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Babel is used by millions, so why are we running out of money? (babeljs.io)
673 points by Ashoka_rkt 41 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 693 comments

> we settled on $11,000 per month as a baseline salary for working full-time on open source.

> For now, Nicolò, Henry, and Jùnliàng will all be paid a temporary rate of $6,000 per month. This doesn't solve the problem,

I used to donate to Babel, before they made it apparent they are just interested in funneling the money to one developer. 11K per month?! That is absolutely bananas and same reaction I had the last time this came up, but this time I cannot do anything as a reaction as I've already pulled my funding.

But my guess is that a lot of people feel the same way, as the donations seems to be going down. 11K per month could pay for many developers if you hire people outside of Sillicon Valley, which since you're doing open source, you should really really consider.

Open source is not "VC fueled develoment" and I don't think we should go that way either. Make your operation nimble and survive on little, otherwise you'll soon disappear. Optimize for sustainability, not for paying the one of the highest salary in the world (minus SV bubble of course).

It's not wonder Babel is going the way it's going, as the economy you've setup for yourself is nowhere near sustainable.

On the flip side, Silicon Valley isn't the only expensive place and 132k was well below my full time salary in New York as a senior eng before I jumped into my own work. Actually I don't think I know any full time engineers right now in my personal network making lower than 150k and they're all very talented people who wouldn't be able to hop on something like this for various reasons related to that being too low.

My point is without high pay a whole class of very good engineers is unavailable to you.

I'm on the other side of the boat, and presumably the ocean. In Eastern Europe, part of the EU and have a lot of connections working in outsourcing. Some senior level engineers can end up making 4000 - 5000€ per month, which would translate to ~$65.000 per year. I know of very few that make 6000€ or more.

Giving the benefit of the doubt and saying that any engineer here will be half the value of one from SV (which, I don't agree with at all), I'd argue that you'd still be better off paying two senior engineers at the particular level I am familiar with to build your product.

> My point is without high pay a whole class of very good engineers is unavailable to you.

I think depending on the model, the same argument can be made for FAANG and / or other VC money fueled companies. There are some talented, principled engineers that refuse to work for non-fundamented businesses, and perhaps only aiming for the 150k+ people will render a whole class of very good engineers unavailable to you.

I have to object.

I am from germany, and the avg. salary for a decent senior dev here would be between 60 and 80k€ depending on the town you are living in.

Babel is a very complicated piece of software. Even as a senior dev I wouln't feel comfortable to lead-maintain it. You wouldn't find more than a couple of ppl. in Germany who have the skillset and mental strength to maintain a project like that. And those few people would easily be making 150-250k€ as freelance consultants.

I think that 11k$ for maintaining one of the most important OSS projects in the webdev world is more than fair.

That's valid too, but and big but, I'd argue your engineers aren't being paid their value though and that's largely down to what I feel is Europe not valuing engineers relative to what they accomplish enough. Don't drive our wages down, drive yours up.

I'm consistently astounded that my friend who lives in France is only making what she makes given her level of schooling and skill.

That doesn't detract from your point though. Only the hassle of hiring outside of the US may be a blocker there as well.

Comparing salaries isn't easy. Europeans get more vacation, more sick days, other (better?) Health care, retirement funds, unemployment insurance ... also they eventually pay less rent etc.

Compering this objectively ain't easy.

What also doesn't help, is that, at least in my experience, Americans usually mention pre-tax wages, while Europeans usually talk about their wages after tax (not sure if that is the case here, since nobody in this thread mentions taxes). $11k is roughly €9k. With Belgian tax rates, you'll have about €4.4k left after tax. (Belgium is where I live, so those are the rates I know. In Easter Europe, tax rates are lower)

> Americans usually mention pre-tax wages, while Europeans usually talk about their wages after tax

Some Europeans. AFAIK all the Nordic countries are similar in discussing salaries as pre-tax. Dunno for sure how it's done around the Mediterranean, but I wouldn't jump to the assumption that it's net-in-the-hand there either. Could well be that this "European norm" is just a German and perhaps French (and apparently Belgian?) thing.

Everyone I know in Berlin (including Germans, French, and Belgians) talks about pre-tax salary.

An open source project funded by donations is not the vehicle to use to try to hike developer wages. Especially when that project is already underfunded.

The concerns about the project not making efficient use of the donations it recieves seem spot on.

I think you've misread this chain, the poster above me wasn't talking about OpenSource, just hiring in general, and my initial comment was saying 132k isn't going to get you very far.

I was responding to that poster's general comment about hiring quality engineers.

> making 4000 - 5000€ per month, which would translate to ~$65.000 per year

I don't know what is the situation in your location, but in one country which fits your description it is customary to talk about the _net_ salary, i.e. after all national and local taxes; in the US, the UK and in many other places the salary is always discussed on pre-tax bases.

To make things worse, in that particular country even the official figure - the one that is put on a contract - is not what the company is actually paying (for) you, as there are some taxes that are added _on top_ of that figure, effectively making them taxes for taxes. :/

In my particular country people do indeed talk post-taxes. Personally, I negociate my contracts, with employer and / or collaborators, on the pre-tax sums, which is the brut.

> Some senior level engineers can end up making 4000 - 5000€ per month, which would translate to ~$65.000 per year.

Here in France and I think in most western Europe 65K received by the employee will correspond to ~130K shelled out by the company, the rest going out into taxes on the employer side and taxes on the employee side, so it's basically the same.

It’s the same here in Sweden, about 3k€ net/mo will cost the employer at least 7k€/mo, and then there’s other costs associated such as paying for book-keeping, business insurance, pension etc. Billing 11k€/mo would barely cover the costs of a single employed developer with a medium salary here in Sweden.

I suppose every country is different but at least here in Sweden you would have to incorporate as a business and tax the money as one, you can be a sole proprietor but then the tax situation is usually even worse. And I’ve not even covered for things like vacation and sick days here. There’s quite a difference between what income you get into the business and what you can expect as a salary.

Have you considered the possibility that your high salary is not entirely due to a shortage of people with the same skill level, but rather because SF/NY companies have too much investor money to spend?

I'm not saying that good software engineers are a commodity, only that SF/NY salaries are too high compared to the rest of the world.

Engineers with 1-2 years of experience in SV can make more than most seniors with 20+ years in Europe. Would you say that's because all these junior engineers in SV are worth more to a company than seniors in Europe?

Two of the most expensive regions in the US are not representative of talent. The world is a big place with some brilliant engineers at very different pay scales.

I never disputed that there is talent that exists and doesn't know it's worth. Crying shame is what I call that though.

Exactly, I thought the reason that US developers are so highly paid compared to everywhere else in the world was to offset the high cost of living in silicon valley.

$132,000 is almost double my salary is the UK. They could easily get 2 full time UK devs for that, or even more in many EU countries with lower cost of living

I don't live in Silicon Valley. I live in Colorado, in a Denver/Boulder suburb. Not one of the most expensive places to live, though prices have been skyrocketing during the pandemic.

I see jobs all around me every week that go to the $150k-160k range. If I decided to take a Google or Amazon job I could easily break $200k, maybe more (including stock grants).

Developers in the US get paid more because demand has actually pushed our wages up to closer to what they're actually worth to an employer.

I've read estimates that a strong software engineer can add $500k-$1M of value per year to a company. You want a strong software engineer in charge of Babel, right?

> You want a strong software engineer in charge of Babel, right?

I want Babel to continue to exist, even if it steered by an engineer who is not "the best in the world", if we take your assertion at face value (higher salary = better engineer).

Since we're taking Silicon Valley metrics seriously, I will posit that there is a least 1 Eastern European engineer who's better (based on HackerRank/leetcode/CodeJam stats), and is willing to accept a lower salary. So Babel might be better served recruiting there.

I suppose you can just summon such a person without effort? Recruiters get paid for a reason and we're talking about a situation where they don't even have the money for devs.

> Since we're taking Silicon Valley metrics seriously

Umm... Colorado?

We're more than a thousand miles as the crow flies or 20 hours of driving away from Silicon Valley.

More to the point: If the rest of the team is in US time zones, coordinating with an Eastern European developer is much harder. It means someone has to stay up really late or get up really early, and typically you still don't get much overlap.

Granted if such a brilliant developer who needed very little input from the rest of the team were to apply, they'd do well to hire them. But as the other comment mentions, how do you find such a developer on demand?

Just fyi google in boulder starts entry level around 150k, and senior engineers with 4 years tenure pull in 350+

Understood. Thanks for the specifics.

> Exactly, I thought the reason that US developers are so highly paid compared to everywhere else in the world was to offset the high cost of living in silicon valley.

Cost of living is one input into cost of labor, but far from the only one. E.g. Canadian salaries are much lower for programmers than American ones, looking at comparably expensive areas.

A huge part of the reason Silicon Valley coders are expensive is that the ecosystem there has made for phenomenally successful tech companies. They have both the money and the motive to engage in a bidding war for talented developers.

> A huge part of the reason Silicon Valley coders are expensive is that the ecosystem there has made for phenomenally successful tech companies. They have both the money and the motive to engage in a bidding war for talented developers.

Alternative narrative: All the companies want to be located in Silicon Valley but no developers actually want to live there. So you have to pay ridiculously high salaries for people to even consider living there.

That seems unlikely, since it's a nice city in a temperate climate. Absent any discussion of the job market, I'd like living there.

Now, given the cost of housing in the Bay Area, having to pay ridiculously high salaries for people to afford living there...

Which, yes, is a bit circular. The tech boom (plus dumb zoning choices, and also California's property tax laws) has resulted in that vast increase in housing costs, as too many people try to cram into the available housing stock. Note news stories about rent plummeting in SF as people went remote for COVID.

There are things that suck about SV, but there are great things too: the weather is extremely nice, lots of cultural diversity, good food scene, and there's so much tech that you have lots of opportunities and security.

But taking a cynical angle like yours, you could apply that reasoning to any big city in any country: why do they have to pay more? Well, obviously because people hate Tokyo/Paris/NYC/Milan/London/etc.

I think you should entertain the possibility that not all that salary gap is explained by geography. I suspect that one of three things would have to be true of either you or the two hypothetical devs:

1. You are really bad at salary negotiation.

2. You would be willing to take an enormous (> 50%) salary hit to work on Babel compared to what you could get in industry.

3. You are insufficiently skilled to lead a project like Babel.

This is based on the conjecture that a suitable lead for Babel should have no problem finding a FAANG job and doing a quick search for average FAANG salaries in the UK.

You're making the assumption, which many people on this forum make, that everyone wants to work for FAANG

Not at all. FAANG is just a convenient and geographically comparable reference point. I have no trouble finding non-FAANG UK developer jobs online that pay more than ~$65k/year and neither should you. I'm not deeply familiar with babel, but I'm pretty sure that if you can lead that project (which should involve a fair amount of in-depth knowledge about JS, coding chops and CS knowledge) you will have many options to earn in excess of $65k anually.

Global competition will drive wages down. Right now SV is still were Detroit was in the 1960s.

Are you implying that the downfall of Detroit was global competition?

OP wouldn't be wrong to do so. Detroit (the city) suffered through the changes of suburbanization and racial tensions during the 50s/60s...but Detroit (the industry) also suffered a steady decline in automotive market share starting around then as well. This had equally devastating effects to the region. Just look at Flint.

I believe Detroit automakers used to account for 90% (I may be off by +/- 10%) of global car sales coming out of WW2.

By the 2000s Japan, Germany, and others had eaten away half of that share in the US market, and an even higher percentage in global markets.

Silicon Valley has had a many decades head start in Tech just as Detroit did in Automotive (let's say 1900s-1960s for autos and 1970s-2020s for Tech). To think global competition won't eventually start eating away at this dominance is foolish, especially given the profits at stake.

What’s less clear to me is whether or not the tech industry is like the car. Will the rate of innovation drop as we slowly approach an asymptotically perfect product, or will it accelerate as access to concentrated labor and knowledge drives up the rate of change?

an excellent question.

however, it may be orthogonal to the question of whether or not other parts of the US, and more broadly, other parts of the world, can be where that continuing development happens. regardless of which of those two paths turns out to be the future, there's still the question of what SV's role will be.

Depends how strong the network effect is, I guess.

You folks are horribly, horribly underpaid over there.

$130k is the kind of money a reasonably experienced developer can get in southern New Hampshire, or Ohio, or Arkansas.

>Exactly, I thought the reason that US developers are so highly paid compared to everywhere else in the world was to offset the high cost of living in silicon valley.

You know not all developers live in Silicon Valley, right? And London is just as expensive, why aren't the salaries the same there?

Bizarre post. Why would you brag about being underpaid?

The valley you'd be make closer to 300k

Good thing Babel, Open Source and everything else related to this has nothing to do with San Francisco or Silicon Valley but still the group somehow want to have Silicon Valley salaries. Why use the most expensive place on earth as a benchmark?

Presumably because that is the alternative, requiring sufficient incentive to stay away from the alternative? It is not like you need to live in SV to work in SV.

That's TC though, can't think of a company that pays this much in base.

130k base salary is comparable to a new grad or mid level SWE in the bay.

For many companies, that TC is very liquid. Some don't even have 1-yr cliffs anymore and tech stocks aren't exactly hurting these days.

There are many cities in the USA, outside of the Bay Area, in which $132k would be a reasonable salary for that job. Just west of the Mississippi: Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver, possibly even Salt Lake City, Phoenix, probably Minneapolis, Honolulu, etc.

> $132,000 is almost double my salary is the UK. They could easily get 2 full time UK devs for that, or even more in many EU countries with lower cost of living

Yes, but in EU a common problem is, good developers are not worth more because the companies are unable to make use of IT to justify a higher price. It's a bunch of ossified tech laggers, not tech leaders, that employs developers in much of the EU. They only need 2nd rate people to handle what US tech puts on the market.

Babel is an complex perpetual maintenance solution to bad engineering in the first place. I'd rather be a "ossified tech lagger" then having to deal with that.

could you elaborate what is bad engineering? It's one thing to say babel is no longer a critical tool, it's another thing to say that it's "bad engineering"

The browser compibatility mess. I did not mean to say Babel is bad engineering, but a solution to the problem of bad engineering.

Alternatively, there's just more VC money in the US.

> $132,000 is almost double my salary is the UK.

If that's true, then you should probably have a word with your employer. Typical dev pay is 80k (~$120k) or twice as that if contracted.

That's nowhere typical, even in London you'll find that only in higher-end companies.

It's absolutely not. £50k is fairly typical senior dev salary with some industries being higher or lower

It probably is true but as with all cost/currency comparisons you can't really look at the raw pre-tax figures in isolation to know if someone has more buying power doing the same job in one country or another.

Everything from the price of broadband, pint of milk, loaf of bread, healthcare, car costs, etc etc contributes to someones buying power vs their salary

Eh, no. Really no; that typical is at absolute max 50K across the UK.

ITJobsWatch [0] suggests the median salary for a Senior Dev role in London is around 75k currently.

[0] https://www.itjobswatch.co.uk/jobs/london/senior%20developer...

Uhh, maybe London is special but getting 70-100kGBP out of university is not really hard there. Just high CoL and taxes are making that a lot less

Just to give one data point I'm in Poland and I'm earning around 3500€ in a fully remote senior developer/engineer position working on AI tech in a company of around 1k employees. I'm one of the best paid people among my colleagues. The absolute top range job offers in this field in my country would be somewhere around 5000€ but that may be available only to a few developers in the entire 40 million country. I'm sure one could argue that one US engineer is worth 2+ polish engineers but I'm doubtful it's such a large difference. Quite the opposite in fact, I heard rumours that our engineers are quite valued internationally, once you get past the language barrier of course.

Just my 3 cents.

I work for Google in Switzerland and I have plenty of polish colleagues. The salaries here start around 150k per year, including bonus.

150k what, CHF? How much is that in currencies anyone knows anything about, and is it pre- or post-tax?

CHF is somewhere between USD and EUR. 150k pre tax, around 110-120 post-tax.

I am not sure what your background is, or whether you are, or have worked as, a freelancer. What I am writing might therefore be old news to you, in which case it would still be interesting to hear how you are thinking about the numbers I'll present.

A lot of people write comments such as yours. 11000USD/mth is a very decent salary if you are an employee. What most regular employees completely discount when doing back of the envelope calculations about the salary of other people are the amount of additional contributions that are made by your employer that regular employees might never see, but that are paid for you all the same.

Here is the math for me as a freelancer in Germany, with a similar salary as the one you are claiming is outrageous.

I bill roughly the equivalent per month from Berlin in Germany. I am not sure where the Babel developers are based, so their circumstances might differ, but all the same, here goes:

Of the 9000EUR (11000USD in EUR) I have to pay: - 19% VAT = 1750 - 950/mth in health insurance - Put aside 1000/mth for retirement (which is less than I previously had from my employer) - Set aside money for vacation (as a regular employee in Germany I would have 30 days paid vacation, as a freelancer I had to set aside roughly 600/mth to compensate for this) - Set aside money in case I get sick (as a regular employee I still get my salary when I am sick, as a freelancer I get paid from day 45). I set aside roughly 450/mth for this. - Then there are miscellaneous freelancer related expenses and having to buy hardware (which your employer would cover too). Let's make that 300/mth. - Then there's income taxes on the rest. This differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but let's make it an even 30% (which is below what I pay).

This leaves me with 3950 before taxes, or 2765 after taxes... That doesn't sound so amazing anymore, does it?

Even if the Babel guys aren't working as freelancer but pay themselves through a company, the math works out roughly the same (at least from what I have seen in my own business over the last 9 years). The only difference is that the company needs the equivalent monthly budget instead of the individuals.

dude are you insane? in germany your 9000 EUR salary would be huge. and saying you put 1000€/mth away before you calculate is even more insane... You would get a Netto of around ~4.800 €, which would be more than 80% of all germans will make. Also you could easily make more by reducing social payments (which you can do if you get over 6000 € brutto).

"950/mth in health insurance", wow....... not sure what an insurance you have, but you will probably get 1000 € if you accidentially have a small wound... for 1000 € a month you get the all inclusive package probably. I never heard of somebody that pays a private health insurance 1000€/mth.

sorry to say it, but your entitlement mentality is insane. I can tell you what, in germany with over 9000€ you start to be in the high class.

just some real numbers, not a developer but a normal muncipial employee (no civil servant) with an age of 35 years will make +-3500€ brutto, which is already way more than many people will do (more than 50%)

This is a highly inappropriate, hard-to-follow comment. BTW, I am sure your employer loves the fact that you value yourself so little.

> This leaves me with 3950 before taxes, or 2765 after taxes... That doesn't sound so amazing anymore, does it?

Am I missing something? That's €33,000 disposable cash per annum, right? That would actually be pretty damn amazing for plenty of people, including many here.

And let's just put aside the fact that much of what you've listed is not "taxes".

I guess that's not including mortgage/rent, food, automobiles, etc. If that's the only source of income for the household and there are children involved it rapidly downgrades to sufficient but not wow, insane profit.

It's still an order of magnitude or two more than what other people in other parts of the world make, so the point about it being a sweet income remains valid but on a broader, societal level.

(Also, the health insurance is up in the "what? is that serious" league and the provisions for retirement and sick leave also too high to sound reasonable, but I won't question the OP's sincerity or financial choices.)

The rule of thumb is about 80% for me - an $80K employment salary is worth about $100K contracting.

> 11K per month?! That is absolutely bananas and same reaction I had the last time this came up

Even the reduced salary of $6,000 is still quite a lot if all you are going to do create a couple of small PRs per month: https://twitter.com/sebmck/status/1392053448892469250

> 11K per month?! That is absolutely bananas

No, it's not. I work from home, remotely from Europe and I get paid $17K per month writing some PHP and JS code.

I imagine writing Babel code isn't some trivial task that you can hire a junior dev to do.

wow, any open roles? international hiring or europe only?

Any roles going?

I get paid about 10k shy of this for primarily javascript and knowing AWS. If you don't think people who work on something so foundational are worth it, then you are what is bananas.

> 11K per month could pay for many developers if you hire people outside of Sillicon Valley ...

There are many cities in the USA where $11k/month is not at all outrageous: Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, DC, NYC, etc.

Why do you think 11K is a lot? If you compare how much companies make thanks to this project, I am curious why don't they make 100K a month?

For 100K, you can write your own version. It's not hard.

> It's not hard.

Maybe not, but it is still a major PITA.

Not pleasant, but from then on you'd save $100k/month (according to user varispeed). If it's really that amount (which I doubt), every larger web company would spend it.

This whole thread is basically a testament as to why the OSS model, unfortunately, is broken. Very competent people are expected to write widely used software for a salary that basically merely guarantees subsistence. It never ceases to amaze me how great software engineers allow themselves to be exploited in such a way. If you consider the societal impact that some of these projects have and the skill set that some of their maintainers have, which pretty much dwarfs the skill sets of people in other well paid professions such as lawyers or doctors, it's frankly ridiculous that they are expected to work for significantly less money. Not to mention that the abstractions some of these people wrote basically allow a significant number of people to enter the industry in the first place.

I'm the lead dev of Ardour, paid entirely by voluntarily payments for the software, and I make about $100k/year from the software itself. That's after nearly 35 years as a C++ software developer. Some people think I'm a brilliant programmer, I'd settle for "probably about as good as anyone you're likely to be able to hire".

So why it is not ridiculous that I'm not working for twice that or more at some larger tech outfit?

Because one of the benefits of working in the open source domain is that the entire structure of the work is completely different. No marketing. No bullshit. No corporate structures to satisfy. I can't speak for anyone else (within OSS or not), but to me those benefits are worth at least $80k/yr, if not much more.

To be fair, perhaps my attitude would be different if I had not previously been involved in starting up a certain well known e-commerce company which, while not allowing me to never work again, let me get the financial aspects of life into pretty good shape.

But I think I know plenty of younger people who want to be in software and are willing to earn less in exchange for more interesting work, less bullshit, more freedom and maybe even a sense of purpose beyond "we're going to make boatloads of cash".

You are a tremendous contributor to open source software. My visually impaired friend appreciates the keyboard controls of ardour and as a result of your hard work (and his) creates and masters a lot of music without too much difficulty.

So, you know, thanks. You made the world a better place.

> This whole thread is basically a testament as to why the OSS model, unfortunately, is broken

This blog post for me is evidence that we can make crowdfunded open source work, as long as the people receiving the money know how to effectively use it. The team handling the economy of Babel right now, does not, hence Babel is not sustainable.

But, if you'd make the salaries a bit more realistic, Babel would have money over each year. But that's based on them not giving themselves one of the highest salary in the world. Let's see what they'll do.

> Very competent people are expected to write widely used software for a salary that basically merely guarantees subsistence.

"merely guarantees subsistence", what the hell? Maybe if you live in SF, but any other place in the world, this kind of salary is not even what seniors pull in yearly. My own anecdote:

> Not only a decent living, but that's a very good salary in most places in the world. As an anecdote, I've always worked in private sector IT (as a developer and manager), have around 20 years of experience and worked in both small and big enterprises and startups, and I've never had that high salary. If you'd offer me that for working on open source full-time, I'd be surprised. My expectation would be that there is a ton of people willing to work for much less, so why Babel had to go with that person?


If the people who are working on these projects are talented and can command high salaries, $11k/mo is realistic. It's already a large pay cut.

> My expectation would be that there is a ton of people willing to work for much less, so why Babel had to go with that person?

Are all those people capable of managing Babel?

I think the real question is: do you need top talent for important open source projects, or are average developers fine?

You somehow seem to think that amount someone earns is somehow related to how good they are.

> $11k/mo is realistic. It's already a large pay cut.

Yes, sure, in Silicon Valley anything is possible but for the 99% rest of the world, 11K USD per month is ridiculously high and even people with decades of experience won't collect that unless there is a specific situation. It's definitely not normal outside of Silicon Valley companies.

> Are all those people capable of managing Babel?

Yes, I know of at least 10 JS developers with decades of experience who could handle maintaining Babel if it was up to them, and they don't earn close to 11K USD per month today. I'm sure they'd be happy to work on Open Source and effectively earning more, but many be happy just working on Open Source full time.

I think there is a correlation between income and skill. More specifically, I think it's likely that highly skilled people have higher than average incomes.

> It's definitely not normal outside of Silicon Valley companies

How many companies do you class as SV companies?

It seems like in the US in general there are salaries at that level and higher, not just SV.

I have also seen people talk about salaries in Europe at that level, though I suspect they are rarer than in the US.

Mind introducing me to some of these people? My company is actively hiring experienced JS devs and I’ve yet to find any senior enough to maintain Babel for under $200k

Sure thing, what the company does exactly? Just so I don't waste their time with stuff I know they are not interested in.

An active tips in order to get to know these people in the future: attend developer events and mingle with people, build rapport and a network. If you're moderately social and generally a good person, you'll find yourself in their circles in no time.

You realize that $11k has to pay their taxes, healthcare, and retirement state-side right? It’s peanuts.

I think it's somewhere in between. Taxes, healthcare, and retirement are big in the US. And keep in mind that self-employment taxes (operative here) are more than the taxes taken out as an employee.

But $11K/month * 12 == $132K. To roughy back-of-napkin equalize for higher self-employment taxes, let's say that's equivalent to $100K salary if you were an ordinary employee. (I just made that up, I don't know how accurate it is).

$100K is still 84th percentile income for US, you are making more than 84% of people in the US. It's not "peanuts" or "subsistence".

($132K is 91st percentile income).

Back of the napkin to me: say $25.5k pre-tax retirement / college savings for child, 30% federal, 15% state, $3200/mn to rent an apartment in a mid sized city in the US, $400 month for car and gas, $1k for food, $1k for healthcare, $160 for utilities, leaves them with $288/mn. Not enough to ever own a home, build wealth, travel; better hope they have a spouse that is employed & has employer subsidized healthcare.

And yet, regardless, it's still more than 85% of incomes in the USA. That seems striking.

Is 85% of the USA living on subsistence peanuts, not even enough to survive? Possibly.

Not saving for retirement and one surprise bill from insolvency is the status quo. AMERICA!!!!

The median salary in the US is a quarter of that.

It’s not luxury yacht money, but calling it “peanuts” is ridiculous.

Most folk in the US are on poverty wages, one surprise bill away from bankruptcy or homelessness; we shouldn’t expect OSS maintainers to fall on the sword and rely on inter generational wealth or live in poverty when their colleagues, using their software, at big companies are making (what used to be considered) middle class wages.

$11k is not peanuts by any means.

Are you a software engineer in the US? That’s like green out of a boot-camp rate, not even close to senior, let alone staff, principle, or fellow.

I am a SWE with ~10yr experience (and no degree) and can't seem to find any of these jobs. For most of the country this is far above average.

Where should I be looking for these jobs? I interview well, the problem is always getting into an interview. Most recent was an Erlang/C++ position on the east coast but they only want to offer $90k. The apparently pulled my resume only because of my Erlang experience.

Everywhere… IDK? FWIW most of my career has been remote in northern New England, working with companies in Boston or SF. Seriously, I’ve only received a single (non-founder) offer below 6 figures since I dropped out of college, at a non-tech company. I walked out cold when it got to negotiations because they were so far off base. A bit rude, yes, but I was genuinely insulted. It was three times lower than the next lowest offer I have received at that point.

I’ve been trying hard to just be an IC too ever since I burnt out on my own startup. Avoiding management hasn’t been hard with Ruby/JavaScript and a bit of Swift/Kotlin exp. I’ve only recently started entertaining eng.manager/director conversations and been clear that would take $600k+ to get me back into that world, and leading with number has not been a show stopper in my convos with FAANG companies.

I suggest https://www.levels.fyi/ as a starting point in setting your expectations. Make friends with a recruiter, helps to see the world from their perspective & learn what the bands are / who’s hiring.

Have you seen levels.fyi? Just make an account on teamblind.com and ask for referrals and leetcode enough

I mean, it’s also important to recognize that the average salary most people in the US gets paid does not include benefits. Let’s say the salary for a senior engineer is $100k. (This is super low in reality, especially in the tech world. Maybe not when including other types of companies.) Let’s say the typical cost of benefits is 30%. That works out to $130k total. That’s around $10.8k a month. And remember, this is the low end.

In the blog post, they said they’re going to have each person make $6k per month (excluding benefits). Subtracting 30% for benefits, it works out to $50k a year base salary. For software developers in the US, that’s a pittance at any level.

No, OSS devs shouldn’t be forced to take that little to work on important projects like Babel. If we want talented devs working in a certain area, we need to make it financially attractive.

>This blog post for me is evidence that we can make crowdfunded open source work, as long as the people receiving the money know how to effectively use it.

Isn't this a restatement of the problem? My (uninformed) impression is that there are structural issues that make it hard to effectively run crowdfunded open-source projects. As you say, the secret sauce appears to be a question of managing the organization.

Do you have any thoughts on how to reproducibly run such a projects?

$130k is quite low for someone of Henry's skillset. Especially in US. Especially for Babel

> OSS model, unfortunately, is broken.

I don’t think this is true. The mode works phenomenally well (eg, Apache, Linux, Postgres, etc).

But it doesn’t work for all projects and isn’t the same as commercial software. If I create a project with the goal to make lots of money, then I probably won’t succeed.

Conflating “doesn’t work for me” with “broken” is not using all the available evidence.

It shouldn't be about making lots of money, personally I find it great that most good software engineers aren't primarily driven by money, but that mindset shouldn't imply exploitation. It's just a fact that large corporations and companies in general benefit disproportionally from OSS. The value that open source software creates stands in no relation to the price that companies pay for it, even if the maintainers of some projects are perfectly happy with the compensation they receive. If you don't need a large part of the money that your work justifies, then just give it to charity, but don't allow companies to take it.

> pretty much dwarfs the skill sets of people in other well paid professions such as lawyers or doctors

I don't know how you could possibly measure this except by years of training, which would put both doctors and lawyers ahead of software developers. But really, it's apples and oranges.

Doctors, for one, work to fiddle essentially a blackbox, under intensive regulation, and the results of their work is very hard to measure. This has led to a model where artificial processes are introduced that select for the privileged and the smart to become doctors. The artificial education does not mean these people have more skillsets. Like most education, it just signals conscientiousness and intellect.

On the other hand, software design is probably the single best domain for humans to build new skills, with its fast feedback loop, transparency, ease of measuring results, and the fact that the whole system is more or less documented and obeys human intuitions.

117 million downloads every month.

1 cent a download = 117,000,000 cents = $1,170,000.

So the project is dying because they cannot get every downloader to pay 1 cent for every download.

Even at 1/10 cent it would still come to $117,000

This is how screwed up open source is.

An advanced technological industry which doesn't have infrastructure in place to collect fractions of cents per product delivery.

Why can't the software be downloaded using an API using a key you have to pay for or something?

I can't understand why there are 117 million downloads every month. I doubt there are 117 million programmers using Babel and why download it every month?

I'm sure 99% of all CI systems out there are just blindly doing npm install without any cache or pinned packages. Multiplied with microservices so that every run has to rebuild not just one service.

I hadn't thought of that. Internet access isn't virtually free everywhere in the world.

For the savings in data transfer, it's not worth the time to set up and kind of caching for package dependencies.

To mitigate the risk of supply chain attacks, on the other hand...

Just license your software under the GPL, then corporations can't take and use it without contributing back.

It's hard for me to feel sympathetic for people who deliberately sign up for a model that encourages free-riding and then complain about it.

So much this.

Earning money with "do whatever"-style licenses like BSD or MIT is bound to fail. Use GPL and sell commercial licenses on the side.

What exactly would the benefit of licencing a tool like Babel under GPL be? It would be completely moot. Using a GPL transpiler isn't going to confer GPL virally onto the code that you run through it.

It would mean big greedy companies with skittish legal departments would be forbidden from using it without paying for a commercial license.

they re also incentivized to write OSS that benefits huge conglomerates, but not individuals so they can attract the big donors. It's broken many years now. Copyleft licenses can at least salvage some of the wreck

I work for a startup that benefits from open source.

I can and do make the case for spending a lot of money on SaaS products and hiring people. But there is no way in the world I can stand in front of company leadership and ask for money to spend on something that I already get for free. I'd look out of touch with the realities of running a business and the request would be roundly shouted down.

If there's some value I can get then it's a much easier sell. For example, if there is a Babel job board then I can choose to use that over alternatives when I next hire. Jed Watson proposed https://budgetforopensource.org/, which puts this type of thing in the employee perk category so that I can justify it using hiring as a goal. These are things where I can make a business case for spending real dollars, rather than a philosophical argument.

The irony about this is that it's the same companies then complaining that development is not being continued or not going in the direction they want.

Essentially what you're saying is that the realities of running a business is the equivalent of a millionaire going to the local soup kitchen/food bank and taking as much food as possible and then complaining about the food.

> But there is no way in the world I can stand in front of > company leadership and ask for money to spend on something > that I already get for free. I'd look out of touch with > the realities of running a business. The request would be > roundly shouted down.

I agree, at minimum, the its free but seeking sponsorship model is making it hard.

Looking at their Sponsorship options on GitHub [1] I see there's a useful perk at the $2,000/month price point, a Support Tier.

It would be interesting to investigate offering "Paid support" for $50-100/month (something easier to put on a development team's corporate credit card), that gives you "priority" in response to GitHub Issues.

Something tangible that the company gets back.

[1] https://github.com/sponsors/babel?o=esb

Yeah, that jump from $20/month to $500/month is too big. JetBrains asks for $500 per year--that's probably right about the discretionary spend of a decent engineer.

$500/month means you're going to have to generate me an invoice and that invokes a whole bunch of corporate machinery that you don't want activated if you want a donation.

> JetBrains asks for $500 per year

For IntelliJ; their other tools are $200 a year. And I suspect the average enterprise Java engineer has more discretionary spending than a random JS fullstack devsecops person.

> suspect the average enterprise Java engineer has more discretionary spending

Engineers get discretionary spending? I haven't ever had a dollar discretionary. My last job paid for an ergo mouse for me (Logitech Vertical) at hire time and I was so ecstatic at the park and got myself a jumbo mousepad to go with it.

Is there a norm I'm not aware of?

> Is there a norm I'm not aware of?


Everywhere I've worked in the US, I always had some level of discretionary spend--even as a lowly summer intern at a behemoth like IBM. It could be software; it could be books; it could be training; it could be computer hardware; it could be lab equipment; it could be groceries or office supplies.

As an intern, I bought some of the first O'Reilly books (mostly about X11) at the Cucumber Book Shop in Bethesda, Maryland courtesy of IBM. As someone way more senior, I once put a T3 line card (about $15K at the time) on my credit card in order to break a budgetary logjam between two feuding departments (and made BOTH of them angry at me--it was beautiful).

Obviously, the more junior I was--the less the value of that spend was. And it went up as I became more senior. And I always had to provide receipts and maybe a bit of justification.

But I've always had some level of discretionary cash spending at even the crappiest companies I've worked for.

Same, though I've heard of expensing software or business books, and of course conferences.

yeah at my company. they just submit a small ticket

Sorry, I never even noticed their "teams" things. And it looks like the full pack is now $650.

Holy shit, I must be grandfathered in, I’m still paying US$150 per year for the all products pack.

Just paid three days ago too.

It's €650 for the all-products pack for an organisation, or €250 for an individual, dropping to €199 in the second year, and €150 in the third+ year, which probably explains it.

149€, third year onwards, individual use

But the individual license can be used at work, it just can’t be transferred to another person since it’s licensed to you.

It’s a smart model I have to say. I continue to use JetBrains no matter where I work and I take the cost of the sub as a business expense on my taxes and get a deduction, so it in the long run costs even less

And you can't be reimbursed for it in any way.

You can get free licences for Open Source projects from Jetbrains. Babel would likely be eligible.

> can and do make the case for spending a lot of money on SaaS products and hiring people. But there is no way in the world I can stand in front of company leadership and ask for money to spend on something that I already get for free. I'd look out of touch with the realities of running a business and the request would be roundly shouted down.

You're right is very difficult. It feels like there needs to be a product version of these tools, I can definitely explain to my partners that we need this tool and it costs £xxx. But to explain that we should pay for free tools when we might be one of a very few that are is going to be a hard sell.

Corps I worked for usually seek to create some kind of contractual obligation between the authors and the company. Of course they pay to get the authors to accept the obligations.

Savage of Sebastian to call out Henry like that on twitter. Are you on drugs or something? https://twitter.com/sebmck/status/1392019586833387522

Publicly accusing Henry of not actually working on the project seems short sighted. Only looking at a one year slice of contribution rather than the lifetime of the project masks the full picture of Henry's contributions. Also in Henry's defense, the past year has been a terribly difficult one for most all of us to get through this pandemic.

Not a good look for you Sebastian. Feels like you are looking for a place to point blame and unfortunately decided to direct that blame in Henry's direction. Henry Zhu is a great developer and contributor. Really deserves better than this.

He is levying accusations that money is, effectively, being stolen. That is not polite but if he genuinely believes it to be true, you are suggesting he remain quiet instead?

He is welcome to open a channel with Babel privately and, if unaddressed, make a proper statement about it. Blasting someone by using GitHub contributions as KPI on Twitter is highly unprofessional and awful behaviour

Using commit count / LOC as a KPI for a lead is not just highly unprofessional but also hilarious.

How much code does Torvalds write nowadays? Really not a lot. I guess he's useless eh? /s

(And yes, Torvalds works at a totally different scale. I'm simply arguing that the metric makes zero sense)

It seems it has gone past that. If it is an accusation of theft (or what he perceives to be theft) he is surely allowed to say it publicly. You can still give them both the benefit of the doubt.

You must have never talked to someone who can't be reasoned with. It is best to do some of these things in public. The conception of libel that, say, the UK has is quaint and open to abuse. No such issue in the US.

I agree there's problems with looking at the proposed KPI but that does not mean it is pointless to speak up. For the vast majority of people you could ask about this, pulling that kind of money from a nonprofit is ridiculous.

I don't think "Are you on drugs or something?" Is ever appropriate for a HN comment.

I might agree with your overall point but there is no reason for the name calling, this is not Twitter.

See what creator of Babel has to say

>Babel used by millions, so why are we running out of money? Bluntly: Because funds were misallocated for years, and the project has been too slow to improve.

>The reason there's no money is because someone took a $130k annual salary and didn't actually work on the project. https://twitter.com/sebmck/status/1392019586833387522

- So donating money because of this post may not be a good idea

I think this is a really bad look for Sebastian. He started babel and made the most contributions overall, but he hasn't been involved in the project for 5 years at this point. He left to join Facebook and babel would have died if it weren't for the efforts of Logan, Henry, Nicolo and the other contributors.

The original post on the babel website was written in response to him investigating the babel funding situation earlier this year, and so the babel team have made changes to make the situation fairer in their eyes. This apparently doesn't go far enough for Sebastian's tastes, so he has publicly called out by name one of the contributors who he feels doesn't do enough to justify their salary. The metric he uses for determining this is the number of github commits and comments that are shown on that person's profile. This is not a fair measure of someone's contribution to a project, and it's exactly the kind of behaviour that Sebastian would criticise if any other company was evaluating people in this way.

In the meantime, Sebastian has started another competing project, Rome Tools, which was recently VC funded.

The whole thing stinks. Will Rome Tools employees get called out and shamed in public if they don't have enough visibility on their github profile?

Jesus. Maybe I am old-school, but if you have a disagreement or someone isn't holding themselves to a standard, you don't take it to Twitter to signal to in-crowd.

Yes, even when it's a publicly funded open-source dev-tool.

Just the usual immature behavior of super-genius developers who have no concept of professionalism since any company in the world will write them a yearly check of infinite money.

Out-of-touch, know-it-all.

Edit: I reread this. Adding that no one is perfect, everyone slips up, loses perspective, pouts/whines, etc... We are all human and remember a single angry tweet thread does not define a person. Twitter is toxic signal-fest that brings out the worst in people right or wrong. Cheers!

Guy is pretty young (created babel in high school I read) so maybe that's part of it. I find that the older I get the more empathy I have.

Wow, that’s amazing. Right on regarding empathy and age/experience. No one is really an awful person. Just petty drama...

Mismanaging hundreds of thousands of dollars of charitable contributions goes a bit beyond petty drama in my opinion.

Ha, love the 10/10 spin there.

- A joint decision was made how to split and pay maintainers.

- A disagreement about performance / results has come from that.

- Tweeting to rally the homies is immature (and quite embarrassing) way of solving a problem.

I am not saying funds could not be reallocated differently. I’m saying the people involved with this are acting unprofessional / like children.

Labeling in mismanagement is just an opinion not an objective fact. There are a lot of ways to interpret these exact facts.

> Jesus. Maybe I am old-school, but if you have a disagreement or someone isn't holding themselves to a standard, you don't take it to Twitter to signal to in-crowd.

Not saying I disagree, but, in your words, what's bad with taking it to Twitter?

Going to Twitter is akin to having a disagreement at work, standing up and shouting across the whole office at the person you disagree with. I haven't been in an office in awhile, is that what people do nowadays?

... No. At least not where I work.

It doesn't really need to be taken to Twitter. There's almost zero benefit in publicly shaming your colleague like this.

Twitter is also (but isn't the only) tabloid social media. It promotes the sharing of sensational and one-sided content that is scant on details. I know we're supposed to be critical about what we read, but my first instinct was to assume Henry was a bad guy.

It would have been better to see this discussion in a forum or mailing list or anywhere that is designed for an actual longform discussion. Even if in public longer more detailed discussions can capture the nuance.

Taking it to Twitter makes the criticizing person look super toxic. I think reputation can be saved by doing this privately

Personally, I think Seb burnt his own rep and the rep of Rome tools, and unfortunately it reflects really really poorly on his cofounder as well.

A disagreement between two individuals should be initially communicated between those two and ideally resolved privately. Hopefully both sides have enough empathy to understand the other's perspective to reach an amicable conclusion.

Airing out on Twitter as a first response (not sure if that's what happened here) is a sign of immaturity and not what someone does if their goal is to fix the original concern. By airing it out on Twitter, you put the other person on the defensive and they're less inclined to actually help you to resolve the original complaint.

Airing it out on Twitter is an escalation, and a decent outlet for escalating issues that are systematic and/or can't be resolved through other communication channels.

> Airing out on Twitter as a first response (not sure if that's what happened here)

No, this is after the issue has been corrected, which is even worse

> In the meantime, Sebastian has started another competing project, Rome Tools, which was recently VC funded.

> The whole thing stinks. Will Rome Tools employees get called out and shamed in public if they don't have enough visibility on their github profile?

I had no idea he had started a competing project. This really stinks, almost like he is sabotaging his competitor.

If I: - built Project A - left Project A and started the competitor Project B - contributed a lot of PRs to Project B each week, and - saw that a guy in a similar role at Project A, has relatively few weekly contributions to Project A

My eyebrows would be a little raised. Not that I would call them out in a tweet, but I would at least be curious where that guy is spending his time.

The problem with that mindset is that there is a huge difference between leading a greenfield project with very few users and leading an established project that's a major piece of the infrastructure in basically every front-end app. In the former case, the bulk of the work is actually building the functionality, so looking at PRs / commits can make some sense. In the latter case, there are more constraints to consider and a lot of the work is in determining _what_ needs to be worked on, as opposed to actually writing new code. Also in things like project management, fundraising, etc., which don't show up as GH commits.

> My eyebrows would be a little raised. Not that I would call them out in a tweet, but I would at least be curious where that guy is spending his time.

It is one thing to raise the issue in private with "Project A", another thing is to tweet this to thousands of followers. Especially after "Project A" already had resolved the issue on its own.

Why? Once Project A gets to feature complete, does it need to be worked on at anywhere near the same rate? Other than fixing bugs/upgrading because of APIs they are using upgrading, the number of commits should be really small. Or should people change CSS constantly to have a string of useless PRs?

At that point, a huge amount of someone's time is spent managing bug tickets, attempting to isolate debug, etc.

Rome isn’t anywhere near ready to compete with babel.

Honestly the very idea of a JavaScript compiler like that is destined for obsolescence per standardized features added to browsers.

Folks should just develop their own shims where necessary and TEST AGAINST VARIOUS BROWSERS.

Sure no one likes doing that, but it’s important to follow the fast-pace ECMAScript adoption.


I mean, how does that not just push all of this towards companies and open source solutions that provide access to old browsers and what not? I mean no matter what direction you push, it's going to be someone else's open source code that needs money.

You’re right that was an off topic note.

I guess what I’m getting at is that most current browsers support very nice JavaScript features anyway. And instead of adding yet another layer between our code and the browser—embrace the current generation of (at this point very robust) language features available.

And if that’s not good enough use something like TypeScript!

> most current browsers support very nice JavaScript features anyway

Maybe that's true for users in the western world. However, if you are in the asian market, there are popular browsers you've nerver heard of (some localized fork of chromium that's way behind). That is not to mention the poorer populace of the world still uses whatever that runs on WinXP or something, if they have Internet at all.

As software engineers it's not our job to use technology to dictate (control) how people access information, telling them to use newer browsers and newer hardware and what not, our job is to support as many people out there as we can.

Well put... However, the unfortunate thing about web technology is that websites no longer support NOSCRIPT. If we want true global compatibility, it’s HTML + CSS and ZERO JavaScript. That has immense privacy benefits too.

babel is a transpiler, which is more than just a way to shim shim features in browsers.

God I hate this word, it's like in bad OOP where you classify things just for the sake of having more classes. This belongs to a class called compiler, just call it compiler.

It has a specific meaning that is distinct from compilier.

You might call it a tanspiler and technically it IS. But the Babel homepage calls it a compiler.

In any case, for the plethora of down voters: Babel states: “Use next generation JavaScript, today”

At some point next gen == current gen, and therefor given enough stability, Babel becomes obsolete.

Folks, donate to Mozilla instead they actually move things forward not backward.

This assumes that javascript has stopped evolving at some point.

Actually, it assumes only that evolution of new features slows down. Once things are _slow enough_ the value of an extra dependency is dramatically reduced.

Based on his track record (he did the same thing after departing Yarn), I'd say that's a definite risk. Unstable ground, to be sure.

This is not correct

It actually is correct. He's routinely dogged the project and team after leaving the project: https://twitter.com/sebmck/status/1176534097881006080, and was a founding member: https://engineering.fb.com/2016/10/11/web/yarn-a-new-package...

Having worked on both projects, I can tell you that it's more complex than what you're making it out to be.

It’s always complex, but that tweet is pretty damn explicit. It’s a bit of a challenge making anything else of that.

This is where anecdotal evidence is difficult - hard evidence that we can reference points to the contrary and supports my reply. I have further anecdotal evidence I could cite, but it's not trustworthy.

Which aspect, and how?

while I don't agree with public bashing, he is right about yarn 2 being a disaster. After a 18months since GA, migrating to v2 is still a pain and not the default version, while v1 does not receive update anymore smh...

May I have a link to his departure from Yarn?

Yeah you just don't publically call out one of your employees. That's just a dick move at that point. Solve this problem internally and don't throw your developer under the bus because you didn't manage them better.

he doesn't manage babel. I think he's just saying this as a peer. It's bad regardless.

Just as an FYI: Rome was started under the react-native team at Facebook and has been in development for well over 2 years, Facebook let him take it with him when he left.

that's really rare, right?

It seems to be MIT licensed, and if so then maybe anyone could. But probably the actual authors have the most legitimacy and knowledge.

when I asked seb about this (because I was a little surprised) he said FB wants to use it too

edit: so... they don't have to pay him + they get the benefit

Only if it's worth something.

There is a conflict of interest, but I wouldn't say it's 1-to-1.

It's tough because I think the "optics of productivity" are somewhat important because money is involved. If I was concerned about things, I would have pinged someone in private months ago. Taking this to a public forum, leading with an accusation isn't the right thing to do regardless of how Babel.js was handling these things.


> $130k in the United States is a joke

You are out of touch my friend.

I think you can cool it on the anger here too. It’s not helpful.

Neither is people piling on the maintainer of Babel based on GitHub activity and someone essentially accusing them of embezzlement. Sorry if that makes me upset.

$130k for a senior developer in the United States is nothing. People at FANG are making 3-4x that annually.

> $130k for a senior developer in the United States is nothing. People at FANG are making 3-4x that annually.

Right, hence my out of touch comment. This just doubles down.

open source maintainer salary !== FAANG total comp package

E5 engineers at FB are making an avg 200k base [1]. That is not that far off what you would expect the difference to be between open source maintainer and senior engineer at Facebook.

That is not 3-4x. Even if you include stock, that will put the FB eng around 350k. You may have an argument for the 2-3x range but basically only at the very top level companies and senior roles, not mid level contributors. And by including stock or other forms of TC besides base, you begin inflating the impression of cash flow. Stock grants don’t land in your wallet like paychecks do. Your QoL or vested net worth will take time to be impacted. It’s not like all of a sudden you can now afford X% more in your daily life.

IMO HN likes to exaggerate compensation levels.

[1] https://www.levels.fyi/company/Facebook/salaries/Software-En...

I agree that 2-3x is more appropriate. Either way, don't you think the maintainer of Babel could easily be making more money and doing easier work (individual contributor at some large org)?

The accusations that this person is freeloading off of Babel donations seem absurd (especially when you consider who is making them). The babel maintainer could be coasting at a large engineering organization with a lot less responsibility is what I am getting at it. It's exactly what the creator did...

The accusations are unjust.

Oh yeah, 100% agree with you there.

I was solely commenting on the SV compensation point, but yes, you’re totally right that he could be doing less work for significantly more money elsewhere. The accusations are unjust for sure. IMO less because of the salary numbers and more because commit count is simply not a good measure of employee performance.

Not sure what you're taking issue with here.

$130K is objectively not a joke of a salary in the United States. That's roughly 90th percentile.

It seems a common trend that software engineers think their high salaries are something they can take for granted forever.

I prefer to think that we are riding in a bubble that can pop any minute now. This line of thinking allows me to be more responsible with spending and save more for rainy days.

Good thinking - those of us with some grey in our hair remember when coming out of college with a CS degree into a $45-50k government contracting gig was cause for celebration rather than disappointment, after watching our slightly older friends take loans for Porsches on their snazzy dot-com salaries... and then struggle with the fallout a year or two later when said dot-coms drastically cut staff or disappeared entirely.

Of course, it's not a joke of a salary in the United States. Is $130k a joke of a salary for an NBA player even though it's 90th percentile? Context matters.

$130k is barely over the median pay for a Senior Software Engineer in the United States. A lot of the people stewarding and maintaining these projects are talented enough to be earning wages that are much further into the outliers (i.e. FANG compensation of 300-400k+/year).

That's all I'm saying. What's much more likely to be happening here is that the maintainer of Babel took a much harder job that cannot be summarized by output metrics like GitHub activity tracking.

Attacking him and essentially tossing around accusations of embezzlement when you've just received VC funding for a competitor is just wrong.

yes, context does matter. So why are you comparing a full time OSS developer with FANG? ridiculous. I don't have any opinion on the babel drama, but 130K isn't a "joke" even for a OSS developer who is "senior".

I'm comparing the salaries because the person is qualified to do either job. Someone turned down hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain OSS, and then is accused of embezzlement by someone who left for FANG salaries and VC-backing.

Yea, tbh this is 100% my read on this situation. Wouldn't go near the dude or his work after this. Spent way too long at Facebook where no one ever has to sell a product and now doesn't understand at all how money works.

Yeah, I'm admittedly just learning about this whole situation, but I fail to see how this isn't him just trying to take down the competition of his new project

Sounds like an effort to take down a competitor. If Rome tools is to replace Babel, people need to lose faith in Babel. Seems like a transparent conflict of interest.

How is Rome Tools going to make money?

Typical paths with OSS:

- premium support

- custom features / enterprise product offerings

- commercial licensing

- professional services/consultancy

> Will Rome Tools employees get called out and shamed in public if they don't have enough visibility on their github profile?

An important difference is Rome Tools employees are being paid with VC money and not money from the community.

Creator of Vue.js Evan You's perspective:

"Working on a project" doesn't only mean pushing commits. It also means deciding what to do, syncing with committees, running a team structure, thinking about how and where to get funding, and handling the mental pressure of "I'm responsible for this".


Evan You[0] has over 4x more contributions than Henry Zhu[1] this year.

Evan's absolutely correct, there's a lot of 'invisible' community activity, but in my experience of OSS, it's typical to have a 'contribution' on GitHub every day, which is missing in the case of a Babel maintainer who's being paid $130k/y

Let's compare to the other maintainers: [2][3][4][5][6].

Contribution counts aren't and shouldn't be everything, but they speak on a macro-scale. It's not an unreasonable expectation to review a PR a day.

[0] https://github.com/yyx990803 (2,979 contributions)

[1] https://github.com/hzoo (771 contributions)

[2] https://github.com/existentialism (2,608 contributions)

[3] https://github.com/JLHwung (1,849 contributions)

[4] https://github.com/loganfsmyth (130 contributions)

[5] https://github.com/nicolo-ribaudo (2,329 contributions)

[6] https://github.com/xtuc (1,614 contributions)

Evan's metric and henry's are not directly comparable.

Someone on vue core team (perhaps evan himself) said internal group co-ordination and management is handled by other team members, most prominent among them being Chris Fritz[1] (before he stepped down) and Sarah Drasner[2].

This reduces managerial burden on Evan and gives him more energy & time to focus on technical challenges

While Henry is the senior most member in babel team, so most of the management work is on him. which eats his time a lot more.

[1] https://twitter.com/chrisvfritz [2] https://twitter.com/sarah_edo/

The necessary "glue" work that often doesn't get tracked but eats a lot of time, energy, and cognitive capacity is very often overlooked. I'm not saying that is or isn't what happened here.

I've worked with a lot of teams where no sort of solid leadership existed. Filling that gap is often difficult to justify because there's a tremendous amount of thought involved and it's a thankless task. Sure you can take the existing structure and direction and just plug away but ultimately, most efforts that do this fail. You need to look ahead and think about future adaptability if you want success. People often act like software development is as straightforward as data entry. You should have X entries per day. If you didn't add X entries then you must be slacking. Development requires not only technical prowess which is difficult to maintain in-and-of-itself but creativity, vision, and strategy. If you ignore the rest your project will fail or at least become an artifact of times past at some point.

We actively discourage team leads from trying to be the "team lead that still codes a bit here and there", they mostly just get in the way and don't focus on the team's real needs.

I.e. we'd rather them take a late lunch or go home early than push a sub par PR nobody wants to criticise.

> it's typical to have a 'contribution' on GitHub every day

What about long running feature branches that get squashed before merging?

To add another data point, on the BabelJS Slack, in the last 12 months, @Henry (hzoo, based on the matching profile pictures) has posted 96 messages, and @nicolo-ribaudo 251.

One can bring the messages up with these filters:

"from:@Henry before:2021-05-12 after:2020-05-11" and "from:@nicolo-ribaudo before:2021-05-12 after:2020-05-11"

contribution in general doesn't have to be "code" related.

You can send a PR with 1 million lines of code, or 3 lines of code.

You can send PRs updating typos in documentation, or PRs affecting the core aspects of a project.

You can send 100 PRs full of tech debt or 1 that makes the thing run 100x faster.

PR counts suck as a way to measure work.

It's the new LoC metric...

it's insane Github reports PR stats. I always knew this would happen. But never so publicly. You just assume that your management is looking at it constantly and basing their decisions on it. Because why wouldn't they. Their entire philosophy is "never let a metric go to waste."

All this does is encourage bad behavior. Not squashing commits, throwing up tons of one line changes. Remember that contest Digital Ocean did for Hacktoberfest? Remember what a total shitshow they caused on Github? People were making egregious commits for a fucking t-shirt. Now imagine real money on the line.

Technically you can do and undo the same thing a trillion times and have a trillion commits. In the end your net impact in the code will be zero, yet you will be the PR champ.

1. His language sounds like he knew Henry personally. I will take it with a grain of salt. But same applied to creator of the Babel, since he could have beef with Henry.

2. He said lots of circumstantial things about the matter. Namely: 130K isn't high for NYC; he could have and probably had better offer easily; he didn't need to maintain Babel but did, etc. All these are good but didn't answer the direct question, is he worth 130K for his work in the project. Even with the understanding that lots of work is in private, his public contribution in recent years seems to be way too low to not make people raise eyebrows.

3. Also, it's funny he said "is 130k too much for someone to maintain Babel" to the creator, who probably earned way less for creating Babel from scratch.

I do know Henry personally and Henry actually consulted me when he was debating whether he should quit his job to work on Babel full time. We also occasionally talk about the burdens of OSS maintenance so I know first hand how hard he's been trying to keep Babel afloat.

That said, a statement from the current most active paid contributor to Babel is probably more convincing: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27116357

The linked comment above is one that people interested should read. Especially people who only read the relatively inflammatory and context free initial tweet.

I agree that there are a ton of non-code related things that a project leader should be doing, but the vast majority should be visible in some way. Mailing list discussions, roadmaps, code reviews, creating/triaging issues, etc. It should be pretty easy to get a representative picture of what a project leader did over a whole year.

Looking at the the commit activity of some maintainers, that seems to be correct:

7 commits in a year: https://github.com/babel/babel/commits?author=hzoo&since=202...

$110k invoiced: https://opencollective.com/left_pad/transactions

These are the commits of another of the paid contributors, for that same time period:


Looking at https://github.com/babel/babel/graphs/contributors, github.com/nicolo-ribaudo has been, for about the last year, the most active contributor on Github, but as recently as March 2021 was only being allocated $24,000 (annualised) from the collective.

Another interesting thing I found digging around is that the creator of Babel (https://twitter.com/sebmck) is relegated to the very bottom of:


With a link to some odd throw-away Github account: https://github.com/kittens (edit: the link is fixed now, github.com/nicolo-ribaudo merged my PR almost immediately)

Depends entirely on their contract and what is expected of them. Coding is just one possible duty of a lead in this sort of project - the article itself talks about him undertaking various fundraising duties - thats in addition to whatever time period (eg. retrospective) the money is supposed to cover.

Having said that, the salary looks excessive and the commit history isn't a good look without clarification.

But assumptions aren't always the best guide to what is actually going on.

>the article itself talks about him undertaking various fundraising duties - thats in addition to whatever time period (eg. retrospective) the money is supposed to cover.

So, he fundraised money to have time to further fundraise, and he did it so well that they have to decrease his salary?

Sounds like he did not do so great job here either.

> Sounds like he did not do so great job here either.

The original article notes that funding took a hit in 2020. 2020 was an unprecedented year for any number of reasons. To simply say someone did a poor job fundraising in a year beset by constant challenges everywhere lacks proper context.

That's not to say more could have been done; I don't feel, however, that I'm in a position to say. Making money on open source is a difficult enough prospect regardless how one does it without also considering other factors that increase that difficulty.

I know almost nothing about this situation, but if I was hired to raise money and did a bad job, I'd expect to be fired. I wouldn't expect to have a blog post written about me.

Back when I was a senior programmer I would probably have had as few credited code changes as that.

But what you wouldn't see are the hundreds of problems I debugged and analysed for other programmers , down to the level of "make this change on line 530".

The most productive team lead I worked with didn't do a lot of story work. He was constantly checking in on everyone else to ensure that no individual contributed was blocked on anything. A problem that would have taken me 3 hrs to figure out, was solved during pairing in 15 minutes.

So thanks for being that guy for a lot of other devs that learned from you.

This is an open source project, if those discussions were happening they'd still be largely visible as contributions on github.

Why? Maybe they talked on video chat or a screenshare, or a messenger like slack. Forcing people to use a possibly less efficient communication method just to have a hard record of their contributions seems like the hallmark of an extremely dysfunctional and distrustful development organization.

open source projects that want public funding should do stuff like that in the open. and record it.

You say this definitively, as if every OSS project uses GitHub exclusively for all communication. This is obviously not the case.

They’d use something visible or their process is borked and not transparent and not welcoming to new users.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a listserv, or an IRC channel, or a GitHub issue. But it does matter if the collaborations are invisible to the team and to others on the project.

It’s their project so they are welcome to organize as they wish, but for a healthy open source project, I think having some collaboration method where newcomers can understand all the meaningful and helpful discussions is a good thing.

If a super awesome person is doing 1:1 calls/DMs/Emails all the time, that’s going to be tough to maintain. Not to mention a pain for any work where it’s multiple people collaborating and coordinating a changes that impact each other.

irony really is dead. The creator of git still uses the Linux Kernel Mailing List. Though I can certainly think of a dozen other ways to communicate that aren't GitHub or Slack.

Potentially. But not in a team of 4.

Are FOSS "donations" for on-going or past work, though? I'd lean towards a mixture of both.

However, by that measure the original creator should also be compensated for their past work, given that they wrote about an order of magnitude more code than the second most prolific contributor, at least in the main babel repository.[0]

(I have no way to easily measure other equally important contributions, such as shepherding other contributors, dealing with issues and PRs, so I'm ignoring them.)

[0] https://github.com/babel/babel/graphs/contributors

  > I'm just going to be explicit. In 2020, Henry created 12
  > issues, commented 25 times, and created 29 pull requests.
  > This is across all Babel orgs.
  > https://twitter.com/sebmck/status/1392053448892469250
There has been a lot of innovation within the tooling ecosytem over the last year (esbuild, vite, snowpack, bundless, swc, whatever Jarred Sumner is working on). None of this innovation is coming from Babel.

It seems like a gravy train. Open-source contributors of other projects are currently carrying the torch of uncompensated work.

If they want to get paid, they need to think about how they currently fit into the ecosystem.

I admittedly fail to see how that Twitter remark survives a naive sanity check[1]. What am I missing here?

[1] https://github.com/hzoo

I explicitly state 2020. Activity picked up in March. Use GitHub search filters and it’s more apparent.

Activity graphs can be deceiving, it’s extremely easy to look busy. Actually drill down and you’ll notice a lot of the activity earlier in this year was just pull request approvals, without comment, mostly done after someone else had already approved.

> dealing with issues and PRs

According to the original tweets by @sebmck there were only 25 comments in PRs by said contributor in the last year, so even that didn't happen, apparently.

Interesting that his contributions apparently declined when he went full-time.

I would expect an outrage here if someone suggested evaluating someone's work performance based on the number of commits the same way we consistently criticize evaluation based on number of lines of code or hours spent in the office.

Still, it's difficult to do even 'soft' work on a GitHub project without producing some kind of trail.

Few commits? Well, OK, lots of reviews and PR handling.

Not too much of that either? Ah, issue triage!

Oh, not that either. Well, they're the most senior dev. Strong technical direction and forward-thinking research! Maybe mailing lists instead of the issue tracker or wiki.

... but Babel's usefulness is at an all-time low as browsers adopt new features regularly, core-js now handles all the polyfills, and non-Babel transpilers and non-JS languages add all the interesting features and performance improvements?

Well, obviously advertising the project, helping with fundraising... for what's majority their own salary... Hrm. Mitchell Baker, is that you?

That's the wrong way to look at it. He has a lot more contributions, including code reviews of pull requests. https://github.com/hzoo?tab=overview Not to mention other behind the scene tasks such as fund-raising, etc.

That doesn't seem to mean much nowadays. (Or maybe ever.) It's an old popular complex project, there are a lot of ongoing discussions. For example the TypeScript repo has 5K issues. And it's a flagship MS project, so it's not about funding, quality, etc.

Good point. Can't argue with that.

That's the problem with software, it's hard to measure productivity.

Management blaming individuals by name (in public no less) shows severe incompetence at the top. I don't doubt he hired a slacker, but that's on management for hiring and retaining that... to the point of demise? Stupid.

I would have a problem with a manager if they did this "publicly" within the team/company. Airing it out on twitter is even more egregious. "Severe incompetence" is somehow understating it IMO, although i can't think of a better description.

If what they said is true:

1) Management hired a developer

2) Paid him for years

3) Gained millions of users

4) Became bankrupt

5) Publicly named the developer as a slacker and the reason the business is failing.

More comments from the founder. Nowhere does he take any responsibility for this mess, just blame blame blame.

"The salary amount isn't unreasonable or excessive. It's the lack of material output that makes it unjustified."

- So, don't pay him for years while bankrupting your project?

"I'm being explicit now since vague tweeting allegations isn't productive."

- Explicitly tweeting allegations isn't productive either. It just makes you and your project look bad. There's no way I'm donating to you now.

"The reason there's no money is because someone took a $130k annual salary and didn't actually work on the project."

- And was allowed to do so for a long time. Also, that's only one part of the equation, was this developer also responsible for fundraising? Or other spending?

"I raised this in March when I looked into it and noticed that for the first two months of the year he had left only two brief comments and created no comments."

- You didn't notice your employees had shipped nothing for two months? Or you were OK with this at the time and are now retroactively blaming them?

He is no longer involved.

Seb is a well-known narcissist, suffering from ego created by his own Twitter myth. I cannot name a single peer among the many circles I converse in which respects the person (another matter for the technical ability). Seb has only to look in a mirror to identify the issues with the current state of the Babel project management.

Please do not cross into personal attack on HN, and certainly not internet psychiatric diagnosis (https://hn.algolia.com/?sort=byDate&type=comment&dateRange=a...). It would be best not to import Twitter drama also.


Can you imagine taking a job at his startup. You have a bad week, run into a hard problem and start to sweat that your commit log isn't full enough.

It's like measuring a carpenter by how many nails they've driven per day.

This is a bit ridiculous on the other direction. It's like your main job is putting nails, and at the end of the year you have only put 29 nails. Sure, nails per day is not the best metric, but if in one year building furniture you only put 29 nails in total it's definitely not a good outlook for your productivity.

But his job wasn't putting nails. In this metaphor, his job would have been increasing the furniture company's output and profits; maybe he found another of doing it. Perhaps for instance, he figured out that instead of nails, he could utilize another joinery approach, like dovetails.

Sure, that's a fair point. I don't know enough about the exact job, internals, etc, just commenting that while commits/day or /week or even /month might not be the best metric, if you are (which I'm unsure here) hired to do that then if you only do 29/year, yeah you are probably not doing your job.

Last time I ever squash commits, reading this discussion.

When that “carpenter” is also answering the phone and doing quotes for work, apparently. If Henry is also the community manager and main fundraiser (which from the sounds of other posts he is), I’d argue that the last thing you’d want him spending time on would be code.

If he was a smaller fraction of the work force, that would make sense. But if you have a single full-time worker who is receiving about 2/3 of the payroll budget, I'd argue that you can't afford for them to spend most of their hours on business stuff.

Business stuff is what pays the bills. You can't have 2/3 of the work force just merging PRs and find out 6 months later that nobody paid the taxes and you won't be bringing in enough money to make payroll next month.

I wasn't saying not to do administrative tasks, but that they shouldn't be over half your entire company's work-hour allocation. Even with fundraising in there too.

Imagine if you had 3 employees and 2 of them were HR. That is not a good allocation of labor.

If you're including sales in the bucket of administrative tasks (and fundraising is very much equivalent to sales), many successful companies are at or near 100% administrative tasks.

It does seem odd that so much of the work would go towards paying to keep looking for more money (fundraising for fundraising), but there are plenty of sales oriented organisations out there who don't make anything. It's just odd in this case that an OSS project seems to have gone on that direction.

I suspect nobody should be earning such a salary working on a project like that.

It's like having a startup with 1 full-time salesperson and 3 part-time engineers. It would never work unless you already have a product (which Babel does).

I sort of get the idea of spending your money trying to sale an existing product but it doesn't seem to have worked in this case. That doesn't mean allocating the money differently would have worked either (arguably it would have been better for current patrons though).

This is what happens when you spend your eng career working at a company that doesn't have to sell products.

Not per day, but over an entire year. If you're making things that are held together with nails then that is not a bad starting point for evaluation.

Not everything is held together with nails.

Yes, that's why I put in the "if".

We can change the analogy to also look at how many pieces of furniture produced, or whatever, but it starts to just be a pointless tangent.

I have no horse in this race but where are comments like this coming from, in response to this:

>I'm just going to be explicit. In 2020, Henry created 12 issues, commented 25 times, and created 29 pull requests. This is across all Babel orgs.

100k+ for a year of that sounds pretty cushy. he didn't say that he did "only" 1 or 2 PRs a week or something. where are these hyperbolic comments in response coming from? what other kind of work could have possibly been done in addition to this meager amount of code work to justify such a salary?

Management? Fundraising? There's more to running an organization than just coding.

That makes sense for a normal size organization but they literally only have three employees. And the majority of the fund raised was used for his salary.

If anything, it's not fair at all for the other two who did the substantial work and only earn 2k per month.

(To be fair they have changed the distribution this year.)

The organization is substantially larger than just its paid employees.


I'm sorry but how does this not sound worse?

"My job is to manage a team of employees who code." vs "my job is to manage a team of unpaid volunteers who code, while I earn a proper salary".

Managing volunteers is still real work - sometimes more so. It's hardly uncommon for non-profits to have paid staff managing volunteers.

I'm not doubting it's real work; just that why other people in the same team have to volunteer (or being underpaid in case of the other two employees), while a single person is paid "properly"?

The article answers this.

> In November 2019, after successfully paying Henry a salary for over a year, we expanded our goal to also support three additional maintainers: Jùnliàng, Kai, and Nicolò.

They started with one paid salary. Tried to expand that. Didn't get enough money to do so; now they're asking (fairly, IMO) for the community that treats them as critical infrastructure to pony up.

I can see it backfire

Maybe some donors will donate to other projects

So many other OSS projects barely getting even 100 USD a month and Babel is complaining they're unable to work with over 300k a year and a number of corporate sponsors which have been supporting the project for a long time.

And the nodejs ecosystem already seems like an outlier getting more funding than most other languages/systems/projects.

Open source projects funded by donations need accountability. Regular reports about how much money is available, how it's being spent, and what the results are. If I saw that this guy, getting a full-time salary, creating fewer PRs in a year than me in a week, I'd be pissed, and the project certainly wouldn't get my donations.

If they were getting a fulltime salary and not actually working on the project, can't they be accused of commiting fraud?

That is unlikely unless contributors got any legal document signed

From https://github.com/babel/babel/graphs/contributors it looks that Henry did work on the project heavily after the creator left/went inactive, but stopped being active himself after 2019.

There probably is more, but not going to speculate.

Screenshot of deleted tweet: https://i.imgur.com/ai6ntjt.png

I like the meta joke

I think this is an important point. How do I know donating money will end up actually going to the project.

For some reason I believe donating to The Blender Foundation actually pays for devs to work on blender (and I donate).

I have a friend working on an open source project. I know he works full time on it. I donated because I knew he was working full time and because I like the project and want to see it succeed.

I have no reason to believe sponsoring random npm package asking for funding does anything other then maybe make some person feel good that they decided to post some code on npm and/or github.

In the US, any donation to a nonprofit can be earmarked by the donor for a particular purpose. They're legally bound to use your money only for that purpose.

>> The reason there's no money is because someone took a $130k annual salary and didn't actually work on the project. https://twitter.com/sebmck/status/1392019586833387522

> - So donating money because of this post may not be a good idea

It's true. The fact that babel is not an excuse for a wrong or absent management. Given the amount of money disposable to the project through donations, it would perfectly make sense to "hire" a manager that will actually manage contributors, deliverables, timelines, ...

>>The reason there's no money is because someone took a $130k annual salary and didn't actually work on the project. https://twitter.com/sebmck/status/1392019586833387522

I can't seem to see this tweet any more. Did it get deleted?


> So donating money because of this post may not be a good idea

Why not? Do we not want all babel mantainers to be paid atleast 130k?

Commit count or lines of code is not a valid method for measuring value. Everyone knows this...

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