How To Make Money As Open Source Developer

Finances are a tricky issue in the open source community, with the most common mistake being developers working for free. In this book we look at how to turn your open source interest into something more than just a hobby–something you can use to finance your travels and your other passions.

If you are a programmer in need of extra cash and living in Africa, this is the book for you. We will take you through the process of creating Open Source software written specifically for mobile phones and deployed on mobile devices all over Africa. We will show you how to collaborate with other programmers while sharing code openly and freely. We will show you where to get the help, inspiration, and encouragement you’ll need to make it fun, fast, free, and profitable.

Offering paid support is one of the most straightforward revenue streams for all kinds of open source projects. As a project maintainer, you have a lot of knowledge about the codebase. This puts you in the position to offer consultancy or support services to companies that want to use your code. 

On the other hand, offering paid support doesn’t provide a scalable business model for open source projects. Because most projects are maintained by a few developers, there’s limited time for them to offer support to companies. Bear in mind the time required to improve the functionality and maintain the codebase. 

In conclusion, it’s an effective way to earn some money as an open source maintainer and keep the project going.

Bug bounty programs

Bug hunting, or as it’s usually known, bug bounty programs, is a way of earning money either by reporting errors on other systems or by solving them and submitting your pull requests with the code that fixes them. These programs are usually part of the entire vulnerability audit of the software being tested and accompany other internal processes the developers are implementing.

There are very big companies who submit their products for this type of treatment, and when we say “big,” we’re not kidding. With a basic search, we can find some interesting options, but in order to keep with the theme of “making money from open source,” here are some examples of high-paying organizations with bug bounty programs on their open-source products:

  • Mozilla: They have two main programs, one for their actual software and one for their websites. Offering to pay up to $10,000 on the first one and up to $5,000 on the latter.
  • Apache: This web server is probably known to most (if not all) back-end developers. Through its program it pays bounties of up to $3,000 to those able to solve the most critical bugs.
  • Google Android: Also interested in making the most stable and secure mobile OS out there, Google offers up to $150,000 dollars for the most critical problems found and solved (yes, you read that number right).

There are many different lists of bug bounty programs, but you can find a good, up-to-date one on this website. Overall, this option is quite lucrative if you are able to put in the hours. That being said, you also need to specialize your knowledge and focus on security bugs if you want to reap the big rewards.

Last but certainly not least, aside from bug bounties, you can also get paid by fulfilling OSS (open-source software) bounties over at BOSS, a relatively new initiative that has lots of potential. Here, project owners can submit development tasks that they pay for on completion. This is certainly not as lucrative as the above programs but also requires less of a focus on security and can be tackled with a more generic software development profile.

How to find Bug Hunting Programs for Open Source Projects

Companies like Google, Mozilla, and Apache have bug hunting programs with rewards of up to $150.000 (Android), for those able to find and solve errors in their Open Source Software (OSS) code.

Of course, those are not the only companies willing to pay for your detective skills. Every medium and big company that’s hosting an OSS, will have a bug-hunting program.

Luckily some platforms are listing all of them in a single place, like bugcrowd.

Although finding and solving bugs is one of the most frustrating/funny experiences for a developer, you might want to start freelancing with real and returning customers.

Guy with a GitHub TShirt

Software as a Service

An open source project that has generated plenty of demand can choose to offer a Software as a Service (SaaS) business model. This model is most viable for projects that offer a complete application, such as a publishing platform, monitoring tool, or marketing automation tool.

Developers can choose to host the software themselves. However, this means that they have to take care of security, security, and maintenance. 

It’s often much easier and cheaper to pay for a managed offering under a SaaS model. Developers pay a monthly fee to use the hosted solution. Therefore, they can focus on the tool itself instead of all maintenance-related tasks. Moreover, a marketing or content team often doesn’t have the required technical knowledge to host a solution themselves. For that reason, a SaaS solution is a great alternative to make money from open source software.

Make it your calling card for companies looking to hire

Now this one is a bit of a curveball, mainly because it isn’t a direct way of making money from any OSS products you might release. Instead, it represents a way for you to use the popularity of one or more of your open-source products to give you access to companies you normally wouldn’t have.

Maybe you’ve been wanting to get noticed by Microsoft but haven’t had any luck with your job applications. A good option might be to make some useful contributions to its open-source products, such as TypeScript—you could become a regular maintainer for its main product, creating some good OSS support tools (e.g., frameworks around TypeScript or tools to automate the development process), or even one of the main authors of its product.

Whichever way you choose to do it, if you provide quality content for the community that has grown up around a particular open-source product, you’ll get noticed and thus, companies will find out about you and might even consider hiring you to work on their products.

It’s not easy for smaller projects to earn revenue. Often, these developers have a daytime job besides maintaining an open source project. Therefore, they are limited in time to maintain their project. 

Yet, if you happen to find a couple of companies using your project, you can offer paid feature requests. In other words, you develop new features based on a company’s request. In return, they pay you for developing the features they want. 

It’s one of the most straightforward models to make money from open source software. Even a small project can find a few companies that are interested in using their open source software. Often, it’s cheaper for them to hire you as a freelancer to develop the new functionality they need than having their developers spend time figuring out the codebase and adding new functionality. 

Suppose a company forks an open source project to add new functionality themselves. In that case, this means they’ll have to maintain their fork and merge new updates from the original codebase to their codebase. This can sometimes become messy and increase maintenance complexity. 


Getting the users of your open-source product to pay you a fixed salary every month might sound like a highly unlikely scenario—after all, who are you to demand a monthly salary? By definition you’re releasing your code for others to use for free. While that’s true, many coders are requesting voluntary donations from those using your products.

Examples where this is happening include:

There are many ways you can ask for donations and, depending on the popularity of your product, you’ll get different results. Remember that only a relatively small percentage of your users will care enough (or even have the funds) to actually contribute.

GitHub Sponsors

Since May 23, 2019, GitHub introduced GitHub Sponsors

“The world runs on open source. None of it would be possible without the global team of maintainers, designers, programmers, researchers, teachers, writers, leaders—and more—who devote themselves to pushing technology forward. These extraordinary developers can now receive funding from the community that depends on their work, seamlessly through their GitHub profiles.”

The primary benefit of using GitHub Sponsors is that they charge zero fees. 100% of sponsorships go to the developers. The feature aims to reward developers for maintaining free software. Yet, alternatives exist to receive sponsorships, such as Open Collective or Patreon.

001 babel sponsors

(Source: Babel sponsors on GitHub)

Sponsorships are a great revenue stream for well-established open source projects that require more funds to stay afloat.


This e-book is written to guide new open-source developers on their journey from getting started with open source through to releasing an application, and to create value for the community. It is a guide of what one needs in their career as an open-source developer, for example introducing the variety of roles or creating a solid development workflow.

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