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I am an indy dev, and am wondering how much time I should spend developing open source components that might have a large user base, in order to increase my visibility.

I have been developing iOS apps for over half a year, have a gig at an undisclosed startup, and have 4 apps currently in the app store. Being only 18, however, I have had a lot of trouble finding work that pays above minimum wage, and none of my apps have been a runaway success.

I recently have spent two nights working on FDWKit, but I don't know if I want to spend the time to perfect it if there is little or no potential payoff. I know many indy devs have gained a lot of notoriety from successful open sources components, but I don't know if I am in a position to be one of them.

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    Sam you have some experience on several other SE sites, so I think you probably should know that your question above really ought to have a good deal more thoughtfulness and detail to fit well here. Especially during a site's private beta, spending serious time and thought on composing a well-researched, detailed, definitively answerable question is super-important, for such questions set the tone of the community for a long time to come. You could start with details like how long you've been a developer and what kinds of things you've written and what you've already read about your question. – Osteoboon May 25 '13 at 3:28
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    You're right. I've been up writing FDWKit all night now. Edited. – segiddins May 25 '13 at 4:19
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Ever heard of Rovio Entertainment? Well, most people hadn't until the company released their 52nd game. The first 51 weren't really all that great, but number 52, Angry Birds, put them on the map and netted them 200 million dollars in 2012.

The point is that not every project you do will be a success, and that's okay because finding a winning idea takes time and many attempts. Therefore, if you're working on iOS apps, and that app isn't bringing in success, try working on another one.

When I first graduated college, I worked on a few different Firefox Extensions back when writing Firefox Extensions was still cool, and I wrote about my experiences writing them on my blog. Not many people really ended up using them, as they weren't real winners, but it did evoke some interest from a lady in New York who wanted to hire someone to write a Firefox Extension that did something very similar to what one of my extensions was doing. The difference was that she had the creative ideas and energy needed to start a business, and she had the capital to pay me to invest more of my own time and energy into helping further her business goals.

Therefore, I'd suggest you continue down the path of writing your apps, but instead of just publishing them, get the word out on your blogs and social networks that you have these skills. There will be someone out there looking for someone with specialized experience, and that could very well be you. As for how much time to invest, that depends. Marketing yourself definitely takes time and dedication, and it's up to you to determine how much time you can afford to take away from other activities in order to invest that time in your projects.

As an aside, I'd suggest not focusing on your age. Ageism works both ways, and you could inadvertently talk yourself out of a nice contract wage by showing your cards. If and when someone does contact you for work, be as professional as you can, focus on what you can do well for that person, and keep in mind that you likely have knowledge and experience with something that many others either don't have or haven't demonstrated.

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    +1 for blogging about what you write. This goes regardless of whether it is open source or not. – Chris Travers May 26 '13 at 4:31
  • I usually dont mention my age, but it does limit my experience (and also is indicative of my lack of a college degree, for now, which i thought was germane to my question) – segiddins May 27 '13 at 1:42
  • @segiddins, in many cases, that doesn't matter. As a contractor, you're not an employee, so your credentials could simply be work you've done, not certifications, hoops you've jumped through, or how many candles will be on your next birthday cake. :) – jmort253 May 27 '13 at 1:47
  • You'd be surprised how many people care about every but my abilities – segiddins May 27 '13 at 1:56
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I don't think there is a single right answer here, so I am going to focus on how to make the decision. Keep in mind that open source development is a potentially very visible thing, so the more you do, the greater presence you have. I try to allocate a bare minimum of 4 hours a week of purely community projects. Keep in mind I have paid the bills for the most part for about six years doing mostly development and tech support on open source projects (with an odd writing gig or two thrown in for fair measure).

The first thing to realize is that open source communities operate like graphs. Everyone has customers and most people have upstream vendors. If you want to succeed in doing open source development for a living you want to maximize your downstream presence. Development is a part of that equation, as is free community tech support, offering services to other consultants, etc. You want to do development but you also want to be visible. This means participating on email lists and such. You probably want to pick one or two programs and work on those (may I suggest LedgerSMB? -- evil grin --).

Of course that isn't the only business approach but given your question it is the one which probably best makes sense. Other approaches involve cultivating a local customer base, focusing on the needs of a specific market segment, blogging, etc.

So of course it depends on your business plan and direction, but given your question, it sounds like you are considering treating an open source project as a significant source of business. If this is the case, you want to do development, work on getting commit rights, etc. and you want to be active and visible to potential customers (meaning doing free tech support on the lists etc).

Update based on question edit

The first thing you really need to do is think through a business plan. Does open source software development need to be a part of it? That depends on your business plan. If you want to run your business as an open source developer, then it does. If you don't then it doesn't.

Secondly you need to look at how to capitalize on what you have already done. Your iStore apps are a good place to start, probably better than open source unless you want to move in that direction. Either way what you have already done needs to be put front and center.

  • As I added in my edit, I'm only 18. Im starting college in September. I certainly have aspirations but I don't really have any sort of business plan yet. – segiddins May 25 '13 at 13:33
  • If you haven't created a business plan yet, that's really where to start. The point of a business plan is not really to do what you plan to, but to sit down and think through all the major issues that will affect you as an indie developer. My recommendation is write a plan (target: 30 pages), then put it aside, build your business, and then come back, read it again in a year and see what you think needs adjusting. – Chris Travers May 26 '13 at 4:28
  • I think it was Eisenhower who said, "Plans are nothing; planning is everything." – Chris Travers May 26 '13 at 6:20

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