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Free software developers do it to learn new skills

By   |  February 23, 2006

Most free and open source developers participate in FOSS projects to learn and develop new skills, Rishab Ghosh of Maastricht University, told the Idlelo2 conference in Kenya this morning.

Ghosh, FLOSS programme leader at the Maastricht Economic Research Institute Innovation and Technology, said that in a recent survey of 3000 free software developers it was found that 80% of them said they participated in FOSS projects because they wanted to learn and develop new skills. 70% of them cited wanting to share knowledge and information as a reason to participate in developing free software.

In a related study of a hundred million lines of free software source code it was found that more than 65% of the code was still being written and contributed by individuals. This despite the growing number of corporate companies participating in the free software community.

Ghosh said many developers saw the free software community as a positive environment for the learning of skills and sharing of knowledge. Many also saw it as an environment in which skills were viewed as important and valuable.

He said, however, that there is also a misperception that participation in the free software community meant community members would only acquire programming and technical skills. Rather, he said, “we found that participants in projects learned not only developer skills but also a range of skills including management skills, teamwork skills and even legal and licencing skills,” said Ghosh.

In another study of 1200 developers and 150 companies Ghosh said that most respondents felt that skills learned through participation in a FLOSS project were viewed as more valuable than skills learned in a formal learning environment.

As many as 60% of the respondents felt that proven participation in a FLOSS project would compensate for a lack of formal training.

“Skills development also leads to economic benefits that are local in nature,” said Ghosh. In the world of proprietary software, he said, there are only three ways to make money: from selling software, from providing support and and services, or through developing applications to run on proprietary platforms.

Ghosh said one of the key problems, however, is that proprietary software only allows for service providers to offer “shallow support”. With free software, said Ghosh, local businesses are able to provide “deep support”.

With free and open source software, he said, “the level of support — particularly when there are serious problems — are limited only by skills and not by who owns the software. And with open source anyone can own a piece of software as much as anyone else can own it,” said Ghosh.

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