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Missing the Point about Burnout

Posted in Free/Libre Software, FUD at 2:55 pm by Guest Editorial Team

Dog with a sign

Summary: An opinion about misdirected criticism of the Free software community

Last week a poison pen who pretends to be a reasonable journalist claimed there’s an epidemic of burnout in the Free software community and asked developers to achieve balance in the wrong place. He smeared the community and ignored the largest stressor of the Free software community, Microsoft. There is a lot of stress out there right now, but the answer is more cooperation and freedom, not less. People involved with Free software should be proud of the fantastic world they have built and the way their tools and cooperative spirit is catching on in society at large. No one needs to be a hero when we all share and work together and this — rather than burnout — is a hallmark of the Free software world.

The call to surrender dredges up old and discredited community smears. He regurgitates nonsense about hostility towards women and talks about people vomiting from caffeine addiction. Sexual harassment is not acceptable, but it is less prominent in the Free software community than in society at large but is more so where people are trained to think of developers as “one night stands”. Caffeine addiction and dietary abuse should not be a problem at volunteer organizations but are stereotypical of cubicle life. The charges are a projection of the worst practices of non-Free software companies and the author has a history of doing this to Groklaw, the Free Software Foundation, Boycott Novell and others. What’s not brought up probably as important than what he does talk about.

Microsoft’s constant attacks on the community through infiltration, impersonation, direct trolling, media manipulation, technical sabotage and legal attack are great burdens that deserve mention in any article about free software frustration. Boycott Novell has both experienced and covered these issues in the past. People like Bruce Perens had a dozen Slashdot impersonation accounts, and HP offered him similar PR services when he worked for them. Every Free software community has put up with endless trolling. Anyone who thinks trolling is just coincidental or part of human nature that randomly focuses on Free software has not read and understood Microsoft’s training material which details and advocates “subverting” and shutting down “enemy” channels of communication. Face it, most internet trolls hardly know about Free software projects and are not inclined to waste years harassing yours. If you think Microsoft’s legal assault on Free software started with Android, you should check out my short history of their software patent extortion, which tells the story in their own words. Microsoft’s ongoing technical sabotage of Free software includes creating complex and poorly performing hardware hardware standards like ACPI and the usual boot loader tricks [2, 3]. Those companies that overcome all of those barriers face retail sabotage that includes spying, intimidation and bribes. All of these attacks make it difficult to make a living with software of any sort but are especially aimed at free software users and developers.

Microsoft’s war against software freedom is part of the rich and powerful’s attack on all of our freedoms. At least one person has astutely pointed out that concentration of wealth has created an inefficient command economy. Inefficiency, paradoxically works in their favor. They can only recruit their armies of airport gropers, phone tappers and other flunkies in an atmosphere of paranoid deprivation. Those who have wealth and power are punishing the rest of us to maintain their relative position as their usual means of control falter. Sadly, as we know from the HB Gary scandal, Microsoft’s form of information warfare has gone mainstream and is being used by major banks and other big dumb companies owned by the same set of sociopaths. They would have us divided and helpless and hate the community ethos and effectiveness of free software.

The answer is not to step away from important free software work, it’s to take back your life. Free software is something people want to do. Sixty hour work weeks for progressively less money are not something people want to pull. We will need the cooperation of our neighbors to successfully demand social justice. Free software builds up a civic spirit that is useful in solving problems that are more responsible for people’s frustrations and burn out than anything unique to coding. Sharing is good and people who share trust each other more. Free software also bring essential tools for publication and private communication that our neighbors need.

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  1. Michael said,

    September 2, 2011 at 4:43 pm


         There is a lot of stress out there right now, but the answer
         is more cooperation and freedom, not less.

    So stop attacking those companies you loath and belitting them when the cooperate and work with OSS! I mean, really, in the same article you show how much you want to “cooperate”

         Microsoft’s constant attacks on the community through
         infiltration, impersonation, direct trolling, media
         manipulation, technical sabotage and legal attack are great
         burdens that deserve mention in any article about free
         software frustration.

    Pure attacks from you, Roy. No sign of cooperation at all.

         Sexual harassment is not acceptable
    If you are really concerned about such matters, why not speak out against Stallman and his repulsive comments about sexual matters? I detailed them more elsewhere, but just consider this one comment of his:


         Dutch pedophiles have formed a political party to campaign
         for legalization.

         I am skeptical of the claim that voluntarily pedophilia harms
         children. The arguments that it causes harm seem to be based
         on cases which aren’t voluntary, which are then stretched by
         parents who are horrified by the idea that their little baby
         is maturing.
    Yes: Stallman is supporting a political party that wants to campaign for the legalization of pedophilia. And clicking on Stallman’s own link we get this:

         Dutch paedophiles are launching a political party to push for
         a cut in the legal age for sexual relations to 12 from 16 and
         the legalisation of child pornography and sex with animals.

    Yes: that is what Stallman is supporting! Nothing taken out of context… and no commentary on my part needed to see how repulsive that is. And yet, Roy, you claim it is a lie for me to point to those comments of his.

  2. NotZed said,

    September 2, 2011 at 8:30 pm


    I don’t think it entirely missed the point on burn-out. It’s a problem which affects all employees in the tech sector and is a nature of the job. Although I think they focussed on only one type of burn-out, the more social side of it.

    On the technical side, to be really productive and produce good products one will voluntarily push your mental and physical capabilities to and beyond their limits. You get quite a buzz out of it and it is incredibly fun at the time. But you can’t do it forever.

    There also is a particular type of ‘social’ burn-out that does afflict free projects more than other types of engineering work. Unlike commercial operations where the engineers doing the programming or design work are protected by layers of support and escalation procedures – who take the brunt of the customer, and yet are also detached from the code itself – customers often have direct access to the programmers who thought up, designed, wrote, and maintain the actual code.

    Because of the this they simply have more of their life, heart, and soul ‘invested’ in the endeavour as well, it isn’t just for the money, and they aren’t just implementing others ideas. They will necessarily take harsh criticism more to heart – because it often is a direct personal attack on their decisions, and generally be more stressed than their commercial counter-parts.

    The MS induced stress – e.g. changing underlying protocols and whatnot – only affects a minority of projects, and the people working on those chose their path knowing full well such things would happen.

    Incidentally I didn’t see it as a call to surrender, just that it’s just a work-place hazard you have to look out for and try to manage. And perhaps also that you’re not alone.

    twitter Reply:

    If the author had not trashed the FSF, Groklaw and Boycott Novell in the past, I’d be more receptive to the nicer part of the message. The people quoted mean well, I think, and it is important for people feeling overwhelmed to get help. As it is, I see this as perception management and free software FUD. This author says there’s an epidemic of burnout in free software that’s worse than anywhere else. There’s no real evidence presented for this epidemic and it strikes me as counter intuitive – free software, outside of Microsoft attack, is way less stressful than working for a company like Microsoft or Oracle where you can be fired at any time for something as trivial as blogging about the wrong brand PC on the loading dock.

    In fact, I’d connect the dots to other recent FUD stories to say it’s part of an organized campaign. There’s a long running effort to paint free software people as irrational, unprofessional, unsociable and otherwise mentally unstable. There’s also a long running effort to get free software contributors to quit what they are doing. I saw it on Slashdot ten years ago and the people who troll still torment their victims with the promise of relief if only they will shut up. PJ expressed this belief when she retired. Recently, there have been a slew of stories about “internet addiction” and free software people all being older and on the verge of retirement. The basic perception being pushed is that free software is something that can’t last, but that’s absurd because free software has shown stability never matched by non free software and commercial software houses.

    I can only imagine how stressful it would be to work for a company like Yahoo, Nokia, SCO or Novell, under Microsoft attack then subjugation.

    Michael Reply:

    I think there is the potential for burnout in any business – but if you are in a business where they are making innovative and exciting products you are less likely to experience it.

    There is innovation and excitement in open source but there is also that in other areas. Look up “innovative companies” and see what comes up – likely the top one will be a company that uses and distributes a lot of proprietary software but also uses and distributes a lot of open source software. To me this makes sense – each has its benefits and its weaknesses.

    I do not see why their should be a battle between the fans of each, but all too often their is. I try to show that a balance between the two – using whatever works best for a situation – is the “right” solution.

    In other words: why allow your company to work less efficiently, your government to risk lives, or your home computing experience to suffer just because you have decided you want only open source or only closes source programs. Makes no sense to me.

    NotZed Reply:

    Although people can sometimes run agendas, it’s better just to look at the message and not simply discard it because of the messenger (ok, in some increasingly-common extreme cases there are those that talk such nonsense so consistently they aren’t even worth reading, but i don’t think this was the case here).

    Burn-out is real, and linus is about the age it happens, so it’s fairly topical.

    As i argued above, I do think that free software projects add an extra direct level of interaction with what i can only describe as ‘dumb lusers’ (at best) who want to make your life difficult, which similar people are not subject to when working in large companies. They will normally have separate support people to interact with, even the technical discussion they have are with their peers who tend to share a common culture and time-zone, and well, they’re paid to do it.

    The bigger free software companies (who are by definition: commercial software enterprises) do the same anyway – i was more talking about individual projects run completely by volunteers where no money is involved.

    And I also wouldn’t be surprised that there is either organised campaigns or mis-intentioned weirdo’s like ‘michael’ who try to upset such projects intentionally … There are a lot of people in the world, and it just takes one guy who can’t make a good living on his worthless MSCE to suddenly find an axe to grind against free software or their advocates.

    From minimsft it sounds like M$ has a particularly terrible way of running their organisation, and in general I would not want to work for any large company – or particularly any company from the USA – because their HR practices are quite abusive of employees in general.

    I was very put-out when Novell made us sign the ‘code of ethics’ every year, one point of which stressed: Novell owes you absolutely nothing, you are merely a cog in our wheel and you have to do exactly what we tell you ‘or else’. To start from such a position of distrust of someone tasked with working on your crown jewels is simply offensive.

    Michael Reply:

    What open source project do you think I am trying to “upset”?

    Remember: I am very much a fan of LInux and open source software. I am certainly not against it.

    I am against lying and spreading FUD to try to support it.

    NotZed Reply:

    I didn’t say you were trying to upset any free software projects.

    I just said you were a mis-intentioned weirdo!

    Michael Reply:

    “And I also wouldn’t be surprised that there is either organised campaigns or mis-intentioned weirdo’s like ‘michael’ who try to upset such projects intentionally”

    What projects do you think I am trying to upset?

  3. High Plains Thumper said,

    September 5, 2011 at 6:54 am


    Roy, this is a very interesting article you expressed, with good back up information. I was unaware of the additional M$ Evangelism Document, PX2456.PDF from the Comes (Iowa) vs. Microsoft lawsuit. Also you have a valid point regarding the trolling efforts.

    Rarely are these troll comments cast as a reasonable reply rebuttal, but are about attacking the writer in an ad hominem manner. Sometimes it is done in less overtly manner, but after closer examination it is what it is. Comments fall in the form of, “You’re noses are buried too deeply in the proverbial bark”, “you lack the courage to ask the truly difficult questions – what a shame”, “stop attacking those entities you loath and belittle”, “that is what this is about… he was busted lying, now he whines, poor little boy, poor little ANGRY boy”, and etc, are for sure trolls.

    A good explanation is:

    A troll is basically one who posts messages intended to insult and provoke per fas et nefas (see [Trolls and Schopenhauer] below). For each person who responds, the poster (the troll as a person) will consider that person “caught”. The troll (the troll as an action) is considered to have been a complete success if it disrupts beyond repair the normal traffic on a newsgroup or on a messageboard.


    Keep up the good work Roy, I enjoy reading your informative articles.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Thanks, High Plains Thumper. This one article was written by our Guest Editorial Team.

    Regarding trolls, I think they try to distract and waste time. It’s best to ignore them. It also annoys them the most. If a troll chooses to run an entire site dedicated to attacking Techrights (and bearing my full name in the top banner), it reaffirms that we have been effective. Boycott Novell was dedicated to exposing several corporations with hundreds of thousands of employees, not Web sites.

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