In our 18th survey wave, we’ve asked developers whether they contribute to open-source software, and if so, why? In this post, we’ll explore who the contributors to open-source software are, their reasons for contributing, and finally what open-source support they expect from companies.
More than a third (33%) of developers who contribute to open-source software are less than 24 years old as compared to 26% of non-contributors. This is not to say that they are inexperienced programmers; 41% of open-source contributors have 1 to 5 years of experience, 4 percentage points higher than non-contributors.
Contrary to what one might think, open-source contributors are not necessarily professionals. In fact, they are equally likely to be amateurs than non-contributors. You don’t have to be working professionally in the software industry to be involved and contribute to open-source software development.
Open-source contributors are more likely to be involved in multiple development areas than non-contributors. However, open-source contributors are significantly more likely to be involved in emerging sectors such as machine learning/AI and AR/VR, where innovations are mostly driven by open-source tools.
Finally, as you’d expect, developers’ likelihood of contributing to open-source software is also reflected in their activity on the most popular open-source hosting site, Github. The correlation is clear. Two-thirds of developers who don’t contribute (67%) have no personal public repositories on Github, whereas close to half of the contributors (48%) have two or more public repositories. We observe a somewhat similar relationship with Stack Overflow. Non-contributors are significantly more likely to not use the Q&A site at all or visit the site but not have an account. On the other hand, open-source contributors are twice as likely as developers who don’t contribute to have earned at least one badge (30% vs 15%). Working on open-source projects encourages developers to actively engage with their peers on Q&A sites. We’ve seen which developers contribute to open-source software projects. Let’s now dive into the reasons for contributing.
Developers are most motivated to contribute to open-source projects to improve coding skills (29%) and a belief in the benefits of open-source (26%). What’s more, 22% of developers contribute to open-source software because it’s fun or to solve an issue with an existing open-source software project such as fixing a bug or creating a new feature.
By contrast, financial compensation is the least important motivation. Only 3% of developers are getting paid for their work on open-source projects. As it turns out, developers are more likely to get involved in open-source projects to build their reputation (14%) or to network (11%) rather than for direct financial gain. Furthermore, developers who get paid to contribute are almost 20 percentage points less likely to think it’s fun than those who contribute for other reasons. They are also significantly less likely to believe in open-source as a source of freedom, as an ideological imperative.
Typically developers don’t contribute to open-source for a single reason but are motivated by multiple factors. For example, half of the developers who contribute to open-source for improving their coding skills also think it’s fun. 56% of contributors who want to network also feel like it makes them belong somewhere.
In our Q4 2019 Developer Economics survey, we also asked developers what open-source support they expect from companies. Thirty-three percent of developers not contributing to open-source don’t expect anything from companies, as compared to 15% among open-source contributors. That said, two-thirds of non-contributors still think that companies should be involved and provide support to the open-source software movement; they realise how important open-source is and believe that companies should be a part of it.
On the other hand, 44% of open-source contributors expect companies to support and contribute to open-source communities. This increases to 55% for developers who contribute to solve an issue. Many contributors (44%) expect full documentation on how to use open-source software on companies’ products or services. This is especially important to developers who get paid for their work (53%).
Interestingly, open-source developers do not necessarily expect companies to build products and services upon open-source software (39%). This is the least important vendor expectation from developers in terms of support for open-source software.
Open-source software contributors are a diverse group of people. Their motivations to contribute range from learning, having fun, solving issues to building relationships and reputations. In summary, developers have plenty of reasons to contribute to open-source, and they expect companies to support them along the way.
If you are involved in open-source and want to share your views, visit our latest survey and help shape the trends.