Monday, December 1, 2008

Giving Back

When I was at Microsoft, I had the wonderful opportunity to be loaned out to United Way for four months, as a United Way Loaned Executive. I spent four months out in the community, helping to raise money to help those in need. It was a wonderful and humbling experience, and helped affirm in my mind just how lucky I am, to be able to make money doing things that I love to do. So, if you're looking for extra year-end tax deductions, think about giving back to the community, to help those who are less fortunate.

But, this post is really about giving back in a different way. These days, giving back in the software community is known as "open source." If you're Richard Stallman, or a fan of his, open source is all about moral imperative -- it's unethical for software not to be open. For that matter, Stallman believes that web services like Groupthink are "worse than stupidity."

I look at things rather differently. Open source is about giving back -- paying it forward with code. Over the years, I have benefited greatly from the advice and wisdom of other members of the community. I don't know where I'd be today if I hadn't gotten help from experienced programmers when I was hanging out at the University of Kansas Comp Center, trying to learn Fortran and GCOS assembler. I've learned a lot since those early days, but I still get plenty of advice from others (these days, most of it is about Groupthink). But, today, I'm more often on the giving end, from casual advice to blogging to User Experience Office Hours at StartPad. And it feels good to help people.

Today, I'm releasing my very first piece of open source software. When I started Groupthink, I decided that I wanted to be able to give back some pieces of software. The first piece is a small piece -- a little bit of Python code to interface with Twitter that I used in Puzzazz. The impetus to release this particular piece of code now was that someone asked for it. So, I figured I might as well go all the way. A couple of things to note: it is ok to use it in commercial software, and it is ok to learn from it and write your own code. Check it out at After Groupthink launches, I'll release a few more items, at least one of which is pretty large.

In work today, I made good progress and am almost ready to tackle the client code.


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