Open source techie, how much is your work worth?

I just inked a contract with an electoral and political reforms NGO wherein I will develop a LAPP (Linux, Apache, PostgreSQL, and PHP) architecture for an election monitoring project. This is inclusive of developing a user interface for encoding and retrieval of data coming from field reports, training of staff (of course) and uploading data to a website. And do you know the price of this contract? P10,000.00.

Before I reason out why I accepted this contract, let me ask this question: How much does an open source hacker/system administrator/programmer/developer/web developer/network administrator charge for his or her work?

In a mailing list of my Linux community, there is a thread regarding compensation of open source technical employees. The posting by one member regarding a hiring of a systems and network administrator for a certain monthly salary provoked a heated discourse. The posting said:

We are looking for Systems and network administrators

Typical duties:
* Perform independent monitoring, troubleshooting and diagnostics.
* Work with support staff to diagnose, troubleshoot and resolve
production system issues.
* Work outside normal working hours when required.
* Take in general IT projects.
* Other Duties as assigned.

* Able to handle any Linux, any BSD and any Windows version.
* Knows in and outs of x86 hardware.
* Demonstrated knowledge in programming.
* Experience with managed switches and network devices (ie. 3com, cisco).
* Knowledge in networking with strong basics in TCP/IP and security.
* Strong analytical and communication skills.
* Independent, resourceful and able to complete assignments with
minimum guidance.
* As much as possible a jack of all trades.

Salary ranges from PHP 20000 to 30000

One immediate response to that announcement was this:

A company should pay their professional employees with Professional fees or salary. For an IT who knows about Networks, Windows OS and UNIX they should be receiving at least more than 50,000 pesos depending on their experience in the Philippines. I know they will be worth more than 5,000 US Dollars outside Philippines.

The debate is interesting. To summarize the points:

  1. The company reserves the right to peg monthly salaries according to scales that it can afford.
  2. If someone bites to the offer, fine. If none, then the company may have to up the offer. (If you don’t want the offer, then, don’t apply.)
  3. The applicant (given his/her qualification for the job offer) should be creative enough to accept the offer and then show the company his/her worth and negotiate afterwards. Thinking and looking professional will help.
  4. Aside from monetary compensation, the company may be providing other benefits that are worth inquiring about.
  5. Geeks are geeks. They are concerned about their work (machines and conducive environment) more than the money they are paid.
  6. Hire a FOSS advocate to run the tech department. (Ughh!)
  7. Reality is that many Philippine companies pay their techie employees within the range (P20,000-P30,000).
  8. So sad that some companies resort to FOSS because it’s free. And because it’s free, they value their FOSS employees very low.
  9. Some companies believe in technology, so they pay their techie personnel high. Others don’t, so..
  10. Techie people should maintain a blog to ‘advertise’ their stuff: Personal branding.

Quite interesting.

My take on this is that it depends on who you are, your values and your passion. If you do FOSS for a living, then you deserve to be paid high enough to make both ends meet. If you do FOSS as your side task, then please don’t overcharge. Chances are the entity that is negotiating with you is an NGO and has other items in its operation that must be funded as well.

If your take on FOSS is as political as technical, then you deserve to have a negotiating power (note: negotiating skill is required) with the other party. In a negotiation, integrity, trust, openness, and compassion are crucial.

I’m an NGO manager and ICT activist, who happens to be a techie (in my own right, of course) at the same time. I believe in the role of technology to uplift the lives of the people. When I enter into a contract, I always see the situation of the contracting party, its advocacies and financial capacity. If the advocacies measure up with mine, great. If it can pay high enough, very good. If not, fine. Maybe next time, given the inflation and what not, I’ll be compensated more.

Now, need I explain more why I accepted that P10,000-worth of contract?

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