Funding in open source

5 minute read

Recently, @joshuakgoldberg joined me on my stream to discuss TypeScript, TypeScript ESLint, open source, and Josh’s new book, Learning TypeScript.

It was a great conversation. I decided to create a separate video clip for the conversation about open source.

Here is the transcript.

Nick Taylor:

you've been working in open source for a while. I found it really interesting that you went from, what I can only assume was a great job. You were at a ed tech company, right?

It was, Was that it? The name's escaping me.

Josh Goldberg:

Yeah. Codecademy.

It was a great job. Highly recommend Codecademy as a, as a product and a place. Lovely people there.

Nick Taylor:

So you were having fun there. You were enjoying it. You were still contributing in open source, but, I'm curious. What the decision to go full or why did you decide to go kind of all in on working full time on open source?

Because I'm sure there's a ton of people curious about this.

Josh Goldberg:

A lot of people who themselves are thinking about it, but it's a scary jump. It took me a while to get there. I'd say working at a company is a good thing for most people. You want to have that support of people around you, a team, a manager, a mentor, mentors, plural.

If you can. But I really like open source software. I like doing things that benefit everyone. Like when I work on TypeScript or TypeScript ESLint, I benefit everyone who uses those tools. Like if I spend 10 hours, let's say, on some bug fixes and a feature in TypeScript. I have just saved the world's un unknowable, but large amounts of time, like I've sped up the rate of human development.

Like, that's cool. I say these things which make myself sound so much cooler than I really am, but it makes me feel good. And when you're at a, when you're a company, even if you have a lot of, thank you, even if you had a lot of time in your day to day to work on open source, it's still for the company.

Why would they hire you to do things that don't benefit them? Yeah. So you don't have as much time or control over your open source stuff. And I just, I just want to do this all the time. So I'm now one of those people very, small but hopefully growing group of people who work on open source full-time.

And instead of a job with health insurance and 401K and all this, I ask for money on the internet. So this is my first shameless plug of the stream. You told me I could. So I will.

A quick pause in the transcript to mention that the shameless plug was Josh’s GitHub sponsors page that he put in the Twitch stream chat. If you’re interested in sponsoring Josh, head on over there. Alright, back to the transcript!

Nick Taylor:

Yeah. Shamelessly plug. Yeah, I dropped your GitHub there, so folks can check that out.

Josh Goldberg:

Thank you. Yeah, the more money people give me, the more I'm able to work on open source that makes your life better. So thanks. But this exposes something real bad, which is that as an industry, we, we don't know how to make people like me work. Like the, the situation I described of, I work in open source tooling that benefits everyone, and somehow I get money.

Like that's not figured out yet. We have ad hoc things like get hub sponsors Open Collective before that Patreon. But like there's no strong incentive for most companies to give to open source other than developers are yelling at finance that someone should do it. And it's like vaguely good for marketing and recruiting.

So I wish we had like, like a, like a B Corp style, like you should do this, or we all feel bad about you and don't join. But that's not really standard.

Nick Taylor:

Yeah, it's definitely interesting cuz like I'm working at Open Source at Netlify right now. I worked, when I was at, I was working at open Source and that was my job, so getting paid at like that, those are, that's, it's a really compelling reason why I.

Took those jobs too. I'm a big fan of open source and like, you know, just like you said, being able to get paid to work in open source is amazing. So like I happen to find places that did it, but it, there's. You know, then there's, there's kind of like three scenarios. You know, There's like somebody like me who might be working at a place that does open source.

There's people that do it in their free time, and then there's people like yourself who are looking to get sponsored, and it's, you're totally right. It's like, how do you formalize that? Because like, you know, it's weird too because like large companies, you know, like Babel for example, which has had so many hours put into it, I know Henry Zoo gets compensated now through a, I dunno if it's GitHub sponsors or Patreon, and I, I don't know if the other contributors do as well, but you know, that came out of like, I don't know if he went the same route as you or I can't remember the, the story there, but you know.

It's kind of amazing that like most of the planet runs on open source like Linux, and like all these like big companies and maybe Linux people are definitely putting money into it, I guess. But like, you know, I would think, all the places that have been using, you know, like Babel, Webpack, all that stuff, why aren't people or companies, you know, putting money into that, and it's, I don't know how to, I don't have an answer or anything, but it, it is just kind of weird, like, cuz like myself, I do sponsor people, but there's only so much I can do, you know. Like, I mean, I, I need to use money for other stuff too. And it's like, it's not like I'm about to sponsor 200 people.

I, I definitely see the aspect where like, you know, the micro payments could definitely, stack up for sure. Like if a thousand people started paying five bucks a month, you know, that's definitely changes the game. But, why aren't companies like monthly, you know, just donating.

I find it kind of weird is all.

Josh Goldberg:

Individuals donating is like yelling at people to use either no straw or paper straws, like, yes, you are doing a good thing, but the real issue is systemically, the capitalist society we in has not adjusted to, to do public goods and services and similar like open source.

That's my rant for the morning.

What are your thoughts on funding in OSS?

Photo by Shahadat Rahman on Unsplash