Altruism maybe, making money definitely

Clint Oram —  August 10, 2010 — Leave a comment

A couple years back, Psychology Today had an article that analyzes why developers participate in open source communities.  I blogged on this topic then, but I recently had a discussion with an open source pundit on this topic and thought I’d revisit some of the lessons I’ve learned about motivating open source developers.  Simply put, I think the developers’ motivations go a bit deeper than just street cred, self-actualization and altruism … they go right to the wallet.

Let’s start with taking the “street cred” idea a bit further.

First, there’s street cred: People want to garner approval from their peers and build their reputation.

What I’ve seen in the SugarCRM community is that independent consultants and system integration firms can turn “street cred” into “business cred” (or marketability) and make some money. Simply put, companies hire you for projects if you are a credible SugarCRM community member. Also, IT developers NEED to have open source experience on their resumes these days to get the best jobs. Hiring somebody who actually contributes code to an open source project gives companies real competitive advantage for their business.

So being a prominent member of the SugarCRM community turns into actual dollars (Euros, kroners, Linden dollars, whatever). That’s a VERY powerful concept that is glossed over with the ticky tacky term “street cred”.

Now let’s take the “self-actualization” idea.

Second, there’s self-actualization: Working on these projects is enjoyable in and of itself, and it also provides the opportunities to practice your skills, collect feedback, and grow as a geek.

Yeah, coders code because they like to code. Coding is cool. Believe it or not, one of my favorite ways of relaxing is to fix bugs in Sugar. Now call me wacko (my wife calls me other things), but Sugar is my baby and I want to see her not just be good, but be friggen great! So I certainly agree with the point on “self-actualization.”

However, the ability for a company, a project manager and/or a developer implementing SugarCRM to take control of their own destiny around the Sugar app is HUGE. I’ve project managed implementations of proprietary CRM systems in past lives. There’s nothing better at blowing up your project schedule than a showstopper bug or unexpected limitation in an API.

With open source, a company can fix the problem themselves if needed or extend an API to meet their needs. Now SugarCRM works very hard as a company to respond to all of our customer’s reported issues in a timely manner, but when your go-live date is looming ahead of you and the CEO demands no delays, there is nothing better than having the ability to fix any issues yourself and not be tied to the responsiveness of your vendor. And if you are an independent consultant or system integration firm, time = money.  Again, control is a very powerful aspect which drives developers to open source that goes way beyond “self-actualization” or even “altruism”. It drives sanity for the developer and bottom-line value for the business.

Personally, I think these two ideas of marketability and control should have been included in the Psychology Today article as these are the motivations I hear about everyday from SugarCRM community members.  Marketability is about putting money in your wallet and control is about keeping money from flowing out of your wallet.

–Clint

Clint Oram

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Co-founder and CTO, SugarCRM

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