Open-source driven by egoism? Reflections after reading Linus Torvald interview

Linux creator Linus Torvalds claims the open-source boom is highly driven by egoism and the desire to “put your own trademark” into things (code).

Unfortunately I can’t find the article with the Torvalds interview at the moment.

I’ve been thinking about this claim but just can’t find myself agreeing with him. Of course I’m not much of a open-source contributor myself so maybe I’m totally wrong, but still – hear me out.

Fundamentally (good) programming is based on unselfish or at the very least selfish-neutral principles: readability, don’t repeat yourself (efficiency), assignment of roles and dependencies (administration, organisation of code), elegance/beauty, design, resource-management and so on.

So what is selfish about programming? Even more so in open-source, how can contributing to a code base shared by potentially thousand of other people be selfish?

Of course, you cannot ignore the fact that some people get a kick out of .. contributing to projects and maybe wants to build a name for themselves. Well, I think we’re all (us programmers) guilty of having entirely egoistic rushes of excitement and empowerment by solving a problem in an elegant way. Yes it’s ultimately selfish to want to “build a list of achievements” but the act itself is non-selfish.

This is getting a bit complicated I feel. You could argue some (/most?) open-source contributors focus on the parts of the system that gives them a personal gain. Ultimately if they’re a user of the system then all improvements of the code should give them a personal benefit, plus they’ll also have a chance of contributing to discussions regarding the direction of the code etc.

So is open-source driven by egoism or not?

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