It’s always fun to read an article about a predominantly science/engineering community from an arts perspective… My thoughts:
I think open source projects moving from a “hacker’s spare time” projects to a “collaboration between varied businesses (and maybe individuals)” will be a win-win for everyone. It seems most small businesses that do use open source don’t contribute back significantly - they see the major benefit as the lack of license fees, and so investing in ongoing development doesn’t make sense to them. If instead they viewed it as a way of not getting screwed with platform lock-in, reducing duplication of effort, etc, then maybe they’d see the advantage is still there even if you end up paying similar fees (to invest in development, rather than pay a license fee). The increased investment might see some of the software reach a level of polish good enough to really take off.
I would usually say the meritocracy system sounded okay, but the article is right: if we were honest about that we’d see a lot more diversity. The same thing is happening with the Australian government, which has only one women in the 18 person cabinet of ministers, apparently decided on “merit”. When you see a cultural homogeneity like that you can usually assume things aren’t purely “merit”. The selection bias of start-ups hiring those who have enough enough free time to volunteer on open source probably accounts for much of the mono-culture I’ve seen.
The quote from Eric S Raymond is particularly off-putting. I’ve gone through these times and the result has always been horrendous, unmaintainable code. Not to mention the negative effects on my health. In fact, the entire “hacker alone with his code” tends to lead to ugly code - it’s when I’m forced to share my work with others and be social that all of a sudden I start thinking much more carefully about design, readability, maintainability etc. I would not wish this rite of passage on any new member of the community.
Is anyone on this board from one of the minority demographics? I’d love to hear some people share their experiences.
Wow, thanks for the thoughtful reply! Your point about business investment is a great one!
Thanks for writing the article. I found it very thought provoking, even personally challenging. It’s probably one I’ll come back to and re-read from time to time…
I’m conflicted about this article, and I have to think about it for a while. Clearly, on one hand, the point of free software is that everyone is free to contribute, and many of free software’s biggest weak points in the past have come from the narrowness of its contributing demographic. On the other hand, I also think that software projects and companies directed by non-programmers have a very poor track record.