How to market your software skills

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open source work experience

If you ask a software developer how to make money writing code, you'll usually get employment or selling applications as your answer. It's my opinion, however, that most are missing the boat and need to think of their skills as a marketable service.

The other answers, while not wrong, have to do with point of view.

If I get a fancy box and shelf space in the big box chain stores, then I'm offering a product. The transaction might even present itself as selling of services – like getting the neighbor kid to mow my lawn. But no matter how you look at it, it all starts with a skill.

If I toss open source software into the mix, then I usually have to deal with "Yeah, right. How am I going to make money competing with a free download?"

Here's the thing, software isn't the only open source industry. In fact, many other open source businesses are very profitable and are generally skills that have been around for quite some time.

Let's think about open source for a moment. The first line of the Wikipedia article states:

"Open Source describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product's source materials."

To me, it's just the way we've always done things.

Software isn't the only open source skill; in fact I'd say that all of these could be considered open source:

  • Carpentry
  • Plumbing
  • Farming
  • Repair – automobiles, washers, refrigerators, etc.
  • Fashion - sewing, design ideas, etc
  • And many others

The people who practice these trades might have their own secret sauce, but all can be learned in an open source manner by examining the construction or using freely available information to gain understanding of the process. If I can get a book at the library or search the internet for the information I need, then I consider the industry to be open source.

Let's now consider what it means to be in an open industry where anyone has access to the tools and materials that you do...

Wouldn't the existence of prepackaged seeds put farmers out of business?

What about home improvement stores? Shouldn't that put Plumbers, carpenters and electricians out of business? Does access to scissors put the barber out of business?

With the answer to those questions being a resounding "NO," then why do so many people within the free and open source software (FOSS) movement think that there are no business opportunities for their skill set?

Yes, there is a bit of a vacuum in the consciousness about the use of open source software, but I don't think that it's going to be too hard to overcome.

What the middle market is missing is people with marketable skills who are willing to begin offering their services in various formats. It could be shelf ready products, it could be custom work. FOSS could even be offered alongside commercial options.

The thing is, FOSS has so many advantages and one of them is price. If you are a provider and can offer the same services and functionality, but you don't have to undercut your profit to be the less expensive option, that's a big advantage for you and your customer.

So you make more money, they spend less... Talk about bringing value to the table. You're happy, they're happy, the computers are effective. How can you lose?

This article was originally posted on Karlie Robinson's blog.

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Karlie Robinson is a professional busy-body who funds her passion for all things open source through She is the lead architect for many successful programs, including; the Developers Portal and the Fedora Sponsored Media Project.

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