This is part of the 7th chapter of the book Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber. It’s a bit out of context, but before he was talking about how sometimes the salary is inverse proporcional to how useful to society or how much you want to do the job.
This excerpt comes from an audio version of the book.
Software Engineering work was divided between the interesting and challenge work of developing core technologies and the tedious labor of applying duck tape to allow different core technologies to work together because the design never bothered to think about the compatibility.
His main point though was that increasingly Open Source means that all the real and engaging tasks are done for free. Pablo: where 2 decades ago companies dismissed open source software and developed core technologies in-house, nowadays companies rely heavily on open source and employ software developers almost entirely to apply duck tape on core technologies they get for free. In the end you can see people doing non gratifying duck tape work during office hours, and doing gratifying work in core technologies during the night.
This leads to an interesting vicious circle. Given that people choose to work on core technologies for free, no company is investing on those technologies. The under investments means that the core technologies are often unfinished, lacking quality, have a lot of rough edges, bugs, etc. That in turn create needs for duck tape and thus proliferation of duck taping jobs.
Paradoxically, the more software engineers collaborate online to do free creatively labor, simply for the love of doing it, as a gift to humanity, the less incentive they have to make them compatible with other such software, and the more those same engineers will have to be employed in their day jobs fixing the damage. Doing the sort of maintenance work that no one would be willing to do for free. He concludes: Pablo: my guess is that we are going to see the same dynamics in other industries as well. E.g. If people are willing to write news articles for free, nobody would pay professional journalists. Instead the money would be redirected to the PR and advertisement industries. Eventually the quality of news will decrease because of the lack of funding.
One could argue that this is already begun to happen as fewer and fewer newspaper and news services employ actual reporters. My purpose here though is not to unravel the complex and often arcane labor arrangements that grow out of this ethos, but simply to document the existence of this ethos itself. Attitudes toward labor who have changed. Why? How have some many humans reached the point where they accept that even miserable, unnecessary work is actually morally superior to no work at all. Here we must consider the history of changing ideas about work itself.