Giving back (as a geek)


In both my personal and professional lives, I owe much to the work that people have done before me. I am acutely aware every day of their generosity, and I am filled with gratitude. The brave men and women who stood up to oppression before my time made it easier for me to come out and in my small way do the same. And the great people who produce open source and shared software code have enabled me to have a livelihood and inspired me to give back to the community.

To break it down for you: Most of the websites I currently produce are built atop a base software called WordPress. This software allows me to do amazing things, and it is completely free for me to use and customize, and tweak, and build on top of, to my heart’s content. That is because WordPress (like a lot of very good software these days) is what is known as “open source“. I pay nothing for this software and yet without it I would have a hard time making a living. The open source model of software development is quite radical in a lot of ways. Everyone who uses and modifies the code is required to make whatever changes they have made available to everyone in the community. Some of these changes end up being very useful for a huge number of people, some of them not so much. But at the heart of this model is a sharing of effort and resources that benefits everyone. There is a booming WordPress economy because of this, and it is one of the most popular software projects anywhere, with millions upon millions of people using it. And there are tons of ways that people make money off of this free product. Some people sell support services. Some, like me, use it as a base to build custom software on top of. Some provide web hosting plans. Some promote themselves on their own blogs, selling ads or subscriptions to their content. All of this made possible by people giving their time and effort to the community.

Because of the gratitude I have, I have always been looking for ways to give back. Up until now, it has been rather informally, answering posts here and there to help out my fellow travelers, sharing small bits of code I have written with this or that person. I have often thought that I would someday submit a theme or plugin to share with the community, but as there are so many out there already, I didn’t see that I had anything particularly novel or useful to offer. But today, I came across a bonafide need in one of my projects for which there was no plugin readily available. So I wrote a simple one that did what I needed, and submitted it to the WordPress repository to share with the world. Hopefully someone will find it useful, and the process of writing and submitting it was a great learning experience in and of itself. But more importantly, I like the idea of paying back (or forward) the debt I owe to people that are changing the world for the better.