Contributing to free software requires privilege. Even regular contributors might sometimes find themselves without it.

Time, focus and money. You might find yourself lacking in one of these at various points in your life.

While software projects from startups move like streams, most free software projects move like glaciers. They move slowly but they keep moving for decades.

Being away from a project doesn't mean you have to give it up. You can join back later.

@njoseph People throw the word ‘privilege’ around too liberally, in my opinion. I fail to see how having a little free time per week is a privilege.

I mean, I don’t have as much free time as I had when I was younger, and people who have families to take care of have even less time than I do, but that’s just normal, and each situation comes with their own perks to make up for the differences. When I was younger I had more time, but no money. Now I have money, but less time. There is no privilege involved. Just trade-offs.

@josemanuel @njoseph oh bug off. there's no way in the world I'd have been able to contribute to FOSS to the extent I have if my jobs weren't supportive, and I don't even have any dependents. to the point I had to basically take a full year or longer off because work was actively obstructing me from working in FOSS and the time I was trying to spend on it was burning me out, so I just ended up feeling guilty and awful all the time.

I frequently think about how lucky I am that after working in this field for a decade, I'm finally being paid full-time to work on an upstream project.

@ehashman @josemanuel @njoseph

This is not the norm though.
You are one of the blessed priviledged exceptions.
And personally i dont wouldnt want the supervision/blessing of my employer to contribute somewhere

@msavoritias @josemanuel @njoseph I agree with all that.

Unfortunately intellectual property agreements with employers as well as conflicting work assignments are a reality for many workers.

@ehashman How is any of that a privilege? Are you so eager to get along with the ‘privilege’ narrative that you’re willing to deny all the hard work you put out to get where you are? “Nah, it was all privilege. I just had the privilege to get supportive jobs and not have a family. And now I get paid to do what I love because of those privileges I had. I didn’t really do anything.”

The thing is, I contribute to free software in my spare time. I am content to do so to the extent my life permits. I don’t feel privileged at all and I don’t think I should. I mean, would someone who enjoys, I don’t know, doing arts and crafts have to feel like they’re privileged for being able to? It’s just a hobby. I do it because I enjoy it. That’s all.


@josemanuel @ehashman @njoseph I was piss-poor when I started with open source, and I was doing it in whatever free time I had because I was passionate about it. That experience allowed me to finally start getting freelance work and eventually make my open-source projects my main source of income.
I didn't grow up in the first world, BTW.
I agree with the point you want to make, but the privilege narrative is incredibly simplified to the point of being bullshit.

@josemanuel @njoseph I work my ass off. It is also accurate to say that privilege is a huge factor in being able to land the jobs I've had, and that my paid work is the main reason that I can make such contributions. It's further true that it probably took me an extra few years to get here compared to the average FOSS contributor because of who I am.

I've watched very smart and capable people be gatekept and railroaded because they don't fit in. Tech worker pay can be life-changing, and that can pose a risk to the status quo. Thus, it's mainly rewarded to those who fit the mold, even when others are far more competent but don't fit in, because they risk upsetting the system.

This view is coloured by my perspective as an immigrant to the US, where I've seen how the Silicon Valley venture capitalists shape tech, how in spite of my skills I am frequently set up to fail, and how workers in this country cannot opt out of paid jobs, often with large companies, because health care is attached to them.

@ehashman Listen, if you want me to admit that you’re privileged, that’s all right with me. I don’t really care. It’s your life.

But I, as many other people who contribute to free software projects, am not, and that’s ok, too.

Also, I don’t know what 90% of what you said applies to this discussion. What was that about Silicon Valley? Getting a job there is a choice, and even more so if you’re an immigrant. Amsterdam, Berlin or Dublin are great hubs for tech jobs. Nobody’s forced to work in Silicon Valley. And the culture and working conditions there are very different from those of other places, so if your perspective is coloured by that, then it’s certainly very limited and can’t be generalised to all free software contributors, which waive from every part of the world.


It is pretty clear you are talking about privilege, because a large number of people don't really get to choose where they get to work.
@ehashman @njoseph

@josemanuel @njoseph Not really sure what your point is. Like you say, a lot of people don't have free time, i.e. having free time is a privilege. Getting the education to learn how to program, or time to self-teach is also a privilege. That these differences are "just normal" doesn't make it not a privilege?
That this is about "just trade-offs" is just nonsense, unless you think we're all born equal with the same resources.

@josemanuel @njoseph The good thing is though that spending time on free software is an excellent way of undermining that privilege.

@njoseph I think in a lot of ways the pace of free software runs opposite to it's counterparts.

Small projects move slowly and big projects move quickly, with a few exceptions either way.

I think you get a lot more done when you're in a large free software project not directly attached to extreme amounts of corporate beaurocracy that introduces overhead.

Like imagine every Linux kernel dev having meetings 2 times a week, and stuff like that.

Just my 2¢.

@njoseph Oh lord. Gonna wash my eyes with with soap after reading that. For most people it's just a hobby, it's not a privilege to work for free.

@valdeg i squint, and think his point may have been that having (such) a hobby itself is a privilege many can't afford.

@letterus @njoseph certainly one way to ensure availability of "time, focus and money".

Of course it also means that you sold out to The Man[TM] so you're better paid well enough to make it worthwhile to be insulted every now and then...

@patrick @njoseph Being independent is of great value of course. But as a user I think if I were able to help pay devs dedicated to make apps of quality I know from proprietary indy sofware devs (one or two person companies), I'd strongly support that

It's very unclear to me what you mean and what you are implying with the word privilege in this context.

@federico3 @njoseph seems pretty clear to me:

> Time, focus and money. You might find yourself lacking in one of these at various points in your life.

Hard to make this any more clear, in fact.

@rysiek I mentioned implications and context - which are not spelled out.....

@federico3 @rysiek Acknowledging your own privilege just means being grateful that you have been given chances that others might not have been given no matter how hard they worked.

It does not mean denigrating your own hard work or that of others.

It's a point of humility and a self-check to maybe not throw out a knee-jerk "meh, it's free software, patches welcome" the next time a person runs into an issue due to a sharp edge in some free software project. Maybe they have the opportunity to contribute. Maybe they don't. You don't know their life.

@clacke @rysiek @federico3

Stating that something is free software and that patches are welcome is a statement of fact. I don't see anything wrong with that.

The flipside of this lecture in privilege is one about entitlement. Nobody (outside of my immediate family) is entitled to my time and energy in order to fulfill their needs, no matter how "privileged" they might think I am.

@njoseph Just because I'm seeing a lot of public push-back: I agree. Reminds of a quote from this article:

"A surprising amount of OSS is made by former big tech developers. They can afford to subsist on meagre revenue—for a time—because their pay and stock options have left them free of debt and with well-stocked savings accounts."

Dunno why people seem triggered by the word "privilege" TBH. I've got gobs of it myself. Take responsibility for it. It's a form of power.

@ryan Dude, OSS is not F. OSS is a business model. Free Software is, among other things, an ideology that states that everybody should have equal access to software and equal opportunities to contribute to it.

That is literally the opposite of a privilege.


@josemanuel @njoseph Prevailing material conditions mean that not everyone *will* have equal opportunities to contribute. Being able to perform a significant amount of un-or-under-compensated work without suffering economic hardship necessarily comes from having at least some degree of economic privilege. I'm not saying OSS or FOSS propagate inequality.

@ryan Again, is contributing to free software un-or-under-compensated work? Yes, in most cases. But so is having a hobby. Do you consider having hobbies to be a privilege?

And nobody’s forced to «perform a significant amount» of work. You can just contribute a patch, a bug report, a translation, an improvement to documentation, etc. Or simply fork an existing project for your own personal purposes or to learn and improve yourself.

Moreover, contributing to (or just using) free software can help one land better paid jobs that will get them more time and better material conditions to contribute more significantly if they so desire.

So, again, I fail to see where the so-called privilege is.


@josemanuel @njoseph Yeah, not having to spend all one's time on bare survival does make one privileged compared to those who do. It's an advantage you take for granted, that you don't even notice most of the time, that you may not even *think* of as an advantage that some people don't have. I.e., a privilege (according to my understanding). Maybe this is where the communication breakdown is happening. Are we operating from different understandings of this word?

@josemanuel @njoseph @ryan

> can help one land better paid jobs that will get them more time and better material conditions to contribute more significantly if they so desire

In other words, not just privilege, but privilege with leverage! Having the resources to invest in free software is the digital global analogue of landed gentry.

I grew up at the right time in the right place with the right inclinations to end up in a position where I can find a well-paid job in any country I like, and have hobbies on top of that. Someone else might be working two jobs just to survive. Billions of people work two jobs just to survive.

It doesn't matter how hard I worked to get here. In my eyes, actually not very hard. I'm *super lucky*.

It is my end goal to help allow a few others to be super lucky too, because everyone deserves that.

@clacke Fascinating how you left out relevant parts of the original message just to make a point, which, I admit, escapes me among all the excess irony.

@njoseph @ryan

@josemanuel @njoseph @ryan I don't see the irony at all. Yes, the ability to have hobbies is a privilege, I said that, and of course you are free to volunteer more or less of your time, I agree with that so I didn't counter it.

The ability to choose to volunteer any time at all without colliding with essential parts of your life is your privilege.

@clacke Ok. I understand your point now and I disagree.

Do you call people who give their time to any NGO dedicated to help others privileged? Because I’d feel insulted if I was one of them.

“Hi, I donate my free time to work for social justice and to reduce inequality.” “Yeah? Well, check your privilege, asshole.”

@njoseph @ryan

@josemanuel I don't think you understand. Are these people able to help because they're privileged? Yeah, no shit they are. But *having* privilege is no cause for someone to tell you "check your privilege, asshole." *That* response is generally reserved for people who are blind to their privilege and so expect *everyone* to be able to do what they are able to do. Many forms of privilege are not at all under a person's control. E.g., being able-bodied, or being light-skinned.

@clacke @njoseph

@josemanuel Being privileged is nothing to be ashamed of, but it *does* bring with it the responsibility of using that privilege for good. It is simply a form of power, relative to the unprivileged. And it's a good idea to nurture awareness within yourself about your privilege, because it's shit like (for example) telling people how *anyone* can retire young because you (with your daddy's money) were able to do it that'll get you told to check that privilege.

Does that help?

@clacke @njoseph

@ryan @josemanuel @clacke @njoseph
I broadly agree but it gets complicated. Grandstanding privilege can lead to perpetuating it by taking on the role of saviour.

@ryan @josemanuel @clacke @njoseph
A lot of free software developers look more or less the same and are from the same background. They're eroding their privilege by working on free software - great! But it's still a huge problem for the free software community. We all lose out because the software is less interesting/useful than it could be.
There's no contradiction in both being super thankful for the work of any free software dev, but also want to work on the structural problems that lock out a lot of people from contributing.

@ryan Listen. You’re not going to convince me as long as you keep using a term that only has negative connotations and apply it to voluntary work done for the common good.

If you want us to understand each other, use a word that shows appreciation instead.

@clacke @njoseph

Interesting. I don't personally feel negatively about the word "privilege," FWIW, but what word for that concept would you feel more comfortable with? "Advantage?" Or...? Like, I don't think we're going to get everyone to move to another word or anything, but maybe this will help me understand your perspective better. I'm guessing my experiences around this concept have been wildly different from yours.

@clacke @njoseph

@njoseph @josemanuel @ryan Free Software takes care of the of the copyright restrictions that prevent people from having access to software and to contribute to it. and it's extremely important.

but Free Software can't solve all of the other societal issues that do prevent other people from contributing, and trying to fix those is also important.

As an example, later on you say “you can just contribute [various types of small fixes]”: that's pretty easy for somebody who has had a lot of free time while young to learn how to move around in the FOSS community, and now has less free time because of family/work/etc.

it's not the same thing for somebody who never had the chance to do so: for them even a small contribution means taking a lot of time learning new tools, new platforms and new community behaviours, and people from less privileged situations tend to have very little free time.


For sure we have a privilege: being able to code.

It's the privilege of scribans in Ancient Egypt and we should work hard to invent an alphabet that free the rest of the world from our power, as we tend to serve the Pharaons of our age.

We continuosly raise complexity, either accidentally or as an explicit entry barrier to "the market" (think of modern browsers) while we should always keep it so low that literally everybody could read and modify the code.

That's what turned #FreeSoftware from a quest for #freedom to an expression of #USA power and #US-privilege.

I recognize such privilege but as @jcbrand noticed, it doesn't give anybody any entitlement on my work.

It just give me the will and energy to look for solutions that turn such privilege into a freedom that everybody can use for real (but not without study: even if you want to drive a car you have to study how to drive, and a computer is much more powerful - and socially dangerous - than a car!)

@njoseph @josemanuel @ryan

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