Since 2010, I’ve been paid to work in free and open source stuff, in various fields, sub-fields, and roles. Sometimes I hear people talk about how they want to work in free software as well, and sometimes I get asked about how I ended up here. It was pretty easy: I spent a lot of time paying to do things other people get paid to do.
I’m proud that I am on the Open Source Initiative board. I think it is a serious accomplishment. It is also tied very directly to me spending thousands of dollars a year on things related to free software–namely travel.
This past February I had my first trip of the year–I went to Brussels for FOSDEM. In March, there was LibrePlanet (more on this later). In April I’m going to Paris to lecture at two universities. May is Linux Fest Northwest and OSCON–so I’m doing the two-for of going from one directly to the next. In August, DebConf and Wikimania are both in Montréal (at approximately the same time), so I submitted talks to both.
I spent 96 days of 2016 out of Boston and 74 in 2015. Among my friends in the field, I don’t actually travel all that much.
I live a fabulous life in one of the most expensive cities in America. I also have student loans and not a lot of savings.
I can’t make a good average guess about how much I spend per conference. I usually stay with friends who live in town, or a friend kindly lets me sleep in the hotel room their company is paying for. C3 and DebConf have been the exceptions (though, I paid for my accommodations at LCA 2016 after a miscommunication with my employer at the time). Other than C3, I only go to conferences that don’t have a fee–which means I only go to one if I’m speaking or volunteering.
Conferences mean having to eat out. They mean coffee from shops and carts. They mean late nights at bars and, not infrequently, car service back to where I’m staying. LibrePlanet 2017 was in Boston, where I live. Still, I ended up not having the time or energy to eat at home, and, most nights, threw myself into a car I paid for.
I have self-funded nearly all of my travel.
As I post this, I am at Linux Fest Northwest and it’s Sunday. My flight cost around $300. I got a ride with a friend from Seattle to Bellingham. I’m staying at someone else’s hotel. Breakfast this morning cost $8, and lunch yesterday cost about $15. Post-dinner drinks ran $11–someone else expensed dinner. Friday night dinner was provided by the conference (that’s rare). With some other miscellaneous charges, the conference itself has run me about $350. That’s with a lot of help from friends, which I have because I’ve been doing this for a few years now. As I read that number, $350 doesn’t seem that bad, but then I remember it’s half of my rent and not actually the total cost of just the Seattle portion of this trip and this is a very cheap trip.
I do this because I want to have a career in free software–I want to progress and grow. I want to see the movement be successful.
When you work in a small field, being known is important. It gives you “the edge” over others when you’re being considered for jobs. It gives you cred. Recently, in a totally unrelated meeting, someone referred to me as an “expert” on something–without ever really having talked to me about it, because he knows I go places to speak about it.
That’s the secret to having a free software career: work really hard and spend a lot of money self-funding travel.