A very interesting thing of free software is that you can learn many aspects by yourself and with investing time and effort, but no (much) money. All the source code and communication channels are open, and participating in one project (side by side high skilled hackers) does not require to pay any fee nor previously know somebody who introduce you in the community (in most of the cases). For example, attending to FOSDEM, the international free software developers conference, is free (and most of the talks are recorded and publicly available). So, participating in libre software project is a very interesting approach to improve technical skills, get in touch with people and find new job opportunities.
This was the case of Rodrigo Moya. Some weeks ago he came to the University to talk about how to make a living being a free software hacker. In particular, he explained to us his professional career as free software developer. He was working in a software company (developing non-free software) and he began to contribute to the GNOME project in his free time. Later he got an offer from Ximian, a software company whose business was based in GNOME. Since then, he has changed from one company to another from time to time (Ximian became part of Novell and later Attachmate, then he changed to Canonical, and this year he began in Collabora), but always hacking for free software projects.
Before than this talk, I had heared about business built on free software. Maybe 15 years ago it was a strange thing, but not today anymore: many companies need experts in specific free software technologies for system administration, deployment… Other companies also adapt free software projects to produce new, customized solutions to their customers, and others create or use free software in non-critical aspects of their business. For more on this, you can take a look at MSWL Economic Aspects subject, the chapter about FLOSS-based business models in the Free/Libre Open Source Software guide for SMEs (FLOSSMetrics EU project) or my blog posts about economic aspects of free software.
This about companies. But what about people? Is it hard to get a job in a free software project? Well of course you should be good at what you do, as with any kind of job. But you have to take into account that we still can consider the “free software market” as an emerging market, with much more demand than competition. For example, the recently published Linux Jobs Report 2012 states that there is a high demand for people with Linux-related skills.
If I wanted to make a living as a free software hacker, I would take also into account the different associations members of ASOLIF (Asociaciones de Software Libre Federadas), the federation of Spanish free software SME companies associations. In this presentation you can find detail about it and some facts about their growth in last years. By means of ASOLIF you can reach many companies that develop, deploy or promote libre software for their business. An interesting initiative is their website Migralibre, a community of experts and companies specialized in migrations to libre software.
There are interesting opportunities around libre software, not only for software developers and systems integrators. Libre software projects need different kinds of contributions as artwork, multimedia, translations, marketing, legal advice, infrastructures… Participating in a software project providing these kind of “services” is an opportunity to improve professional skills (for example for translators) and show them to the public or companies when searching for a job.
In addition to all that has been said, I think that getting involved in libre software communities brings an opportunity to prove and improve our social skills (language and communication, relationships, working in a team, managing conflicts…), which are needed for most of the jobs (and sometimes much more appreciated than technical background or expertise), and of course for all the rest of our lives.