Makers vs Takers

The best startups have a ‘Do It Yourself’ attitude. When a problem arises, no one get’s assigned the task to solve it. The team jumps right in and gets to work. There’s always a sense of ownership and a sense of pride. They build new things because it’s cool. They think of ways to make things better and make it happen. They are the ‘Makers’, and for lack of a better word, they make $hit happen.
The Makers are usually a small group, they are the creative people. A larger group of consumers are the ‘Takers.’ The Takers are both good and bad, so let’s discuss the Makers and Takers.
Punk Rock Years ago, and I mean years ago, I was in a Punk Rock band. I play bass and we gigged around New York City back in the early 90’s. New York City seem so much grungier than it is today and many of my old haunts have closed up and gone away. My bandmates and I even recorded our songs and we printed a few printed a few 7” records. This was back when CD’s just came out and there was no such thing as Apple Music. You actually had to go to a place like Tower Records to buy music.
Ah, memories!
Marty was our first singer and he was the classic punk rocker. He had a mohawk, some self made tattoos, never showered, and lived to prank “the man.” He was cool to hang out with when you’re in your early 20’s, but not so cool when you have to work a 9 to 5 and need to support a family.
One night, in a flash of Marty clarity, he said something to me that I’ve never forgotten. He said,
All those kids that used to pick on you in school for drawing, making art, music, whatever. Those fuckers are going to buy that shit from you one day. You’ll have the last laugh.”
Boy, was he right.
Takers If you’ve read my articles on Open Source here and here, you’ll undoubtedly realize that there are a lot of Makers out there that make free machine learning software. They give their creative spirit and brains freely to build ‘cool shit’ and release it to the world in an unspoken ‘look what I made’ way. Of course, there’s a lot of Takers out there because it’s FREE!
If the free software is awesome they’ll get a lot of Takers! It’s a great feeling once your software or library gets recognition, but it’s also a double edged sword.
If you use Pandas, Matplotlib, and Numpy, know that about 15 people – worldwide – maintain those libraries. Sure, there are a lot of makers that add to those libraries but all those changes need to be reviewed and accepted by the maintainers. When you look at the millions of dollars ($) and millions of downloads, compare it to the developers and maintainers, you can quickly see the problem.
Donations and Support There are people and companies that just take the open source software and never give back to the community. They never develop fixes they need, they just wait for someone else to do it. Most Takers never pay for things like support, or they skip over the suggested donation of $1 or $5, cause ‘Fuck it, someone else will pay. I can’t right now.’
Have I been guilty of this? Yes. But I’m getting better. Now, I pay for open source software I like and use. I’ve written countless of tutorials and given back to the community (it’s the only reason why this blog still exists). I try hard not to be a Taker and more of a Maker.
On the flip side, the Takers can help if they stay involved. They can develop the fixes to the codebase and create pull requests, or show the Makers a radically new way of implementing the software. There are good Takers out there that realize that the Open Source ecosystem thrives on a continuous feedback loop, and that investing money is a good way to keep that loop well lubricated.
Flip the Script Makers vs Takers is a very adversarial view and I purposely titled this article that way. In reality, it doesn’t have to be this way. In an ideal world, it should be Makers and Takers.
However, the reality is that many a great open source project either dies or becomes closed source. It’s very rare that someone else takes over the project and keeps it going. Often, it has a decent Taker base, it’ll convert to Closed Source or some weird Chimera called Open Core. This quickly pisses off the Taker community and you end up losing them to other Open Source (free) software.
The way to flip the script is to offer paid support. It doesn’t always work out this way, but if you have a big enough community that uses your work, you can get a royalty for it. You are the expert, the creator, and they’ll pay for expertise. Especially if they use your creation in production and millions of dollars is at stake.
Flipping the script in my mind is imperative to keeping many open source projects alive. It has to be. What if those 15 maintainers of NumPy, Matplotlib, and Pandas just redirected their free time to doing something else? Maybe some group of people will step in, maybe not. When you have such a disproportion of Takers vs Makers, a cynical person will say “no one will step up and volunteer to make free stuff for me.”
So the question is, can we change a Maker vs Taker society to a Maker and Taker society?
Let’s hope so.
Update It would appear that the terms “Makers and Takers” is a big Libertarian and Conservative talking point. While I no longer subscribe to the Libertarian view and my Conservative viewpoints are focused on actual environmental and resource conservation, I don’t want this post to be fodder for any Right Wing agenda.
One can make the point that what I shared above is illustrative of Makers (conservatives) vs Takers (liberals), but it’s not so. I’ve found that Liberal leaning states typically create and produce more value than Conservative leaning states. To Make anything, you need to keep and open mind about things and push your work outside of any perceived comfort zones. Makers make things, they create, the push the boundaries. That’s very Liberal thinking right there.