After four years volunteering for non-profits (from the Freedom of the Press Foundation working on SecureDrop to the Maison des Lanceurs d’Alerte working on Enough), I find myself looking for paid work. It is a challenge, mainly because I do my best to only use Free Software and only write Free Software. The last part (writing Free Software) has become increasingly easier in the past twenty years: there are hundreds of companies willing to pay a full time developer to exclusively contribute to a Free Software code base. The first part (using Free Software) is still very difficult.
When I send an application, I try to explain that I only use Free Software by comparison with someone who is a vegetarian. They would never eat meat. Although meat can be delicious and animals treated with all the care they deserve. In 2020 vegetarians are widely accepted in society and it is generally considered awkward to suggest to a vegetarian to make an exception to their regime. The rationale for their ethical choice to never eat meat is not discarded, even when there are disagreements, it is accepted as a legitimate personal choice. Refusing to use anything but Free Software is, in my humble opinion, an ethical choice that is very similar and I hope it will eventually be accepted as such. But we are not there yet and companies who are willing to accept an employee who made this choice are still very rare.
My resume does not mention this at all and only focuses on my technical abilities as a developer & devop, which are primarily around developing C++, C, python software and building infrastructure as code with Ansible and OpenStack. But it is the first topic of a cover letter or during an interview, because it so often is a blocker. People are surprised (it is an unusual requirement) but they are always sympathetic because I made this commitment two decades ago and most of them actually consider the possibility instead of discarding my application right away.
While writing only Free Software is an easy requirement to understand (the license of the code is under a Free Software license and published to the general public), using only Free Software is fuzzy and raises practical problems. I could refuse to use an ATM because it contains software that is not Free Software or to take a train for the same reason (the TGV in France contains a lot of software, some of it Free Software but not all of it). I could also only use a laptop with libreboot, connect to an internet provider known to only use Free Software and visit websites exclusively running with Free Software. While some people chose this path and I admire their dedication very much, I’m not as determined as they are. Instead I chose to focus on:
- Installing only Free Software on my laptop and mobile.
- Using only services running with Free Software with carefully chosen exceptions.
Here are a few examples that are ok with me:
- Using https://duckduckgo.com/ instead of not using any search engine (this is what I’m most uncomfortable with however)
- Using an ATM instead of withdrawing cash at the bank counter
- Using https://impots.gouv.fr for income taxes instead of letters
- Using the company human resources proprietary web site a few times a year
- Using a laptop with a BIOS that is not Free Software instead of a libreboot
- Using OpenStack implemented by OVH knowing it includes many components that are not Free Software instead of running an OpenStack cluster myself
And here are a few examples that are not ok with me:
- Using GitLab.com or GitHub.com to host the software I’m working on instead of a self hosted Free Software such as self hosted GitLab
- Using Jira instead of a self hosted Free Software such as self hosted GitLab
- Using Zoom instead of a self hosted Free Software such as Jitsi
- Using Slack instead of a self hosted Free Software such as Mattermost
- Using AWS instead of an OpenStack provider
I’m not sure how long this will take but I’ll keep trying and update the following weekly until I find a job. Or to report that I gave up being a developer.
- Applications sent: 22
- Refusals: 7
- No answer after eight weeks: 0
- Interviews: 6
Update january 16th, 2021: I accepted a developer position at Easter-Eggs who graciously agreed that I only use Free Software.