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Open Source Funding: Developing Countries Better?

by liz (Monsignor)
on Aug 24, 2003 at 08:00 UTC ( #286165=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

This may affect Perl development in the future and therefore I thought it would not be entirely off-topic in this forum.

Some time ago I was in a discussion with a number of fellow Perl Mongers about whether the money that some organizations spend on funding Open Source Projects would be better spent on funding developers in "developing" countries (low-wage countries) rather than funding developers in the "developed countries" (high-wage countries). The idea being that Open Source Initiatives would get more "bang for the buck" funding a "cheap" developer in a "developing" country than that they would funding an "expensive" developer in the "developed" world.

I'm at odds with this: on the one hand I think it would be good. On the other hand I think we're taking advantage of people in the "low-wage" countries. But who am I to decide that? People in what we consider "low-wage" countries would consider the wage that they're being paid quite high. Especially related to the cost of living in a "low-wage" country.

So I wonder what Perl Monks think about this issue?


  • Comment on Open Source Funding: Developing Countries Better?

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Re: Open Source Funding: Developing Countries Better?
by Daruma (Curate) on Aug 24, 2003 at 08:17 UTC

    The "Bang for the Buck" concept is one that is affecting my current employment. The company I work for is seeking "offshore" developers based upon the rate they have to pay for the work done. While, from a cost basis, this seems like good business sense, it has not quite worked out that way.

    Many of our developers have had to move to a more advisory role. Their duties now include writing specifications, both functional and technical, which are very detailed. The detail needed to "coach" the development of the required code is not much less than the effort actually required to do the coding work itself.

    Many of the folks tasked with writing these specifications and guiding the new developers have indicated that they could have completely finished the coding work with very little extra effort.

    This does not mean, however, that the relatively inexpensive coding labor force cannot eventually "learn the ropes" and require less guidance in the future. It does indicate, at least to me, that the cost savings are not quite as drastic as the PHB might have hoped.

    In placing Open Source Project funding in "developing" countries, what are we hoping to gain? Is it purely financial? If so, this should be thought about very carefully. If it is to encourage the learning and development of skills in those countries, I feel it a better cause.

      Many of our developers have had to move to a more advisory role. Their duties now include writing specifications, both functional and technical, which are very detailed. The detail needed to "coach" the development of the required code is not much less than the effort actually required to do the coding work itself.

      I have run a company myself, started with two (myself and my partner) and 5 years later grown to over 40 people. I learned management and especially projectmanagement the hard way: by doing it, and trying to read something about it at the same time, and having the problem of recognizing good texts from hype and air.

      Management is an issue here. The development of Perl is managed by a small group of people. Most of whom should just be developing, programming, testing. Instead of going to conferences or managing programmers that have way less experience and skills than they have.

      Project management is another issue. Again, many project managers lose a lot of time on management issues, that they could have spent better just programming themselves.

      Many projects and good products have gone down the drain because of the multi monkey approach. That is: put more monkeys on a project and the project will be finished sooner with a better result. But that approach seldom works. The opposite is more true. The best programmer in a team is appointed to be project manager, which is not his (her) best virtue. This programmer does not have the time to program, but tries to tell the other programmers how to do their work. Too often I have seen a team of programmers expand, staying at the same productivity rate and the project manager go nuts. While this manager as a programmer could have half of the work himself (herself) would he (she) have been left alone with just a bit of management from a real manager.

Re: Open Source Funding: Developing Countries Better?
by Anonymous Monk on Aug 24, 2003 at 15:33 UTC
    I've got some firsthand experience with this. Last year i moved from the US to Uruguay. I've been a perl programmer for many years and freelancing and doing work for a group of friends who do web consulting for the last couple years. It's interesting, because when i was working at a big silicon valley based company i had my project sent to Russia so i could focus on other projects. Now i'm on the other side working from a 'low-wage' country.

    From a project management perspective it can be hard in a traditional company, we ended up spending a lot of time on specs, and when we didn't have the time the result wasn't want we really wanted/needed. It was also expensive, mostly because of the overhead of working with a contractor who had US based sales people. Maybe they were just stiffing us at the end of the dotcom boom because we had a tight deadline. Anyway the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth, both from the fact that we didn't get what we really needed and because i felt like we were paying their programmers %10 of what we would pay somebody in the US for the same work. BTW, the quality was a communications problem i think as most of their development team had PhD's. They didn't speak english, so we were limited to the two russian speakers we had working in our office and our contact with the subcontractor. We never communicated directly with the programmers in an open source style, rather had a series of conference calls. In summary, we were doing very non-bazaar style software development and language were the problems.

    I ended up quitting my job not long after that and hopping on a plane to escape cubicle life and see the world. After a couple of years i have ended up in Uruguay, it's in south america between Argentina and Brazil. I'm here because my girlfriend is Uruguayan, but it doesn't hurt that i can use the low-wage/high-wage dynamic to live easily. We live what by any US standards is a middle class livestyle, we don't have a car, but we live in the center of Montevideo, have dsl, go out to nice restaurants and theater all the time. Gabriela works as a java programmer here for a local company and i work from home and cafes remotely doing development. I'm able to spend much more time exploring projects and putting development time in to new programs than i would if i lived in the US. At this point i need a couple weeks of low US pay programming work to live for a couple months. For me, and Uruguayans who have figured out how to do the same it's a great deal. We work less hours, on more interesting projects, and get paid more. We are in effect undercutting the wages of first world based programmers.

    Why does it work for me now and why did it fail before working with the Russians? It's because of the style of communication and language. I of course, being from the US speak fluent english. This means we can communicate directly and quickly. We use mailinglists, irc, IM, and other collaborative technology. One thing we're looking at is getting a VOIP phone from to allow cheap calls to the US too. With my previous project i had very limited direct communication with the programmers taking over my code.

    I think free software projects could get a lot by funding their coders who ALREADY work on the project who live in the third world. It doesn't make sense for us to be searching out coders to be paid to work from the third world, but if we have a group of coders, some of which can live on $150 a month and some of which require $3000 a month, we'll get a lot code by funding a bunch of folks instead of just a few. But i think this should only be done for programmers who are good and who have been contributing anyway. It's also important that it be collaborative instead of passing off the project to the cheap coders like what corporations do in India so often.

    I'm sure there are plenty of other people living in the Third World who work on a thousand and one perl projects, but they don't show up to the conferences. When i look at attending an O'Rielly conference, or even a YAPC it's between two months and a year's wages for most of the programmers i know here. And Uruguay is a middle income country. So, the folks who could be funding aren't going to have the same social networks, and as a result i bet are not suggested as folks who should get funding.

    Another option, which most folks won't take, is if you want to live developing free software, move to a part of the world where you can live more easily. :-)

Re: Open Source Funding: Developing Countries Better?
by adrianh (Chancellor) on Aug 24, 2003 at 10:00 UTC

    (I presume you are not proposing just picking the lowest bidder for a project - which is an entirely different kettle of fish from outsourcing :-)

    As you pointed out low-wage/high-wage is related to the local cost of living. You need to check whether they are getting a good wage, not translate the amount into the currency of another country. If it's a good local wage then you are not taking advantage in my book.

    Since, I imagine, most of these projects will be fairly self-contained I doubt there will be the problems with customer/developer communications and remote project management that sometimes occur with outsourced projects. Much OS development is distributed anyway. It certainly won't be any worse than US/European collaboration.

    If they can do the job then go for it.

    The only other issue I can see being a potential problem is meeting people. Its obviously more expensive for somebody in, for example, India to make a US or European conference so budgets for travel, etc. will have to be adjusted accordingly.

Re: Open Source Funding: Developing Countries Better? (Bob Cringely, TPF)
by grinder (Bishop) on Aug 24, 2003 at 21:32 UTC

    In terms of general out-sourcing of program development, Bob Cringely covered this subject a couple of weeks ago in two columns. I have no real experience in the matter, and while sometimes he says some pretty dopey things, more often than not what he has to say is pretty spot-on. In this case it all sounds reasonable to me.

    So take a look at:

    Insofar as it relates to Perl development (to address the first point in your post), we (the Perl community, through donations to The Perl Foundation), currently fund developers in high-wage countries. Witness TPF paying for Dan Sugalski's recent trip to Paris during the YAPC conference, so that the core Parrot developers could sit together in a room and thrash out a few ideas. (TPF paid Leo Tötsch's fares as well, for that matter).

    Dan has a strong reputation in the Perl community, dating back from the work he did on VMSPerl. Leo's more of a new-comer, but given the prodigious amount of work he's put into Parrot, the decision to pay his way was a no-brainer.

    I don't think it makes any sense to say that the money spent on their air fares, given instead as salary to a group of Indian programmers would have had a greater bang-for-the-buck on Parrot's development. It is merely coincidental that the recipients live in high wage countries. Were an Indian programmer to make a major contribution to Parrot or Perl 5, their fare would be paid to allow them to attend a round-table meeting on Perl development. The fact that there aren't a lot of open-source hackers from developing countries is another matter entirely.

    I think the attribution of TPF's grants is moving in the right direction. Rather than trying to bankroll the entire operation, they're just trying to grease the wheels here and there to keep the development ball rolling. Many low-level operations rather than one or two high profile flagships.

      So you think that in funding Autrijus Tang in Taiwan to work on CPAN, PAR and other things the TPF gave no thought to bang for the buck that Autrijus would receive?
Re: Open Source Funding: Developing Countries Better?
by mojotoad (Monsignor) on Aug 24, 2003 at 08:51 UTC
    Hmmm. I see a lot of hand-waving over some crucial variables in the equation here.

    I'm not a protectionist whatsoever.

    The hue and cry of protectionism (which you are not advocating) typically arises from the inevitable spasms of a skill set devolving into a commodity.

    Given that, there is a transition period where it is invalid to assume all skill sets are equal. Unless employees are indeed a "unit", identical components of a commodity skill, there are disparities to consider. (even in a quiescent state, these discrepancies only dissapate in averages).

    So when I read your post, I see your notion, but cannot help but notice your assumptions. You're assuming an "all units are equal" stance in your comparisons. Which parts of IT are commodities? Which parts are essential to 'native' infrastructure?

    I will never mourn any aspects of IT that can indeed be made into a commodity. So be it. In the long run, commodities disperse into the background noise of the market.

    However, if there was ever a skill worth having, it is the ability to take note of essential skills that cannot, by definition, ever be exported.

    It is for these reasons that I study garbage collection.


    p.s. :|

Re: Open Source Funding: Developing Countries Better?
by woolfy (Hermit) on Aug 24, 2003 at 08:26 UTC
    I think there are more "hands" in this.

    There is an egoistic hand: why would we support people in another part of the world to build a software industry that will be cheaper than our own, which will do the same with other industries in the west: cars, computers, home electronics, etc.

    There is the practical hand. Some people in Korea, India and perhaps other countries already get funding for their work. Ridiculously low amounts of money, with which they can live and work for a year, and for which we would shrug, like, I can buy just a dozen of DVD's, so are you kidding me? So, the practical hand says darn it, why not, it is helping Perl, it is really helping them.

    Than we also have a paranoid hand. Are we sure we can trust those people? India has nuclear arms and is fighting Pakistan all the time (and vice versa of course). Of course, this has little to do with Perl, it is pure politics. India is a democracy. Korea too. But they are not "open" democracies, the governments are quite restrictive. And there's a lot of corruption, really a lot.

    Yet another hand, this time it's fatalistic. Money to developing countries way too often disappears into a deep dark pit. No effect in the long run. Most of the time, only the people that "did their thing" by themself, survive, build a strong company/group that grows. Why fund more money that's not going to make a difference.

    The last hand I can think of is the control freak hand. Are any enforcable and controllable obligations connected to this type of funding? What harm will the control and pressure do to the creative process, or would it be motivating. Would the control put the funding party really in control, or is cheating too easy, or is that just looking too much at the bad side of humanity.

    Talk to the hand. But to which hand... I'm in doubt. What good did funding do to our western developers?

    In principle, I favor funding like this. But I have seen too many examples of funding without result, even funding with a negative effect. I call for caution and a moderate type of control and a contract with obligations.

      Are we sure we can trust those people? India has nuclear arms and is fighting Pakistan all the time (and vice versa of course). Of course, this has little to do with Perl, it is pure politics. India is a democracy. Korea too. But they are not "open" democracies, the governments are quite restrictive. And there's a lot of corruption, really a lot.

      The USA has more nuclear arms than India and Pakistan combined, has fought more wars than both countries combined since their independence, and has fought more wars in the last couple of years as well. As for "open" democracy and corruption, the USA doesn't have a spotless record either. Far from that, actually.


        I completely agree with your remarks about how bad the USA in many aspects is. There is another side to that of course: several of the wars they fought were to liberate Europe and many other countries from ruthless regimes and dictators. And yes, some of those dictators came to power thanks to the USA. And so forth and so forth. We know the flame wars about this from usenet, I participated in some of them. To cut it short: I don't like the power and the ways of he USA all too much, and neither of those of the USSR, Russia, China and the old imperial powers of Britain, Holland and Spain. But I am glad it is the USA who is mightier than anybody in the world now and not the USSR or China, since the ways of the USA are more attractive to me than many other ways.

        It is Europe and the USA that has the people investing in people in India and Korea. It is thanks to many people in Europe and the USA that Korea and Japan are now mighty car, computer and household appliance builders. What's next, software from those countries is cheaper and perhaps better than ours?

        Do we mind that? As long as it is as open as Linux, Apache, Perl and many other open source developments, I don't mind. As long as those developers have a decent living, I don't mind too much either.

        I do mind if this makes the USA more paranoid than they already are. I do mind if this wreaks havoc amongst the lines of good programmers in the west, when western companies fire their programmers to use the low wage programmers as cheap labour. I do mind a lot of other things.

        This is going too much into politics for my taste. So, let me finish this by thinking how fortunate we are to be in a position to help guide this process into a civilized result, from which all sides can benefit. And that "the powers that be" have much less a say in this that they would like.

        Pakistan & India have few enough nuclear weapons to actually attack each other. Nobody in their right mind would attempt to attack the US, Russia or China with nuclear arms.

        Are you trying to say that US is as unstable as Pakistan, where there is a large and active armed insurgency or Korea, with a Stalinist dictatorship within artillery range of the capital?

        If so, you are quite mad.

      Are we sure we can trust those people?
      Money to developing countries way too often disappears into a deep dark pit.
      What good did funding do to our western developers?

      What a bunch of discriminatory FUD. Maybe you'd see this type of thing on Slashdot at -1, but Perlmonks? The fact this isn't on Worst Nodes says some extremely bad things about this site. I'm out of here.

Re: Open Source Funding: Developing Countries Better?
by zentara (Archbishop) on Aug 24, 2003 at 17:11 UTC
    Most people involved with linux know that the money is made by running and designing systems, not writing the software. Perl shouldn't be looked at as a "money-making career", but as a tool which makes system administrators and network designers work easier. That said, spend the money overseas where it means more, as long as it is opensource. The money might mean a house to them, where here it might make a car loan payment.

    If I was in charge of some big server farm, I certainly would want some Perl expert, like those that always give the right answers here, to be a full time paid staff member. But to pay the salary they demand, for an app, probably isn't wise business. Unless the app is central to some money making operation you have planned.

    Here's an the software work overseas, and donate the saved money to creating a Perl Software Foundation, that will do more Perl promotion. (I've been fantasizing what I would do if I won the lottery....make a Perl retirement community where all the Perl wizards, who never made alot of money, could retire and spend their days with other retired programmers, writing snippets and code for the world to use. (Might have to live in Air Conditioned tents, all networked together) :-) creating a Perl Software Foundation...

      Hmm...isn't that what the Perl Foundation (is|tries to be|should be)?


Re: Open Source Funding: Developing Countries Better?
by PhilHibbs (Hermit) on Aug 27, 2003 at 20:15 UTC
    So long as whoever is organising the development in third-world countries isn't housing the programmers in the loft above a firetrap office, forcing them to work 14 hours a day or be fired, and deliberately denying them medical and social services, then I don't have an ethical problem with supporting third-world open source development. It's less likely to be causing suffering than buying a pair of Nikes.

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