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6 Reasons Developers Should Do More Open Source Work

Open source has traditionally been thought of as unpaid charity work, but there are some amazing benefits to contributing to open source projects.

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The meme, “Open source developers are not paid” has turned cliché in the programming world, even though great attempts have been made to refute this mindset by those really in the know.

Truth is, even when the usual practice of open source entails developers voluntarily contributing their skills towards a particular project for the benefit of all, some companies (or group of companies) actually hire – and pay – programmers to work on specific open-source projects (like the Linux Kernel).

Apart from the fact that a developer could actually get paid for an open-source project, here are 6 other reasons you should do more open-source projects – if you’re a developer that is:

1. Learning and Practice

What more would keep a person relevant in his field if not the continuous upping of his game?

As a programmer you need to keep learning the latest trends in coding, and you need to keep practicing to further hone your skills. Open Source gives you the platforms to do both. It’s really the best way to keep yourself from getting rusty.

2. Experience and Portfolio Building

Are you a newbie developer? Learning from, and contributing to open-source projects is the best way to garner some experience and build an attractive portfolio that could land you jobs you might have otherwise never gotten.

Getting a job in the IT world is difficult enough, but it gets worse when you have no in-the-trenches experience whatsoever. An employer seeing in your resume that you’ve done some Open Source work might perceive you as having initiative, desire to work, and experience – thereby increasing your chances of being hired.

3. Networking and Collaboration

This is the major essence of Open Source – the spirit it fosters. You get to work as a team with other programmers – optimizing a project, hunting and fixing bugs, etc.

You can network with other great programmers and take your relationship outside the project. According to Devumi, it’s a great way to grow your Twitter followers. It also helps you build networks with quality, like-minded contacts with whom you can work on future projects, or form a mastermind group where you exchange tips or even a company that will go places.

In my own case, I have many programmer friends whom I met online. Most of them live outside the United States and I’ve never met them face-to-face. Yet, I’ve learnt so much, and received so much kindness and support from them.

When I was to extend my company’s services to clients outside the U.S. last year, and was confused as to the best approach to use, it was Jimmy Giggs, my UK friend, who gave me the invaluable advice of setting up a virtual office in London to take care of my UK clients. I took up a mail forwarding address in London, and that’s made all the difference – making my small business much bigger, helping me better serve my clients, and saving me ton of time and money.

Such connections are invaluable, and the possibilities from them are truly endless.

4. Exposure (to skills, codes, opportunities, etc.)

You gain a lot of exposure participating in Open Source projects – in terms of skills and opportunities.

You can save a lot of time when writing Open Source code by using code that has already been written. And then, after you give back what you’ve just coded, some other programmers can go and expand on it as you did on the previous code – and you might find it again more advanced. It's an endless cycle of development and opportunities that could have a big influence on your career.

5. Community Building

Apart from affording you great practice and experience, Open Source helps build a great community. It fosters unity and let’s everyone grow together with the team – a phenomenon known as “yb collective”. Since it's Open Source, everybody can teach each other tricks and improve each other’s coding skills.

Starting a blog is a great way even the non-programmers are building online communities, adding value to and changing other people's lives, thanks to programmers and their open source software.

Just like in other careers, you can play your part by teaching someone else what you’ve learnt as a developer, by simply contributing your expertise to an Open Source project or community.

6. Better Income Opportunities

Now we’re back to talking about money and debunking the myth of “free work”. The real money in programming could actually be in the Open Source area.

How? Though open source software products are mostly free to use by companies, programmers (especially those who contributed to it) are often hired and paid by those companies to render services related to the software – say installation, support, maintenance, etc.

The irony here is: these services are very lucrative and make more money for the programmer than he would have gotten for a similar paid proprietary software – which doesn’t even need those services anyways.

Now, with all these benefits that come with Open Source, you’d agree with me that it’s something every developer should do more of. Just as good as open source is for developers, it’s also great for businesses as it guarantees the most security and quality.

It’s not an entirely work-for-free venture. Rather, it sets you distance apart from your peers in the long run, and can become a real moneymaker for you.

Have you done any Open Source project? What was your experience with it? Any other benefits? Definitely share with the DZone community in the comments.

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