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Open source heroes are never hard to find. They begin projects, lead communities, and inspire others.  It takes a special kind of person to contribute to open source. Most projects never reach the status of Linux or Apache or Eclipse, but even the smallest and most obscure projects can make software development easier for other developers.  It is hard – no, impossible – to imagine our world without open source and the people who create and maintain it.


We forget our heroes

Yet, we do forget! As a society, we forget all the developers who come together and give some portion of their lives to make open source, from which they rarely profit. A few, the Linus Torvalds, Rod Johnsons, and Eric Raymonds become the open source equivalent of rock stars, but most will never be paid for their work or receive acknowledgment beyond gratitude expressed in a mailing list or on a Slack channel.  To me, these forgotten contributors are the real heroes in open source.

Things are changing

But things are changing.  When I first got involved in open source in 1999 most organizations did not understand it and did not want to use it – although they probably were using it somewhere.  So many misinformed people were making judgments about the quality and the legal ramifications. The fear, uncertainty, and doubt about open source were pervasive.  Contributing to open source back in those days didn’t give you a leg-up on a job, although it could give you better skills and it certainly lead to new friendships.  It was more like model trains or stamp collecting in terms of its impact on you professionally.  For most people outside of the community, work on open source was seen as a hobby, not a serious endeavor.

Today the perception of open source has changed for the better.  When I was in the job market, just before joining Tomitribe, I was shocked that nearly every job I applied for wanted to see my portfolio of work on GitHub. They wanted to know that I had done real work and one of the ways of proving that was to show projects I had created or contributed to in the open source community.  For the first time, I noticed that the commercial world treated work on open source as very real and legitimate work.  That can only be good for open source and those who contribute, but the recognition isn’t for the sacrifice that the contributors make, but simply to measure the quantity or quality of the work they had done.

Why they do it

For many contributors, I think, open source is a chance to demonstrate their skills; to add another feather to their professional hats.  But for many others, it’s simply a joy to work on something meaningful at your own pace and your terms.  All you need to do is create good code; if its good, and meets a need, it will often be accepted whether its a bug fix or a feature.  Those who report bugs in open source software should be applauded, but those who contribute real code should receive a standing ovation.  They have given a portion of their life with little expectation of accolades and profit to further the quality of software that will be used for free by thousands or millions of people.

Saying, “Thank you!”

If you have ever taken the time to write code and contribute to an open source project, then I – and the World – should be grateful. I am grateful, and speaking on behalf of my co-workers, so is all of Tomitribe.  Tomitribe wouldn’t exist if not for TomEE and TomEE wouldn’t exist if not for all the contributions made to all the open source that is part of TomEE.  Thank you. Thank you for your time. Thank you for your creativity and thank you for sharing a part of your life for the greater good.

When you hear that someone contributed to an open source project, even if you have done so, say “Thank you”. Buy them a beer or coffee and tell them that they have made a difference.  You’ll be surprised how pleased they are to hear that someone recognized their efforts and appreciated their contributions.

Richard Monson-Haefel

Richard Monson-Haefel

Richard has more the 24 years of experience as a professional software developer and architect. He has written five books on enterprise Java including EJB, JMS, web services, and software architecture. He has served on the JCP executive committee and multiple expert groups, is the co-founder of OpenEJB and Apache Geronimo, was a Sr. Analyst for Burton Group (aka Gartner), and is a celebrated public speaker.


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