Survey: How do you earn your daily bread?

Funding for free and open source software is generally considered to be atrocious, although there are quite lucrative counterexamples. Discussion and advice on how to fund the production of free software definitely needs to be a major plank of this community. (Personally, I think a huge part of the answer should involve raising awareness of and instructions on how to form workers’ cooperatives.)

But right now I want to pose a different question. Given that it is difficult, although not impossible, to get paid to produce free software, how do you earn your keep right now? Are you a student? Do you work in tech, just not on free software? Outside of the tech industry? Retired? Or are you one of the lucky ones who gets paid to write free software?


For myself, I previously worked on hobby free software projects as a student. I recently found a sysadmin job in a SV startup. My job involves working with free and open source software, but not creating or maintaining it (aside from an occasional upstream patch). More surprising to me is that my job leaves me cognitively exhausted and so I find myself unable to create much outside of work. I’m not sure if this is a common problem for new hires; I hope I grow out of it.


I am in a fortunate situation that a large part of my income comes from working on free software, and has been for the past ~7 years: I am currently contracted by Codeberg to work on and improve Forgejo & address Codeberg’s needs. Previously spent ~6 years working for Keyboardio on keyboard firmware & GUI configurator for their keyboards. Prior to that, while I was employed at BalaBit, a large part of my job was caring for syslog-ng OSE, and I served as its maintainer for a while - but in that case, free software work was a side effect of the job, not its goal like in the Keyboardio and Codeberg case.

Unfortunately, it is not enough to cover our expenses, so I have a few things on the side. I am currently freelancing, and an extra contract or two that doesn’t involve FLOSS keep us afloat, but it isn’t sustainable long term, because it does not provide the necessary financial stability. The longer term goal which I’m working towards is either to secure more funding for my free software work, or to find suitable employment that leaves me enough opportunity to continue the free software work too. Neither of these are easy, but… I’ll make do. I always did.

I found that working on free software comes with many compromises and sacrifices. Friends and ex-colleagues earn a lot more than I do, and can support their families more comfortably, and less stressfully. I had opportunities to do so aswell - but I refused, because it would have meant I drastically reduce my contributions to free software, and that’s just not going to happen.

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I’m currently covering my living costs from my open source work. I left employment in 2021 to trial working on my open source side-project (BookStack) as my main work effort. The project was about 6 years in at that point with a reasonable audience. I kept that going, built up donations/sponsorships, and launched support offerings, and reached ~£25k last year. It’s not a lot as a developer salary, but just about covers my current living costs. If interested, I have more detail & a breakdown of the income sources in a post here.

I definitely have had jobs that felt like this - either the job itself is cognitively exhausting or everything on top (commute etc.)

I now work for one of the Big Tech firms; there have been teams I’m in where I use free software but don’t have time to contribute (you can look at my Fedora activity over time and see the dips) but luckily in my current team I actually get to work on Linux distros (both maintaining packages and working on tooling) as part of the job itself.

It does mean I don’t do that much outside of work at the moment - family takes up most of my time off - but I’m trying to make time for some hobby projects I’ve been neglecting.

I’ve found tech jobs cognitively exhausting as well, although now I work in a physically focused job and I think I overestimated the importance of the cognitive aspect. Another factor is just sheer amount of time. My eventual plan is to go to graduate school and go into research where free software is easier to fit in than industry, but it will take a while to build up an application good enough to get into school. :upside_down_face:

I work for a company that makes Open Source (Apache 2) security software, and pays the bills with enterprise products build atop those projects.

I am of course blessed to have a day-job which pays for the standard things in life, and lets me work on Open Source while doing it, and gives me spare time to do Free Software hobbies, makes me very lucky.

I have never sought payment for my hobby, so I am very lucky not to have to. It does mean that sometimes I don’t pay as much attention to my hobby-projects - because family and work comes first (proportionally, time-wise). For which I feel bad, but not so bad, given nobody is paying me for those contributions. :person_shrugging:

I have friends who completely rely on their Open Source work for their income, and observe the anxiety that they go through to meet their bills. I don’t think I could cope with that kind of stress!


I want to rephrase this a bit. I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the past few days and I think I was trying to communicate something that makes sense, but the specific words I chose are both inaccurate and problematic.

It’s inaccurate because the whole “cognitive vs physical” divide isn’t actually a real thing. It’s sometimes useful to think about things in these terms because there is a meaningful difference between, say, training to be a powerlifter and training to be an accountant. They are very different lifestyles. But no work is not “cognitive”. Things like situational awareness, perception of surroundings, managing personal resources, etc are all “cognitive” tasks. I do still think there is a meaningful distinction between engaging in these things all day and then programming, compared to programming all day and then programming more. I don’t have the words to explain it well so an analogy: if I’m training to be a ballerina, coming home and moving heavy boxes around is probably a bad idea. My legs will have been worked to exhaustion and my stabilizing muscles in particular will have been heavily used so I am likely to fall and break things at best and people at worst. However, if I am training to be a pianist - which requires dexterity and coordination - then moving heavy boxes around is probably fine (as long as I’m careful not to smash my fingers :wink:).

It’s problematic because historically the attempt to divide labor into “cognitive” and “physical” categories has been used to justify coercive control over people. The argument having been that the people who are “smarter” are like the brain, and people doing physical labor are like the body, so people doing physical labor should have no will of their own and be under the complete control of the cognitive workers. The situation today is not so extreme but the legacy persists. For example, consider gig workers who would typically be seen as physical laborers. They are dependent on tips to make ends meet; knowledge workers who tend to be disproportionately compensated are able to tip more generously, which gives them influence over gig workers. It’s also worth noting that it is more difficult to enforce things like racial discrimination laws when dealing with tip-based compensation as opposed to wages and salaries (and it’s not easy to enforce those things to begin with).

I wasn’t trying to perpetuate those problems and I don’t think anyone else here was either. Like I said there is a true thing that we were trying to communicate, but the words happen to be descended from historical injustices and talking about the situation using those terms makes it easier for someone who actually is malicious to trick us into doing something wrong despite our best intentions.

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