Subject: Re: Lead developers vs 'Helpers'
From: Alan Hudson <>
Date: Thu, 21 Aug 2003 09:45:26 -0700

David N. Welton wrote:

> I got to thinking...
>>From a free software business point of view, what is the difference
> between 'lead developers' and 'helpers'.
> With many medium sized projects, it's pretty obvious who runs things
> and does most of the work.  This is the person who you would also go
> to for consulting, training, or whose name would look best on a book,
> even if there are other people who know the code and do work on it.
> I wonder how important this distinction is in economic terms?
In our projects(total around 500K lines of code) we have a company 
devoted to maintaining and doing projects overtop of these codebases. 
There are two primary authors, 5 secondary authors and around 100 active 
user/helpers(about 25 downloads a day, so those 100 are just the folks 
who post, ask/answer a fair bit of questions).

Most business oppertunities typically come to the two top maintainers. 
But we tend to farm those out depending on our time commitments and the 
area of interest(ie some folks are specialists and its clear when its a 
task for them).  So of these people have been direct subcontractors, 
others just took referals and ran with it.

So in our case, you can make a living off being one of the lead 
developers, but likely can't get all of your income from being a helper.

Two groups to look at would be the JBoss and Apache projects.  I think 
those two projects have a lot of helpers making a good living.  Both 
those projects are definately on the largeish end.

One important metric is whether you can land projects overtop of the 
codebase or just support type contracts.  The first seems much more 
stable.  Ie support your open source work with project work.  In that 
case you are typically the one who found the project, so you control a 
lot of the disposition of funds.  You can take the whole project if you 
have time/skills or farm out bits to your cohorts, who might be more 
senior in that project.

Some pointers to the projects we maintain:

Xj3D - VRML/X3D Toolkit - Low level Java/Java3D graphics routines

Alan Hudson
President: Yumetech, Inc.            
Web3D Open Source Chair