Libre software funding and market abuse

I’ve just read a troubling article from the developer of Aether.

What troubles me is not so much the differences we have, which likely stems from being in vastly different segments of libre software (he’s doing social media, and I’m in low-level systems). What troubles me is that he claims that it is an economic imperative to work at FAANG or a Silicon Valley startup for a number of years before working on libre software full time, and all of this on a false pretense.

Encouraging someone to have a long-term savings and funding plan is a good idea, perhaps even a great idea. It falls apart when he states that working for startups or FAANG are the only or best way you can earn that money — and then claiming that you could make 250,000 USD per month working at them[1]. This is flawed mathematics at best, and actively malicious to society at worst.

Most people are going to have to work at a company before founding their own, unless they have funding from external sources (be it angel investors, VC, inheritance, family and friends, etc). This is not what I take issue with. This issue I have is this false dichotomy that you can only make good money by working at FAANG or an abusive startup. As someone who actually has worked at two different startups in their life, I take personal issue with the way startup culture exploits its workers, investors, and society at large. This doesn’t even go in to how startup culture can also be bad for business.

This abuse is ingrained in to most, if not all, of the industry of Big Tech, ala FAANG. You might be able to wrestle some division of Apple, or the security research division of Netflix, out of this hole and point to them as an example of where I’m wrong. Oh, dear reader — even if you have the privilege of working in an area of the company that isn’t abusing its workers, you’re still complicit in that abuse by furthering the company’s mission and control over some part of the industry at best, and indirectly engaging in it yourself at worst.

It’s time for the computer industry to rise up and work at companies that respect their workers, and society. Quit FAANG like a bad habit, and find a company to work for that doesn’t trade in the abuse of power and users as its main product. And where those don’t yet exist, it’s time to found some. At the end of the day, we are all defined by the actions we take — which side of history do you want to be on?


[1]: And I quote, “If you can make $10,000 a month from donations doing open source work, I can guarantee you that your salary in any large tech company (or even startup) would be much more — to the tune of 10x to 25x.” The firm Indeed claim, at time of writing, that the highest paid research engineers at Google make about 246,000 USD per year; other companies pay even less. That’s 20,500 USD per month, or just about twice the amount he claims you might be able to make on donations doing ‘open source work’. And this doesn’t require you to further Google’s surveillance state.

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