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Chris Grams for Tidelift

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Open source maintenance can be stressful, lonely, and financially unrewarding

In late 2022, Tidelift fielded its second survey of open source maintainers. Hundreds of maintainers responded with thoughts about getting paid for their work, the security and maintenance practices they have in place for their projects, and where they need help most, along with a host of other interesting insights. In this post, we share the seventh of eleven key findings. If you don’t want to wait for the rest of the results, you can download the full survey report right now.

As in our previous survey, we once again asked maintainers what they dislike about being an open source maintainer. This year we added one new choice “asked to comply with requirements I don’t have time for” and removed one choice “feel underappreciated or like the work is thankless” but the rest of the answers stayed the same as in our previous survey.

Stress and not being paid are the top things maintainers dislike

An increasing percentage of respondents (54% this year vs. 45% previously) responded that open source maintenance adds to their personal stress, and this took over the number one position by a hair. Yet unsurprisingly, the second most popular answer was “not financially compensated enough / at all for my work,” also up slightly, from 49% to 52%.

The life of a maintainer is also getting more lonely, up from 36% in our last survey to 42% this time. And our new reason to dislike being a maintainer (“asked to comply with requirements I don’t have time for”) came in 4th place, cited by 38% of respondents, a number that should be concerning as maintainers are being asked to do more to comply with new security requirements.

This statistic, combined with an increase (53% in 2023 vs. 49% in 2021) in maintainers reporting disliking not being financially compensated enough or at all for their work, paints a concerning picture for the health of the maintainer community.

Staying consistent with our previous survey, “users are too demanding and expect too much of me” was cited as a reason to dislike being an open source maintainer by 37% of respondents (36% in previous survey).

To learn a bit more about the “lonely” aspect of being an open source maintainer, we asked maintainers to tell us how many additional co-maintainers they have working with them on their projects.

Almost half of all open source maintainers are solo maintainers

The most common answer (by more than 2:1 over the next choice at 44%) was “I am a solo maintainer,” which explains in part why such a high percentage of maintainers suffer from loneliness. Twenty percent of maintainers have one other co-maintainer, while 22% have 3-5 co-maintainers. Three percent of maintainers report having 6-10 co-maintainers, and 11% report having more than 10 co-maintainers.

So how do we keep lonely, stressed out maintainers happy doing the work we all depend on and stop them from feeling like they need to quit? According to what we learned in this year’s survey, we give them the space to continue doing work they care about and find creative and fulfilling, so they can make a positive impact on the world. We pay them better for this work so they can clear the space to do it well. We find ways to remove their stress and combat their loneliness, maybe by being more helpful and less demanding.

We hope you found some useful and actionable information in this blog post. If you’d like to get notified as future posts come out, please give us a follow. Or if you don’t want to wait, download the full survey results today and watch our webinar where resident data nerd, Chris Grams, unveils the top findings from the survey.

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