and Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard (LISH) report on the 2020 Free Software Contributor Survey showed, the main reason for which developers work on projects is to add needed functionality or fix a program they are already using. Then come the pleasure of learning and the satisfaction of a need for creative or enjoyable work. At the back of the pack? To be paid.
It is nonetheless important to be paid, whether you are a developer, reviewer or maintainer. The joy of volunteering doesn’t keep a roof over your head, after all.
However, if being paid for maintenance work comes last on the list of things managers enjoy today (21%), a closer look at the data suggests it’s because they did not think much about it, because they were not paid for it. So while only 18% of people paid less than $ 1,000 a year say pay is a reason they like to be responsible, those who are paid more see it differently. For example, 61% of those who are paid more than $ 10,000 a year see compensation as important.
Donald Fischer, CEO and Co-Founder of Tidelift, explains: “The whole world relies on open source components to power applications, but our data shows that the free software maintainers who create and keep that software running are not. not properly remunerated for the incredible value they bring. The path to a safer and healthier open source software supply chain begins with ensuring that more volunteer maintainers are adequately compensated for the critical work they do ”.
At the end of the day, while there is a lot of joy in working in open source, you get tired of it after a while. There is a fine line between love and hate. In addition to being financially unrewarding, maintaining an open source project is often stressful and thankless. How many times do you want to hear from a developer who insists their broken code is exactly what the project needs?
Almost half of those surveyed (49%) cite “not being paid enough or not at all for my work” as the main reason they don’t like being a maintainer, followed by “adding to my stress. personal ”(45%) and“ feeling underestimated or like the job is thankless ”(40%).
In fact, more than half (59%) of the managers questioned have abandoned or considered abandoning the maintenance of a project. The more projects a manager manages, the more likely they are to consider quitting: more than two-thirds (68%) of those who manage 10 or more projects have resigned or are considering doing so.
Some developers, like Salvatore Sanfilippo, creator of the popular NoSQL Redis database, have stopped being maintainers because they prefer to be developers rather than managers. But the first most likely reason for quitting, cited by 60% of those surveyed, is that “other things in my life and my job have taken priority”. This other thing is often to earn money with their main job.
Much remains to be done to make life easier for maintainers, but paying them a real salary for their real work would be a good place to start.