Last week, Cognitect and Nubank announced that they will be sponsoring dozens of contributors to the Clojure ecosystem. Erik Assum, Tech Lead here at Ardoq, was on the list for sponsorship. Open source is a critical part of the economy but it is still an ecosystem without a viable economic model. It relies on the generous spirit of open source developers. We wanted to learn more about what drives these contributions, and what kind of motivation lives behind this kind of engagement, so we had a chat with Erik about that.
So Erik, aka Slipset, - We have just seen that you are getting some well-deserved recognition for your contribution to the Open Source community. In fact, you are one of very few that have just received a sponsorship for your contributions to the Open Source Clojure ecosystem. This is quite rare, and considering the huge amounts of contributions that the Open Source community has we would like to understand more about what this means. Why these contributions are getting rewarded? For how long have you been contributing to this community?
I started programming in Clojure in 2014, and it was clear to me that this was a different thing from Java. I never felt there was a community of my peers in java, everything there was run by committees and companies, whereas almost every library I used in Clojure was developed by a single person which I could potentially interact with. Case in point. When I went to my first Clojure conference (EuroClojure 2014) I got to talk to Rich Hickey, the creator of Clojure, one-on-one as we walked home from a bar. But to answer your question, my first contribution was giving a talk at ClojuTre in 2014, which was super nice, and introduced me to the Finish sub-community within the Clojure community.
After a while, I was also able to start contributing code to libraries that I used, and also some other tooling. And I guess the reason for that was that that was what the prominent figures in the community were doing. They were contributing to the language proper, they were building out the libraries I was using, and they were giving the talks that I enjoyed listening to.
How many hours do you think you have spent on the contributions that have gone into this community?
That’s almost impossible to answer, because it’s more like a hobby than it is a job, and as such, I don’t really count hours.
Could you share with us why you are doing this?
I guess I alluded to this in a previous answer, but for me, I think this is about two things. I think it started out a lot with my wanting to achieve things, to be able to do the same things as the people I looked up to. Speak at a Clojure conference, land a patch in a library I was using, but then slowly this leads to becoming a part of the community, and this is a community of contribution, of sharing, so that just comes naturally.
How do you feel about the fact that your efforts now are being recognized?
I feel immensely proud and honored. I also feel that there are so many others that deserve it more than me. I also take it as a recognition that the work I’ve done through clj-commons, which is an organization that stewards Clojure libraries where the original author has moved on, is important to the community at large. Which again inspires me to do improve that work.
The sponsorship is funded by Cognitect and Nubank. Why do you think these companies have chosen to make these contributions to the Open Source community?
It seems to me that Rich Hickey, the creator of Clojure is a person who rather than complain about the status quo, does something about it. The reason he created Clojure was that he needed a better tool to do his job. So he took two years off, lived off his retirement funds, and made Clojure. After this, he’s built a company around it, but he’s also felt the demands of being a maintainer of an open-source project, and what it meant doing it all for free. I believe he came to the conclusion that this is not a sustainable model, and that creators and maintainers of open source software ought to get paid. So when Cognitect got acquired by Nubank, I imagine that Rich put a clause in the contract saying they get money to sponsor such developers. Just as he did when he created Clojure, Rich identified a problem and went about fixing it.
What do you think about the future of the Open source community, and do you think that it will be dependent on these kinds of contributions in the future?
I’m quite optimistic about open source. For me as a developer, working with closed source, doesn’t make sense. Yes, I can read documentation, but with open-source I can read the actual source code, and in Clojure specifically, this tends to be easier than in other languages. The libraries tend to be small and well written, so they’re fairly easy to understand. I also think that for many developers, and even companies, it’s almost unheard of to pay money for what we may call infrastructure software. Sure, we pay our subscriptions for Slack and Github, but we don’t buy libraries which does our authentication.
But I would hope that more companies would follow Cognitect and Nubanks lead and sponsor either individual developers, or as Ardoq is doing sponsoring organizations like Clojurists Together who in turn grant money to developers who work on important open source projects.
Well, that sounds like something for all companies to consider.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us and congratulations on this big achievement!
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Sigrun is the VP of Marketing at Ardoq. With over 10 years of experience in marketing, most recently as CMO of Microsoft Norway, her extensive knowledge of growing B2B software firms is crucial to develop Ardoq's brand and lead generation in the next stage of our growth journey.