Re: Tired of giving out technical advice for free

Subject: Re: Tired of giving out technical advice for free
From: Dick Margulis <margulis -at- fiam -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2002 07:09:59 -0500

Steve Hudson wrote:

On many levels you are arguing capitalism versus communism. Altriusm versus
user-pays. Socialism versus Cable-TV :-)

And more such pap [snipped].

This, coming from a guy who is constantly writing Word macros to help people out of jams, is preparing some major Word macro opus that he is going to post on the techwr-l site, etc.

I think there are ethical distinctions we can make to differentiate types of requests.

Some requests are for payback: The superior education we provided for you enables you to make a gazillion dollars a year. Howzabout sending a few of those dollars back to yer old alma mater? Or: You're part of this community; the community has needs; you should participate in filling those needs. Now you can be a tightwad and argue that the tuition you paid was sufficient payment for the education you received or that the taxes you pay should cover all required community services, but if you are moved to contribute, you contribute.

Some requests are by agreement: Lawyers, in exchange for admission to the bar, agree to do some amount of pro bono work, I believe. Doctors are ethically prohibited from refusing to treat a patient who cannot pay--at least I think that's still true. Techwr-l is a great model of a community where people give professional services as they are able and moved to do so, and in exchange receive in kind contributions from others. A few people are annoying leeches who constantly ask for help and give nothing in return, but most of them eventually drop out when people stop responding to them. Some people give a great deal. It balances out. The agreement is implied rather than explicit in this case.

Some requests are for "government jobs" : I offer coworkers help with their personal publishing projects--invitations, holiday cards, brochures for nonprofits they're associated with. They pay for the materials. My time is unaccounted for (I'm a salaried employee and we don't keep timesheets). The company provides the printing resources. We have this system because it is a cheap benefit to provide and it keeps people at their desks working instead of taking time off to deal with job printers.

But the original question that prompted this thread was an entirely different situation from any of these, and it stems from a basic misunderstanding. To the reader who has never written for paid publication, a bylined author appears to be someone with wealth and prestige. I mean they actually PAID you to write that. It never occurs to the reader that the byline is largely in lieu of remuneration. So the reader assumes that the author is rolling in money and living a life of leisure. What's the big deal if I ask you to share a little of your expertise for free? You're still gonna be eating caviar tomorrow, right?

The other responses have been right on. I'll be glad to respond to your request. Here are my rates. Please return the signed agreement.


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RE: Tired of giving out technical advice for free: From: Steve Hudson

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