Can Free Software earn a living?

The Free Software movement was founded on a very simple idea. The software you use should support your freedom. The tools that came out of that idea power most of the modern Internet and have generated billions of dollars. I owe my own career to GNU/Linux, Perl, Python, and more individual Free Software tools than I care to recount.

For all that, the “mainstream” in the software world is proprietary by default. While it is certainly easy to make money using Free Software, actually writing Free Software is generally considered something of a strange hobby, or maybe a good entry-level career move, like volunteering, for people who haven’t proven themselves capable of doing “enterprise-class” development for profit.

That’s backwards.

In a sensible economy, you’d expect that proactively protecting something as important as a client’s freedom would be better rewarded and more profitable than failing to do so.

I don’t believe the problem is that the economy can’t be sensible. I suspect that much of Free Software movement simply accepted the idea that you have to give up those ethics to make money, and therefore did not prioritize creating a compatible business model.

If I’m right - that’s solvable.

My hypothesis: If you are a Free Software developer, or even an enthusiast who wants to become one, it should be possible to make a living that is as good or better than anything you could do writing proprietary code.

Off the top of my head, I can think of two basic strategies to pull this off.

  1. Get hired to work on an existing Free Software project.
  2. Build your own Free Software business.

I plan to try both of those ideas in order, and will attempt to document an effective approach for anyone else who wants to make a living writing Free Software.