Being a maker isn't about some big payoff. I recently wrote about how being a maker is in my DNA, while rereading it I noticed an interesting trend. Most of my life, as a maker, has been heavily influenced by Open Source.
Open source doesn't exist because some VC firm poured millions into it, or because some hot startup decided to share small pieces of code. It exists because sharing information freely improves our society, it makes our daily lives better. The premise of Open Source isn't far off from how they describe society in the future of Star Trek - a utopia where people pursue things they love for the greater good of humankind.
There are two major open source projects that have impacted my life in a major way; Linux and Ruby on Rails. My love affair with linux started in the early 90's when we upgraded our old Packard Bell 486 DX2 to a newer computer. I used the old 486 to install linux and create a dialup on demand server for the house. When DSL came out, we slapped a networking card in it and it became our NAT router for the house. I started attending my first LUG (linux user group) when I could drive, I think I have around 17. I don't think there is a day that goes by in my life where I don't have at least one computer running linux in my house. Thank you Linus Torvolds and all the other people who have helped make linux what it is today.
Ruby on Rails came much later in the timeline, but I remember first trying to build something with it in April 2004 (right after the first 'RailsDay') after I saw the 15 minute build a blog 'whoops' video. That single video impacted my life in ways I could never understand back then. I started my first programming job around 1.5 years later, working remotely from my house for a firm in NY. I've done nothing other than program ruby/rails for the last 8 years. I owe David Heinemeier Hansson and the ever changing core team a huge thank you - All of you have made my life better!
One other major 'shift' in the open source world has happened that irrevocably changed my life. It started one day when I was hanging out at Scott Baron's house with Scott and Chris Wanstrath. Chris told us about this cool app he was working on in his spare time that would allow people to easily collaborate using Git, the app provided an endpoint and ways to browse code that was checked in on their servers. Sounded interesting, so he gave us some beta accounts.
Since then, Github have grown into a booming business that has employed many of my friends. They weren't content to just stop with changing how we collaborate with code, they have pushed forward how we manage projects and features in the code we are writing too! I am not sure there is any code I write today that doesn't get checked in on Github. Chris and team, you guys keep rolling out awesome stuff and making my life as a developer better every day - keep it up.
I now know that running an open source project can be very tough; people like to argue, they don't get how your package works, documenting seems like a black hole of a time suck, etc. Just know that open sourcing something, or helping out on a project can really be rewarding. Give back, it is worth it!