How we all develop and support free software

by Daniel Takamori on November 29, 2022

Today is Giving Tuesday, and I'd like to share part of my story that brought me to Software Freedom Conservancy. Having started as a donor over 5 years ago, I find myself now with even more passion for our mission as an employee.

I've been using software for close to 30 years; I wrote my first program around 25 years ago, and I've been working in non-profit free software for over a decade. Over all that time the thing that keeps bringing me back is that software is for people. Made by and for people.

Having worked in technical roles as a systems administrator, site reliability engineer and CIengineer, the last year and a half at Software Freedom Conservancy is the first non-technical role I've had. Stepping into the Community Organizer role has allowed me to reinvigorate my passion for FOSS by working directly with people. There have been the usual differences that have cropped up: feedback cycles with people are much longer than just pushing a new patch to see if the tests pass, prose is a lot harder to write than even the more esoteric programming languages (different people use different compilers!). I certainly never thought I'd have to help wih fundraising! But it turns out as a developer I often felt disconnected and distant from the people my code was supposed to support. So while stressful and juggling many things at once, it's a grounding activity that really drives home how connected our mission is to the people who help support us.

There are a few differences between non-technical and technical roles in free software development that I have noticed.

The first is bugs. There are bugs you learn to live with (screen sharing with Wayland and free software video conferencing is still a pain), and some that need the highest priority attention (it's been just over a year since the Log4J incident). Unlike debugging code, in community building spaces we don't have the luxury of thinking of problems as bottlenecks, with absolute solutions. With people, there are often no right or wrong answers. We work cooperatively over a long period of time to build a shared history that informs how we deal with issues that arise.

While in the technical context, I would often think of community building in terms of making it easier to get code upstream, or work with developers of an adjacent library. Community building itself has an intrinsic value, which is something we don't get when writing abstract code. The time scale for human interaction and relations is longer than the half life of an arbitrary patch and can thus use a bit more nuance and care when dealing with each other. Especially in the volunteer context of FOSS projects, understanding each others lives and timelines removes the ambiguity that text based communication often leaves.

Most starkly, the thing I never truly had to worry about in other jobs was fundraising. I thought I could dodge this aspect of my career by not continuing as an academic mathematician, but real work needs real resources. The technology field is an interesting one, we often have large amounts of money floating through what is often touted as a meritocracy. So in my mind if we could just talk about all the great work we do as a non-profit, by the meritocratic principles, we should have money flowing out our gills! Alas, the investors don't flock to non-profits as much as they do to startups.

So how can we work around the absence of a meritocracy to fund our work? I think it all comes back to finding the people who believe in software freedom as much as we do. And extending open arms to those people who haven't heard about it, but are equally affected by the encroaching proprietary software corporations. By sticking to our mission and actively creating a more equitable world in which software freedom is the default (and not an alternative we have to fight for) is how we'll gain momentum and win people over. Our dedication to software freedom speaks for itself through the projects we host, the diversity and inclusion efforts we sustain and by being the only organization in the world doing widespread license compliance.

The human side of open source is complex and requires deliberate, relationship-driven work. That deliberate work can be slow and doesn’t fit neatly under the profit and efficiency models that the tech industry often revolves around. The same mindset that coders apply to “bugs” doesn’t work for conflict resolution in communities, because people’s values and interests are multi-faceted. SFC works to sustain a thriving community around technology that works for people’s needs.

We at SFC do this work with your help. We are able to pursue a more just world, not just through code, but through relationship building with sustainers like you. Our community is incredible and I wouldn't trade writing unit tests for the joy and passion I feel working alongside contributors from all over the world. Please consider becoming a sustainer and helping us all year, or donating to us so we can work together to create a more just future for all.

Tags: conservancy, FOSS Sustainability

Please email any comments on this entry to

Other Conservancy Blog entries…

Connect with Conservancy on Mastodon, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Main Page | Contact | Sponsors | Privacy Policy | RSS Feed

Our privacy policy was last updated 22 December 2020.