Open Source made me the man I am

From designing websites for domestic companies to developing high end web applications for the biggest international players, all thanks to open source software.

I used to be a (sad) freelance PHP developer with some front-end skill working for tiny to small local companies. The best gig I had at the time was for a video games distributor here in Italy. The client was great but the job admittedly boring and sometimes even frustrating.

I knew I had much more to give and I was feeling like trapped into quicksand.

The single most important decision in my career was to start developing open source software (OSS) and blogging about it. I started from silly things such as a PHP clean URL generator or the onClick delay removal and I ended up with iScroll and the Add to Homescreen widgets.

I picked for them the most liberal license I could find (MIT) and companies from all over the world contacted me asking for customization and new features. My hourly rate was around $60 and I had to raise it on a daily basis because I couldn’t keep up with the increasing quote requests. Now I’m still a freelancer but I work for Microsoft and Google and my rate is at $150/h.

Open source increased my visibility but it’s not just a matter of pageviews. Open source makes you generally a better developer. It forces you to compare yourself with other developers and that’s the best workout for your coder’s brain.

I learned more about javascript from people posting suggestions on the issue tracker than on any guide, tutorial or book I’ve ever read.

OSS probably made me a humbler developer, too. I know what it takes to patch even small portions of code and I’m less harsh when posting bugs on others’ repositories.

But that’s just part of the story.

You do not release OSS just for fame (and money). Maybe at the beginning that was the intention but once you get involved you understand that you are doing much more.

Countless people are using your code, you are helping star-ups getting on their own feet, you are potentially creating new job opportunities. With maybe 48 hours of your life you could possibly help dozens companies and their employees. A guy made a WordPress plugin that was basically a PHP wrapper for my Add To Homescreen and he raised $50k+ out of it (maybe more by now). You may think that I’m mad with him, but I’m actually pretty f!#*&g happy for him (and all his users).

Also, the more I develop open source the more I appreciate other open source software and get addicted to it. I understand what it means to code for security and, most notably, the importance of user (and my) privacy.

I was an avid Apple user because it’s all nice and tidy and it just works, but maybe there are more important things than a fancy interface and a pixel perfect gradient. I’m now using Apple products just for testing and my main rig is Linux.

I can safely say that Open Source made me a better man and encourage you to release your code under an open source license, because if it worked for me it will very likely work for you too.

This post has been translated into French by Framablog.

47 thoughts on “Open Source made me the man I am”

  1. OSS is awesome and OSS developers rocks. It’s people like you that’s disrupting the technology world and and gradually making big tech companies realize that their licensing fees and prices are just ridiculous. I wish you the best.

  2. What an awesome post. It made me consider, “Is open-source the perfect balance between ‘freemium’ and ‘paid’? I’ve seen so many posts about how freemium no longer adds up, etc. and your post made me consider open-source as a healthy alternative. Charge your hourly rate — but do open-source stuff on the side.

  3. Thank you for this post it was very encouraging. It has inspired me to give back to the community which has taught me all I know.

  4. Hey Matteo, inspirational stuff for sure..

    BTW, can u let us know how much time in total it required for you to become a pro-opensource developer from a novice front-end skills developer.
    I mean for starters that’s kinda important..practically..
    thanks !!

    1. I’d say I saw the first results after 6 months of blogging and open-sourcing. After 6 months I got the first international gigs, it then took another 6 months to “get serious”.

  5. I’ve always coded for fun rather tha profit. I love the process of developing things, and I’ve always wanted EVERYONES opinion on my code. When I would develop something for a client I would open source anything novel, and give back. To me and my conscious it makes sense to charge for work. I’m building something for you, I will charge you for my time, but to use something I’ve already built? No. If you want to donate that’s great, I have a button on my site for that and more than a few have. I am on this earth to learn and expand my mind while I can not to nickel and dime, Anyway, that’s my 2¢ on why I open source.

  6. Congratulations!
    Since I’m looking for job in the us, this is the greatest advice I found!
    I always think that people don’t need my code, so after reading this post, I’ll start open sourcing everything that I’m think can help someone!
    Thanks for the advice man!

  7. It’s very difficult to accept to start working without any reward, especially if you are working where the idea of the software is strictly profit-driven (in Italy …).

    Open source software takes you to an international audience where only the good professionals get the better. And only the best ideas survive.

    I think iScroll is an excellent instrument for many applications. Congratulations.

  8. You are awesome & inspiring, my friend – and I hope that one day my italian is as good as your english – well done!

  9. Matteo,
    It’s about passion not tools or tech. I know your deep passion for coding, oh, well, good coding.
    It’s only passion that can drive people to excellence. OSS could be a driver to learn experience from others sharing the results of this learnings. This is what I like to highlight: all start with passion. Cheers pal! tremendous post!

  10. Thanks for the post.

    Gave some confusing thoughts in my mind some clarity!

  11. I was reading hacker news like I do everyday and noticed as a url and was thinking to myself, thats matt3o’s website from geekhack.

    Congrats on the feature! And great little read for new developers.

  12. I couldn’t agree more with you Matteo! In the last 3 years I went through a similar esperiece and OSS gave the chance to work abroad and help/meet a lot of people.
    I think that there’s no better way to improve our code skills than looking at a good-developed OS project and trying to contribute to it.

    PS: for those who are interested in, I’m involved with Apache Wicket project 🙂

  13. In China, my rate is about $5 per hour(10 hours per day) and I’m above average. But a common house in city costs at least $500000. During work mostly I just call some APIs from all kinds of libraries. Design from our own thinking is just seen as inefficent. We copy from open source, but rare to contribute to it. New libraries and new open sources give us new issues, our project is hard to maintain. We are blame for that, but actually the whole solution is totally determined by the leader who blames us. We get tired everyday.

  14. Hey Mateo, now that’s an article it was about time I read. I would love to read more about that, especially about your transition period – how did you find the time to write open source software after hours of already writing code. I mean – everyday I have the intention of starting my Open Source projects “this evening”, but when the evening comes, the writing never does.

  15. Very well articulated on why choose OSS over other options. I personally identified with “but maybe there are more important things than a fancy interface and a pixel perfect gradient” having made that choice. Thank you for sharing

  16. Awesome article and soooo true! Been developing wordpress plugins for over a year now and it bring more fun and joy than doing simple repetitive client work. And the fact that you are impacting people globally is just another great facit to bring more work!

  17. OSS may have helped you become sucessful, but the fact is that you’re a damn good coder. OSS just makes that visible. If you wrote crappy OSS, you’d be starving.

    Thought experiment: A good coder, working for closed-source Company X, is only recognized within Company X. A good coder, working in the open, is recognized everywhere. (The same is naturally true for bad coders…)

    Assuming better pay and opportunities follow from being a recognized good coder, it follows that all good coders should want to work on OSS, so that they can show off their quality and improve their reputation. The converse is that only bad coders should be willing to work for closed-source shops.

    (Don’t confuse this point with the security of being hired rather than freelance — if you’re choosing between hired at an OSS firm vs a closed firm, the decision is clear.)

    So how long can closed-source firms last? 🙂

    1. thanks Elliot (sorry this took so long to go live! it ended up in the spam). I believe that the best way to learn and improve your skills is by releasing the code to the Open Source. I learned more from git hub PR than on books!

  18. Hello,
    I am really inspired for this article.
    I am basically java developer by heart and Android application developer by profession.
    I also support opensource development but I have very less knowledge about licence and all.
    Can you please help me?
    Because I too have some codes in java that I had implemented during college days which I want to make it open source.

    Best Regards

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