The Developers' Utopia
Not long ago, the Internet was supposed to usher in a new Era, where a globally connected economy would do away with the inefficiencies of traditional distribution. Consumers and producers would connect directly with each other in this Utopia. Whole layers of distribution would disappear. Inventory and business cycles would be a thing of the past.
Nowadays, open source is spoken of in similar Utopian terms, of which this recent Groklaw article is a good example. Open source will sweep away the inefficiencies (indeed, the inhumanity) of commercial software companies and their managements. Developers will connect directly with businesses and users through open source projects. Merit will finally replace marketing.
In reality, the Internet revolutionized business not by eliminating distribution but rather by creating new forms of distribution. Similarly, open source will not do away with management and marketing but rather create new strategies for such. Just because open source projects do not have a formal CEO and a VP of Marketing does not mean that they do not involve tremendous management and marketing skills and effort.
Indeed, the large number of abandoned open source projects on SourceForge.net seems to prove this point. A successful open source project requires real management and marketing skills as well as a serious commitment of time and effort. Going forward, the bar will probably be higher, as new projects will have to compete with either "professional" open source companies like JBoss and MySQL or major software vendors like IBM, Novell, and Oracle, which are all now getting involved with open source.
But open source does offer a tremendous opportunity for developers to advance their careers based on merit. The right way to do this, though, is usually to join an existing project, rather than trying to start one's own. Successful open source projects already have the recongition required to draw in potential clients and users. They can give developers a highly visible stage to show off their skills.
At the same time, these projects also possess the subtle but definite structures for organizing the development process and promoting the project. These marketing and management processes may be invisible for someone used to commercial software, but they must be there for an open source project to succeed.
Remember, if it sounds fun to be a "Lead Developer," imagine yourself also being the CEO and VP of Marketing for a project. And imagine not necessarily getting paid to do those jobs.
For more information, see the academic articles on my research site.