The tangibility syndrome


I was reading a post by Phil Haack about Recognition Compensation which was somewhat in reference to recent news over MVP renewals. I feel there’s no further comments required on all the rewards and compensations surrounding this and other programs. This post is not about that, but about something he mentioned, something I’ve come across quite often:


The other reason folks want an MVP is to have access to the professional tools. Most companies will easily shell out the money for this, but if you’re a hobbyist or open source developer, it’s a lot of money to shell out.


First of all, let me make it very clear that this has nothing to do with OSS. Let me also state that at JetBrains we fully support Open Source Development, and we do this in many ways. Some of our tools are fully Open Source, others have OSS Community Editions. We also provide free licenses to OSS projects of pretty much all of our tools, as well as collaborate with the folks at Codebetter to offer free Continuous Integration and Issue Tracking software for all Open Source Projects (in fact, TeamCity and YouTrack are even provided for free for smaller teams). In addition to this, many of us at JetBrains spend quite a bit of our time working on OSS projects.

These are policies that I identify myself with and that’s why I’m very happy to be part of such a great company. Having said that, let’s move on…

Hobbies cost money

This morning I tweeted:image

Collin’s Dictionary defines Hobby as:


In our context, it’s an activity pursued in spare time for pleasure or relaxation.

It’s what people do to switch off. It’s what they do to get away from their daily job. It’s what they do to relax. Stamp Collecting, Photography, Painting, Knitting, Astronomy, Playing a Guitar are examples of hobbies.

Many of these hobbies cost money. Some of these are one-time investments, others have ongoing costs. Photography requires a good camera. Painting requires a constant stock-up. Things which would seem like an upfront only investment also turn out not to be. You buy yourself an electric guitar. Once you learn to play it half-decent, you want a better sounding amp. Next you need a few pedals and ultimately want a better guitar.

how is development as a hobby different?

My main hobby (after stumbling with a guitar) is learning new programming languages, frameworks and stepping outside of my comfort zone. It might be sad that I have little interests outside of my profession, but I find it somewhat fortunate because it means that I love what I do so much that if I weren’t doing it, I’d be doing it, if that makes sense.

I’m also fortunate that my hobby contributes to my career. Of course, I don’t get to play my guitar as much as I’d like to, but I do get to learn new ways of doing things that broaden my horizons. As such, I invest in my hobby, be it with books, software tools, hardware and whatever else I need. And I don’t look at it as a ROI because that’s not what a hobby is about. It’s not about how much bang you get for your buck.

Whatever the hobby, be it playing a guitar or collecting stamps, people have little problem with spending money on it. Yet why do we draw the line when it comes to software?

I do this as a hobby, why should I pay?


Is it because software is not tangible?

We see this outside of developer and hobbyist circles too. People will spend thousands of euros on a MacBook Pro, but then look for free password keepers instead of paying $70 to buy 1Password. They’ll use free alternatives even if they’re half as good as a paid one. And of course, in countries like Spain, where we’re ranked as second highest in software piracy in Europe, it’s just downloaded off of some torrent site.

We, developers, of all people, the ones that charge money to write or aid in writing end-user software, should be the first to know that the value of software is not measured by how much it weights or what it feels like. If we understand that, why do we suddenly feel that working on something as a hobby doesn’t deserve monetary investment?

5 thoughts on “The tangibility syndrome

  1. George Birbilιs

    Usual hobbies benefit only one’s self – MVPs share with others a lot (not just experience, but also code etc. – it’s like making model railroads for a hobby and giving them away)

  2. Carles

    I agree with George here. If your hobby helps others I think is legitimate to seek some kind of compensation.
    Also, don’t believe everything the IP lobbies say. I’m not sure things in Spain are so bad…

    1. hhariri Post author

      OSS’s primary beneficiary is and should be yourself. You’re welcome to seek compensation for it, but you can’t demand it. Not sure what MVP’s have to do with it though since this post isn’t about MVP’s :).

  3. Gael Fraiteur

    I think the source of the developer’s bias in favor of free developers tools is that the market of software development tools is largely subsidized.

    Last year I was at a prospective customer doing a presentation about the need of aspect-oriented programming, showing how PostSharp solves their issue. The show worked great and at the end they asked if they had to pay for the software. As a consulting shop, they were not used to pay for development tools.

    Their main business was SAP development. SAP gives developer tools for free, because they make money on production servers. That’s logical. Applications in production are profit centers for end customers; *development* of applications is a cost center. It’s natural from SAP to try to make profit on a profit center rather than on a cost center. It also makes consulting companies their friends: they don’t have to pay for software, but they sell it to end customers, and take a commission on the sale.

    The same happens with Microsoft, and other vendors. They make money on operating systems. In order to sell their OSes, vendors need to have applications running on those OSes, so they have to create an ecosystem. It’s natural that they subsidize the development tools market because it helps growing the ecosystem.

    The result is that software developers are used to free software — because they are not considered the main customers of platform vendors (who are also the dominant vendors of software development tools), but they actually create value for the platform — often for free.

    There’s an other point regarding MVPs (or whatever other vendors call them): they get free stuff because they are influencers and vendors want them to try this stuff and influence others in their choice. This has nothing in common with moral duty (around OSS), although moral arguments are often used to hide economic interests. There’s no big difference in this point between our small community and international politics.

  4. Charlie Kilian

    I think the big difference between software development and the other hobbies you list is that you have already sunk the costs of developing the tools, and making a digital copy is free(ish — I know you can make arguments about support and bandwidth, but let’s leave those aside for a moment and agree that the actual copying of the software costs you almost nothing). Given that the hobbyist is not going to pay for it, and thus that you aren’t losing money (having already spent money to develop it), why withhold the software? Is it just out of spite?

    Of course, it isn’t out of spite. It is because you’re trying to support yourself as a software developer, and that means *someone* has to pay for it. And it is impossible to determine up front who would pay for it if you don’t make it available for free, and who won’t. And at any rate, it’s not clear why anyone should pay for it at all if you’re willing to give it away to hobbyists.

    My point with the first paragraph isn’t that you should give away your software, and my point in the second isn’t that you shouldn’t. My point is that both sides have a point. If nothing else, that is a perspective (“I’m not going to pay for it, but the work is already done, so why not just give it to me?”) that I think people are likely coming from.

    Personally, I like the model on some development frameworks that says you don’t owe anything until you ship your software, and then you owe depending on how you licensed your software. It seems to marry the best of both worlds. But I will be upfront and say I haven’t thought too much about its downsides — there are probably some I haven’t thought of.


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