If you work in a bank on a big corporate platform, coding on open source projects can seem like the ideal programming job. - No one manages you, you can work on what you want, with whoever you want, whenever you want. You can do the right thing and pay down technical debt. You can even help your career by gaining the kind of skills, knowledge, experience and mentorship that you wouldn’t get anywhere else. It's all ideal - except it doesn’t pay…. but that may be about to change.
GitHub, the most widely used repository of open source code, has announced GitHub Sponsors. Currently in a public Beta, Sponsors aims to allow the developer community to financially support open source projects they depend on. Anyone with a GitHub account can sponsor anyone with a sponsored profile through a recurring monthly payment. This is a similar model to the successful Patreon platform which is commonly used by independent media personalities – and, incidentally, by open source software projects (Vue.js and Laravel are doing six figures in donations annually). Currently on GitHub, however, only individuals are allowed to sponsor other individuals.
If you're tired of your corporate coding job, it all sounds great. Except, contributing to open source projects can be challenging if you work at a corporation and/or have family and caring commitments. After a 50 hour+ work week, it can be tough to find the time and mental resources to contribute.
Not only that, but GitHub is a legal minefield, particularly if the projects you contribute to venture on to the patch of your employer. As an employee of a major bank, if I went and started contributing to something like Quantopian’s algorithmic trading engine ZipLine then there would be a big problem. Taking payment for starting a project that becomes successful would further complicate things; it may be classed as moonlighting which very few finance employers take kindly to. This situation will only get worse if companies themselves are allowed to become sponsors. Github could always adopt a model like Webpack, which allows companies to donate and then compels them to step back, but even this is unlikely to be viewed kindly by banks.
For myself though - and for plenty of other people in coding jobs in finance - sponsors threatens to spoil my zen. If you're looking for ideological purity in the sharing economy, receiving sponsorship for an open source project seems kind of wrong. I don't want to feel pressurised to keep sponsors happy. I don't want to prioritise their feature requests or bug reports over others. The time I spend on GitHub is driven by passion, providing labour for free, and working on things for their merit, not their monetary value. That's not going to change.
Ian MacDonald is the pseudonym of a senior technologist at an investment bank
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