FreedomYUG: Get Out of Your Own Way

Show me the money!

How to Successfully Earn a Living with FOSS — Part 2

Let’s start with a simple example. You convince a friend, colleague, or a client to migrate from Windows to GNU/Linux. You wipe his hard disk clean, install Ubuntu, and boot him into his new OS. Soon, the smiles start fading as the emails and calls start increasing, asking you for further help on every little task that a newbie may confront.

You obviously can’t solve every problem, and be available all the time. So discreetly, you turn your face to the firewall while he inevitably gives up and migrates back to Windows. His finger points at you.

Don’t try this at home

Let’s take another case. You convince a client to shift from a proprietary solution, say for ERP, CRM, finance, HR, or even telephony, to completely muft and mukt software. In fact, your client may be in a specific vertical such as the medical industry, graphics design, CAD or engineering.

As a zealot, you declare: “Everyone must be saved from proprietary software,” and bravely search through SourceForge.net for software alternatives that may fit your client’s needs. You do find some, and install them for your client.

The client soon discovers you may be quite good at handling their desktops’ systems administration, as well as with their servers, but you are quite clueless about their industry-specific needs. Indeed, you might just be a gifted developer as well, and can customise smaller aspects of the specific software for the client’s needs, but you cannot give them a production-ready software, especially one that rivals a proprietary offering. Forget that, even for something as generic as CRM or ERP, you soon realise you don’t really have a background in management studies, or the required domain experience to offer a business solution.

A few whirs and hard disk grunts later, your client is back on Windows and other proprietary software. Their eyes are, of course, glaring at you for the failed attempt.

Here’s the most typical scenario. You fight a fierce battle, and migrate your entire organisation to FOSS. After a few initial hiccups, you’ve got all systems and people humming along just fine. One fine day, you decide it’s time to move on in your career. Once you’re out of the organisation, it takes just a few seconds for everyone to gleefully reformat everything and go back to their slavery under proprietary software. You just shrug your shoulders and try not to think about it.

You are the problem

In each scenario, you are the problem. You’ve so badly wanted the fame and glory, or maybe you felt professionally insecure, that deep down you made your clients dependent on you. Giving someone freedom that solely depends on you is not freedom.

It’s as evil as the proprietary software and standards you battle. You’ve become what you reject. And along the way, you’ve moved away from building a community, to egomania.

So just remember three things!

The first: Accept that you cannot do everything on your own, no matter how trivial — so delegate work to more people.

Second: You cannot know everything, so always work along with people who have domain knowledge and experience. You should even consider outsourcing key aspects to large and reputable organisations.

Third: One day, you have to move on, and that is always sooner than you think — so have a succession plan from Day One. Train and groom enough people around you. If a FOSS adoption fails after you quit, it is a failure on your part.

On the path of freedom, whether digital or spiritual, the master key is always the same: You have to get out of your own way.

Verbatim copying, publishing and distribution of this article is encouraged in any language and medium, so long as this copyright notice is preserved. In Hindi, muft means “free-of-cost”, and mukt means “with freedom”.
Feature image courtesy: Tripp. Reused under the terms of CC-BY 2.0 License.

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