Paying for Developer Tools

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Recently, a user named amerkhalid wrote this on Hacker News (commenting on a question about the market for developer tools):

Agreed. Developers are hard bunch to sell to. We go out of our way to find free tools and almost look down on people who use decent IDEs or other tools. One example, when I finally got legit license for Sublime Text, all of my friends made fun of me for paying for a free software.

I replied by criticising this attitude (that of the friends he cited, not his own, mark you):

That’s a pretty unethical attitude. A developer, who by definition makes her living by creating software, more than anyone else should be able to appreciate that developers have to make a living.

I’m not exactly sure what this widespread attitude is caused by. Perhaps a mixture of a lack of empathy, a feeling of powerlessness and not having significant say in an organisation’s direction.

I’ve encountered this – in my opinion toxic – attitude time and time again and quite frankly I’m fed up with it. Developers in general make a good living. They’re sought after professionals, who earn a lot more than most people have the opportunity to. Yet somehow, many developers don’t actually seem to value their craft particularly highly. A craftsman who takes pride in his work and his craft won’t settle for less than state-of-the-art tools and he will appreciate their value. If you don’t care about your tools or if you settle for sub-standard tools your work at best will be mediocre.

Valuing your work and appreciating the tools required to accomplish this work means appreciating and valuing the work that went into creating those tools as well. By expecting these tools to be free or – worse – continually using a product for free that’s meant to be purchased eventually and is only provided for free so users are able to test it before buying it (like Sublime Text, which is a particularly notorious example in that respect because hardly anyone I see using it has actually paid for it) you not only completely disregard that value and work but you also deny a fellow developer adequate compensation for the value he or she created.

How can you then possibly expect to be adequately compensated yourself? Developers often complain that their work isn’t appreciated by non-technical people. How can you expect others to appreciate your work if you seemingly don’t appreciate it yourself?

Open source software in part is to blame for these skewed expectations. However, the idea behind open source software isn’t to provide software for free but to provide free software.

Sometimes salaried developers complain that their employer won’t pay for these tools. This in turn says a lot about both the employer’s own appreciation for the developer’s work and the employer’s economic acumen, or rather lack thereof on both counts. Essentially this means that your employer (hopefully) pays you a good salary but isn’t willing to shell out a few hundred quid to make you more efficient and hence make better use of the money he pays you. For his own good you should try and convince him to make that investment. If he refuses perhaps in that case it’s time to look for greener pastures.

If on the other hand you – like me – are a self-employed IT professional you should all the more invest in your tools. You owe it to your customers to deliver great work and do so both effectively and efficiently. Once again, and I keep repeating myself, you can’t do so by using mediocre or good-enough tools.

Now, I’m not saying that every development tool should cost something. There are countless tremendously useful and impressive development tools out there for free. If you decide that those are the best choice for doing great work then by all means use those.

If however, you decide that a particular commercial tool is the way to go then you better bloody well pay for it and not settle for a less than adequate solution just to skimp on the licence fee! Even if the tool of your choice is available for free you should consider paying the developer an appropriate amount (like Patrick McKenzie did with SheetJS). After all, if a tool is useful to you it probably helped you earn a fair bit of money. So, why not give back a tiny fraction of that to a fellow developer? Not only for karma’s sake but also to keep that particular developer going lest that tool be abandoned because the developer simply can’t afford to put in work for free anymore.

So, no matter your particular situation: If you’re making decent money with developing software please take pride in your work and the tools you use for doing that work and appropriately compensate their respective creators.

About the author: Bjoern
Independent IT consultant, entrepreneur

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