Giving is its own reward

I recently read an article about the Hidden Benefit of Giving Back to Open Source Software. The main focus of the article is about the economic benefit. The author makes the point early on that, “The reason for that benefit lies in the experience and knowledge that certain employees gain through contributing, says Nagle. His study suggests that contributing to crowdsourced digital or even physical “public goods” that benefit other firms or industries can enable companies to gain valuable insights and compete more effectively.”  

I’m not going to dispute that assertion at all.  I’ve been using and experimenting with open source software for more than twenty years. A number of years ago one of my favorite colleagues in education used to ask me, “Why use open source?” My answer usually revolved around total cost of ownership, freedom to distribute as many copies of the software to as many teachers and students as I wanted to. But, at that time I was merely a person who used open source software and while the cost/benefit and total cost of ownership of open source software immensely outweighs the proprietary solution the most compelling reason for using and supporting open source software far outweighs the economic advantage.

I have to come to believe through my involvement with in the past four years that there are many more good reasons to be involved with open source software. Recently I read “On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old” by Parker Palmer. One of the author’s assertions was that, “it’s important to get clear about the difference between the jobs by which we make a living and the callings, or vocations, by which make meaning.”  That sentence just kind of jumped off the page at me as I thought about my involvement with the community of writers whom I am privileged to be associated with.

Five years ago I retired from a job where I made more than a living. Being a teacher is a calling. I’ve been involved in education as long as I can remember. I used to teach my brother when we were both in single digits. Later while serving in the United States Navy I was called upon to be the ‘education petty officer’ of our recruit training company.” Eventually I spent twenty-six years in public education so when that came to end I was literally depressed. I took on other roles in retirement volunteering in a soup kitchen and the public library. Four years ago while sitting in a library getting ready to help out in the soup kitchen I got a direct message on Twitter from Jason Hibbets inviting me to All Things Open. He said, if I could make it to Raleigh, would pay my way into the conference. I jumped at the chance. While I was at the conference another friend, Phil Shapiro suggested that I ought to join the community as a writer and moderator. To assuage my initial reluctance Phil offered to help me write some articles. He continues to supply me with many of the writing leads and topics that I explore.

I have found new meaning as a result of my involvement with the community. Being involved with a diverse community of writers who have helped me to grow professionally and kept me engaged and learning. After having been an open source user and supporter for many years I have been an active contributor to an open source community. My involvement with the community has definitely become both an avocation and a driving force in my life. Because this  involvement I have learned about a variety of topics including data science, computer languages R and Python. I’ve actually returned to the classroom teaching students how to program and use open source to benefit their local communities.

I have learned that contributing to open source means involvement in a community. The attraction of open source lies in the paradox that it brings to the table. Involvement in open source projects brings far more to the table than one could ever imagine in a world that focuses on zero sum. There is a universal bond involved in sharing that connects all of humanity. It is in giving that we receive.