Finding an open-source programmer?
April 6, 2009 12:52 PM   Subscribe

I'm involved in a group of small/nonprofit organizations that would like to financially support the starting of an open-source software application. While I am technically-minded, I'm not a programmer -- and I don't really know what to look for in one (hopefully to be found on MeFi jobs!). Help greatly appreciated.

I'm the co-chair of a nonprofit community fishing tournament. We've been using a software package to run our tournament that, bluntly, was never very good to start, and is showing its age.

Its function is basically to facilitate the entering of weights as anglers weigh in at the scale, calculation of current standings as the tournament runs, display on a fancy screen for spectators to see, display sponsor ads, angler photos, etc., etc.

We have a group of local tournament organizers (mostly nonprofit) that would like help developing something that would be useful to all of us, but that is cross platform and open source, so that other (fishing or otherwise, possibly) tournaments can benefit from it, as well. We're not interested in developing it as any kind of revenue stream; we just want a useful product for our own tournaments.

We likely can raise a reasonable amount of money to start the project, and are forming a committee to try and develop a spec sheet for it, but I don't know how to proceed from there. Other than the obvious usual HR baseline, what do I need to know/ask/require/expect in finding someone to start an open source project for us?

Alternately, is there a protocol wrt to looking for programmers who just want to start a new open source project (i.e., are not looking for financial recompense)? As I said, we will likely have some financial ability to make this happen, but someone wanting to do it on their own time would be okay, too.

Thanks for any advice!
posted by liquado to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I don't know if you'll find many programmers who will want to code your project for free, even though it's open source. Most open source programmers are working to 'scratch their own itch', meaning they want to write software that they themselves want to use.

What you're asking for doesn't sound that complicated, though. It seems like the kind of thing a web developer could whip up in ruby on rails in a weekend (or in even less time).
posted by delmoi at 1:06 PM on April 6, 2009


Alternately, is there a protocol wrt to looking for programmers who just want to start a new open source project (i.e., are not looking for financial recompense)? As I said, we will likely have some financial ability to make this happen, but someone wanting to do it on their own time would be okay, too.

The way open source software tends to work is that one programmer or a small group of programmers create some sort of functional application that they are interested in and release it as open source. Then other interested programmers (usually people who use the application and want to add features) contribute code to the project. If the people involved lose interest, projects will very often die before the application is very usable to people outside of the project itself.

The problem with looking for someone to write your application with your specs for no pay is that very few people would have the skills and desire to do that. A talented programmer could work on any number of open source projects or start any type of application, so there isn't much incentive to write an application for that fits your specs that they won't actually use themselves.

You'll probably have to end up hiring someone to do it.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:11 PM on April 6, 2009


Sorry, let me clarify -- we ARE willing to pay, but I was looking for some clarification on how the open source community generally works. Assume then, from this point forward, that I am willing to pay to have the application developed. Sorry for confusing the issue.
posted by liquado at 1:30 PM on April 6, 2009


Sorry, let me clarify -- we ARE willing to pay, but I was looking for some clarification on how the open source community generally works

It sounds like your project will end up being roughly equivalent to creating a commercial application and then releasing it into the public domain. If after the software is complete someone wants to use it as-is for their own projects, or extend your software to fit their needs, they will be able to, but I wouldn't expect much effect from the project being open source during development. If that's the case, you should be able to approach this like any other small software project, without the open source aspect being much of a factor.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:38 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Some thoughts:

Will you have a non-profit entity own the copyright?

Pick an open source license (GPL or BSD are two typical choices depending on your philosophy)

Make sure that everyone who works on the project does a copyright assignment to the project - this makes ownership issues hopefully crystal clear in case you want to re license the project later on (e.g. to GPL v3 or produce a commercial "pro" version )

Beware of flakes, esp. in the non-profit world, it's easy to find someone who seems gung-ho, but disappears after a few weeks. Have a contingency plan.

Help pulling together some of the specs of what the program should do, even some screen mock ups. The developers don't have to use them, but will help them understand what is required of them, and help you figure out what you need.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 1:39 PM on April 6, 2009


It sounds to me that the open source component of the job posting is secondary to the job itself. If I (a programmer) were to look at this job posting, I'd pay attention to how much of the system is designed and specified (i.e. how much ambiguity will I have to work through to implement it?), the job requirements, and the salary; in other words, I'd consider it as any other job with the perk that the project will be open-sourced and perhaps one day receive community feedback. In other words, finding an open-source programmer is more or less the same as finding a regular programmer. There's no difference between the two if both are talented.
posted by shadytrees at 3:44 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


you might be able to find someone who's willing to give away to the software, but want to sell services and hardware (a barcode scanner and a USB scale and display board and setup) so they can go and sell the same stuff to other tournaments. You get your free software, they get a possible business model.
posted by jrishel at 6:15 AM on April 7, 2009


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