On receiving an interview request from Uber

Paul Boddie paul at boddie.org.uk
Sat Dec 17 21:26:08 UTC 2016

On Saturday 17. December 2016 20.48.24 Charles Cossé wrote:
> I'm all about free software, and paying to develop free software is a step
> in the right direction, but still ... the likelihood that the software
> would even benefit another elevator manufacturer seems unrealistic ...

This is where we come full circle in a discussion that has largely been 
tangential to what the original message was about. First of all, the freedoms 
associated with Free Software go far beyond whether only the producers get 
benefits from such transparency: to focus only on that would be a classic 
"open source" argument.

Where this returns to the original message is in precisely the matter of 
whether people can make a decent living and do so ethically. The second point 
made in that message may seem like a totally separate thing from the 
experience of the software developer working on Uber's infrastructure. Here's 
a quote contrasting the benefits of a driver and a developer at Uber:

"Keep in mind that you don’t get fringe benefits as an independent contractor. 
No paid sick leave or vacation days, no subsidized health insurance or free 
coffee or snacks in the company cafeteria. No employer matching contributions 
to your 401(k) savings plan. No educational assistance, group term life 
insurance, health savings accounts and so forth.

Things would be different if you worked for Uber Technologies. You would 
receive a 401(k) plan, gym reimbursement, nine paid company holidays, full 
medical/dental/visions package and an unlimited vacation policy. You might 
even get snacks in Uber’s lunchroom."


Just as Uber and other companies do very nicely out of the "gig economy" by 
encouraging people to work without normal employment protections and rights, 
emphasising the "flexible" aspects of working as a contractor and the 
supposedly greater rewards available, those doing the work appear to end up 
working for less, paying for necessities out of their own pocket (like 
healthcare and insurance), or maybe even doing without those things 
completely. And people working for Uber's competitors experience an erosion of 
their own working conditions as Uber unfairly competes and forces those 
competitors to reduce their own expenses.

Now, software development for Uber might be done on a regular employment 
contract, meaning that people in those jobs have escaped the "gig economy" 
(for now), but elsewhere the drive for deregulation and exploitation still 
applies. When you note that "paying to develop free software is a step in the 
right direction", it indicates that people still expect Free Software 
developers to work for less than others or even for nothing, all because some 
people made a thing out of "open source" being more economically "efficient", 
and thus introducing a rather similar phenomenon of leaning on the workers to 
be cheaper at producing stuff so that businesses can be more profitable.

So it turns out that those of us wanting to write Free Software and get paid 
for it actually have more in common with the average Uber driver than one 
might first have thought. Carsten's objections are both valid ones after all.


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