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One year ago...The dignity of the developer

Could open source bring dignity and economic prosperity to the developing world?

Lebbeus Woods

In reminiscing of old Open Road posts, this one about how open source returns dignity to developers struck home.

...I'm impressed by how open source returns power and dignity to the developers who write software. Many work for companies and assign copyright to those corporations, and for good reason.

But it's impressive, I think, that we rightly recognize individuals within the open source community. No one contributes to Apache as an IBM employee, even though IBM employs many Apache contributors....And yet they stand or fall on their individual coding merits, not on their corporate laurels.

I don't want to wax Marxist here (being a very devout capitalist), but I like to think that open source improves the lot of developers. Not that developers are in the habit of starving - the pizza truck is generally just a call away. In open source, it's not a question of life or death, but rather a question of personal dignity.

As my parents and I drove past the villas miserias ("neighborhoods of misery," also known as "slums") and around the outskirts of Buenos Aires today, I couldn't help but think of how life would change for the inhabitants if they knew how to code, and were enabled by code that they could write rather than simply buy/license.

Open-source software is not the answer to villas or poverty in the developing world. But it is one answer for an increasing number of people. Open source keeps cash in the economies where it is written, modified, or deployed. It allows local software economies to grow, rather than shipping pesos back to the US to pay for proprietary software licenses.

The question is how do we help people raise themselves out of the slums or other disadvantaged conditions that may emotionally and physically contain them?

I don't know. I believe it starts with treating people with dignity, something that I believe, as I said a year ago, open source does for its developers.