Isn’t it better to contribute code than money?

Recently, I was in a discussion about making contributions to open source projects. One person said it would be nice if their employer gave each employee a budget that could be directed to open source projects at the employee’s discretion. The idea is that it would be a way for employees to support the specific projects that make their jobs or lives better. Another person said “isn’t it better to contribute” code to the project?

No, it is not. Even in software companies, a large percentage of employees lack the skills necessary to make meaningful code contributions to projects. Even when you consider (the very valuable) non-code contributions like documentation, testing, graphic design, et cetera. Money is quicker and easier.

Money gives the project maintainers to put it where they need it. They could buy test hardware, pay for web hosting, hire a contractor, buy themselves a nice cup of coffee. Whatever. This is the same reason charities prefer money over goods for disaster relief donations.

Of course, money isn’t perfect either. Not all projects are equipped to accept financial donations. Even if there’s a way to route money to them, they may not want to deal with tax implications. Loosely-governed projects may not have a good mechanism for deciding how to spend the money. Money can make relationships go south in a hurry.

If you’re a company looking for ways to let employees support the open source projects that they depend on, I advocate the “┬┐por que no los dos?” approach. Give your employees time to contribute effort in whatever way they’re able. But also give them a pool of money to sprinkle on the projects that provide value to your company.

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