Open source software and technology have historically been associated with volunteer work. Tim Berners-Lee did not charge users when he contributed HTML code to what eventually became the modern Internet. However, open source development has come a long way since then. Canadian programmers and software developers can now participate in open source projects voluntarily or for a fee.

The Commercial Open Source Software Development

Early advocates of open source software development intended it as a progressive way to produce programs and promote freedom of speech on the internet. However, even these early advocates did not foresee the potential commercial interest open source development could present to companies.

The most glaring advantage of open source development is its ability to bring together hundreds, and even thousands, of developers and get them all working towards the common goal of making the software better. If a company wanted this amount of manpower to perfect a program, that would cost millions of dollars. When you become an open source software developer, you are essentially an independent entity. Companies are more than willing to pay you a fee as a freelancer in return for fixing a bug or adding a useful line of code. It costs the company less than hiring a full-timer, and you get paid for work you would otherwise freely contribute.

Ways to Earn Money as a Canadian Open Source Software Developer

The beauty of the internet is that you can work from anywhere, anytime and make money. Just because you are a Canadian doesn’t mean you are barred from working on open source software licensed to an American company. You can basically work on any piece of software open to the public that your level of expertise can handle.

There are five main ways a freelance developer can earn money by working on open source software:

1.      Get Paid by a Company

The best known way to get paid for open source development is to work on software made public by a company. The biggest example of this is Linux, the world’s most famous open source OS. The Linux Foundation depends on developers that volunteer their services for a fee to fix bugs and patch problems in the Linux source code. Likewise, there are plenty of other companies—like IBM, Novell, and Mozilla—that pay software developers for working on their open source programs.

2.      Charge for Extra Plugins or Features

Some companies want open source developers to create additional plugins and features for their products. It’s a marketing tactic as well as a great way to reduce labour costs. If you are skilled at creating addons, you can work with a company that pays for them. You can also create extras for open source software and accept donations. For example, the developer of the original adblocker extension for Mozilla Firefox, itself an open source web browser, accepted donations for developing the software.

3.      Accept a Fee for Providing Tech Support

Most software needs continuous IT support to function well. Companies like to cut IT support costs by taking software out to the public and depending on open source developers to provide the support. Some even want open source developers to train staff and engage with customers. This may not be how open source development technically works, but it’s a way to earn money as a free agent.

4.      Earn Money by Tweaking Code

Plenty of companies make software open source so that they can continue to have the code customised to meet changing demand. You can get involved with such a project to tweak code and get paid.

Making an IT Career out of Open Source Volunteerism

While you can use the above methods to earn money as an open source software developer, you will need to do some other things to build a career out of it.

For starters, you will need to continuously engage with open source development projects. Don’t completely stop working for free. The aim should be to garner recognition and attract attention to yourself as a skilled and dependable open source software developer. When you are well known as an open source software developer, the paid work will easily come to you.

If you find yourself in a situation where you haven’t been able to pay your credit card on time, you can get a secured credit card to help you build you score back up. There are many good credit cards for bad credit.

You should also secure a trustworthy payment mechanism for yourself to accept money from people you don’t know. You can use a payment gateway like PayPal or OpenACH, an open source credit card payment gateway, to have your fees deposited. You can also link your local bank account for which you have credit cards registered. That way you can easily use your credit card online and have the bills paid on time.

Don’t hesitate to create a LinkedIn profile for yourself as well. Uploading your resume and work samples online will also help your profile attract a steady workflow.

Open source software development refers to a process where the source code for a program is publicly shared, and various independent developers contribute to make the software workable in a desired manner.

Open Source Software Development at a Glance

Software is commonly licensed and copyrighted. As a result, the company that owns the rights to the software tends to depend on internal in-house teams of software developers to design and test a product. Such software is called closed source or, more commonly, proprietary software. Software companies keep the source code of proprietary software highly secret. Doing so can prevent hackers from knowing the inner workings of a system. More importantly, closed development of software can prevent rivals from stealing design ideas for popular programs. Examples of proprietary software include Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop and Windows operating system.

Open source software stands in contrast to such proprietary software. The source code of open source software is open to the public. Anyone with access to the internet can view this code. Users are not required to sign an agreement not to illegally copy and distribute the software. Anyone can copy or modify the code of open source software. However, the original developers may demand new users to agree to not use the software for malicious or harmful purposes. Open source software does carry legally- binding licenses, but these are drastically different from those of proprietary software. Examples of open source software include, Mozilla Firefox, LibreOffice, Linux OS, and the GNU Image Manipulation Program.

Open source licenses are designed to promote sharing and collaboration. Users are welcome to modify the source code of software for use in independent projects. Some open source software is free of charge, and some charge a fee or accept donations.

How Open Source Software Development Works

Open source software development is based on at least four key stages. The first stage is where the original software developer shows intent for sharing the source code with the public. This could be due to a desire for taking the software public. Alternatively, the original developer may encounter a problem and might seek help from the public to solve it.

The second stage occurs when the original developer releases the source code to the public. This is usually referred to as the first version of the software. Then, independent developers begin to modify the software and fix problems. These developers will use various tools for debugging and fixing errors in code. There could be a handful or even hundreds of developers working on single open source software. Everyone collaborates, and during the third stage releases a newer version of the software to the public. The fourth stage occurs when outside developers form specialized teams to work on the software project.

Open source software has initiation, execution, and releasing development stages similarly to formal software development projects. Different types of open source software development projects also exist. Most open source software development projects are focused on writing and fixing single pieces of code. Software like Mozilla Firefox depends on open source developers who work on standalone pieces in this manner. The other major type of open source software development is distribution development. Here, teams of developers work together to produce mature versions of the same software. The Linux OS is a prime example of open source distribution development. Examples of Linux “distributions” include Ubuntu, Debian, and Fedora Core.

Benefits of Open Source Software for Developers and Users

The biggest advantage of open source software development is that there is no limit to how many developers can work on a project. Proprietary software depends on a handful of developers. For open source software, many can participate. As a result, the final product tends to be more polished than proprietary software.

Open source software development can lead to more innovative and secure programs that meet the needs of customers. People who are not developers can also pitch in to provide valuable feedback that results in effective programs.