Why Hackers Do What They Do: Understanding Motivation and Effort in Free/Open Source Software Projects

28 Pages Posted: 15 Sep 2003  

Karim R. Lakhani

Harvard Business School - Technology and Operations Management Group; Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science; Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Robert G. Wolf

The Boston Consulting Group

Date Written: September 2003

Abstract

In this paper we report on the results of a study of the effort and motivations of individuals to contributing to the creation of Free/Open Source software. We used a Web-based survey, administered to 684 software developers in 287 F/OSS projects, to learn what lies behind the effort put into such projects. Academic theorizing on individual motivations for participating in F/OSS projects has posited that external motivational factors in the form of extrinsic benefits (e.g.: better jobs, career advancement) are the main drivers of effort. We find in contrast, that enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation, namely how creative a person feels when working on the project, is the strongest and most pervasive driver. We also find that user need, intellectual stimulation derived from writing code, and improving programming skills are top motivators for project participation. A majority of our respondents are skilled and experienced professionals working in IT-related jobs, with approximately 40 percent being paid to participate in the F/OSS project.

Keywords: open source, software development

Suggested Citation

Lakhani, Karim R. and Wolf, Robert G., Why Hackers Do What They Do: Understanding Motivation and Effort in Free/Open Source Software Projects (September 2003). MIT Sloan Working Paper No. 4425-03. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=443040 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.443040

Karim R. Lakhani (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School - Technology and Operations Management Group ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States
617-495-6741 (Phone)

Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science ( email )

1737 Cambridge St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Robert G. Wolf

The Boston Consulting Group ( email )

Exchange Place, 31st Floor
Boston, MA 02109
United States
617-973-1200 (Phone)
617-973-1339 (Fax)

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