Debian motivation

Steve asks a pretty good question: what is the motivation to work on Free Software in general, and Debian specifically?

There are actual scientific studies on that subject as academics try to wrap their head around this strange thing where people do not get paid, but still put in a hell of a lot of work.

What motivates me to put in hundreds of, sometimes boring, hours working on this stuff? I honestly don't know. I started doing working on Debian with a desire to make some name and fame for myself; but frankly, if name and fame is what I'm after, I should have stopped doing this a long time ago and should have tried to go work for TV or something. Or I should have been working on some stuff which is central to Debian (either the OS or the Project). So while "name and fame" might've been the reason in the beginning, it's not my motivation today.

It could be that I want to help shape the Debian operating system into something useful; that I want to contribute so that the system is something I like to use. But I don't think that's the case; if that was my motivation to work on Debian, I would have more interest in doing some infrastructure work, which I'm not doing: the m68k port is not exactly the most important port of the Debian project, and my most popular package, nbd-server, is installed by 101 popcon submitters, or 0.38% of them all. Why the server seems more popular than the client is a mystery to me, but well.

It could be that the Debian project is this warm and fuzzy place which allows me to meet people from the comfort of my bed room, but I don't think that is the case. If I want to meet people, I'll go to a bar, or go sing in the choir, or go play my flute in the ensemble. That's a lot more direct, a lot easier than trying to set up some trip to Scotland, and a lot cheaper, too. And if I want a warm and fuzzy place, then with all due respect, Debian is not what I'm looking for.

It could be that by working on Debian, I want to challenge my knowledge and in that way increase it; this would look good on my CV, and it could perhaps satisfy a desire to learn new stuff, all the time. But that's not entirely true. I don't need to be a Debian developer to challenge myself or to learn new stuff; and if I would really want to have something that looks good on my CV, I would be much better off by joinging a project that produces insane huge gobs of code, rather than a project which is perceived to do nothing more than 'just putting stuff in packages'.

I think my real motivation is a bit of a mixture of all of the above. I still feel proud when people talk about things I've done, or when people praise me for the code I've written; and I still feel sad when people mock the m68k port, even if 'only jokingly' (because we've pulled off a lot). I often try to file good bug reports when I find issues with Debian, and purposely run unstable on my laptops to help find bugs quickly, in an effort to help turn Debian into something useful. There is a lot of flaming on Debian mailinglists, but there are also a lot of friends—who, contrary to those from the choir and those in the ensemble, actually know what I'm talking about if I say "I'm trying to port Debian to those ColdFire boards, which needs changes in the compiler, the linker, and the C library. Possibly also the assembler". And finally, while Debian work hardly challenges me anymore, it does still allow me to learn new stuff every day—which is quite useful in my day job.

So, there you have it. I don't have a specific reason why I'm still a Debian Developer after five years; it's more of a general feeling that being part of Debian is the right thing to do. I guess you could also say I have this feeling that I can't abandon "them"—whoever these "them" might be. Obviously that's incorrect (I've seen much more important people, such as e.g. Herbert Xu, being replaced without much of a hitch), but the feeling still is there, nagging on me.

So there you go. What's your motivation?