The Dark Side of Open Source

by Lex Grezlak, Founder

In the tech industry, open source work is often seen as a way for people to collaborate and create innovative solutions together. However, there's a darker side to this, as companies may be encouraging open source contributions for their own benefit rather than for the greater good.

Looking good vs. being good

Big tech companies paint a picture of open source work as a heroic endeavor. They tell us it's about altruism, about contributing to a global community, and not just about making money. But what if that's just a facade? What if the real agenda is to condition smart people to work for less?

Peter Thiel's concept of value capture is brutally relevant here. In open source, you're creating immense value X, but the percentage you capture Y is often a big, fat zero. It's like you're baking a huge, delicious pie that everyone enjoys, but you're not even getting a slice.

The praise trap

Getting a virtual high-five for solving a tough problem is awesome, but does it pay rent? Companies often talk about the good feelings you get from open source to make you forget about the money part. But if your code is changing the game, maybe you should get more than just a "good job."

Imagine you put a lot of effort and time into a project, and your code becomes a key part of a very successful product. But, all you get is a mention in a README file. This is what we call the praise trap—your hard work is recognized only with words, not with money.

The truth is, while open source is about community and teamwork, your hard work might be making someone else rich. It's important to balance the spirit of open source with taking care of your career and finances. Don't fall into the praise trap; know the worth of your work and look for chances that reward your contributions not just with words, but also with real benefits.

Who's the boss

When companies champion open source, they're often playing a deeper game. They promote a culture of 'free work' under the guise of passion and community contribution. The hidden agenda? To cultivate a workforce that's accustomed to not getting paid for their labor.

Consider an employer that actively encourages its employees to contribute to open source projects on their own time. These employees, driven by a desire to give back to the community, often find themselves working extra hours without compensation. The company benefits from the improved skills and network their employees gain, all while fostering a culture where working for free is not just accepted but expected.

This strategy can lead to a workforce that's less likely to push for competitive salaries or question the status quo. After all, they're part of a 'mission,' a movement larger than themselves, and the lines between where the mission ends and exploitation begins can get uncomfortably blurry.


The open source movement is undeniably powerful and positive in many ways, but it's important to stay vigilant about the motives of those who may seek to leverage it for profit. As developers and contributors, it's essential to recognize our worth and advocate for fair compensation for our work, whether it's proprietary or open source.

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