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Re: Advice Workplace that Forces Non-Free Software

From: Mike Gerwitz
Subject: Re: Advice Workplace that Forces Non-Free Software
Date: Fri, 28 Aug 2020 23:32:45 -0400
User-agent: Gnus/5.13 (Gnus v5.13) Emacs/28.0.50 (gnu/linux)

On Sat, Aug 08, 2020 at 21:09:20 +0000, lily via libreplanet-discuss wrote:
> I am reaching out to you again for advice. 7 months ago, I asked for
> advice with asking IT to support a GNU+Linux operating system. Months
> later, and now in the middle of a pandemic, I am working remotely on a
> Windows laptop. I have admin rights and so I am able to install and
> run all the Free Software I wish, but I have run into some problems in
> the workplace.

Sorry for the late reply on this; I'm catching up on mail.

Software freedom in the context of an employer is worth considering a
little bit differently than freedom in your own personal

When you are performing work for an employer, you are acting on their
behalf.  When a company adopts non-free software, then the company is
placing itself in an unfortunate situation---they are being denied
certain freedoms.  But you are not personally deprived of freedoms,
because you aren't acting in a personal capacity, so long as that
software is not installed on your own hardware (e.g. your personal

If you were to clock out and continue using those non-free programs for
your own personal work---rely on it for your _own_ computing---then you
have ceded control of your computing to others.  But if you log off,
walk away, and log onto your own free system for your computing, then
your personal computing has not been impacted.

But that doesn't mean you have to be comfortable with that fact.  If
you feel that any non-free software is an injustice, then you may lament
that situation.  You may feel saddened any time you see that airport
terminal, or log onto your employer's computer.  And that may be too
much for you.

But it's also important to understand that there are many issues that
employees feel passionate about that employers do not accommodate, or
even agree with.  What if your coworker is vegan---should the company
disallow meat on the premises?  What if one of the employees is a
climate activist---should they work only at companies that have net zero
or negative carbon emissions?  Employers cannot meet the demands of all
employees.  Sometimes they're in direct conflict.

But there's still room for improvement.  The climate activist maybe
could offer to provide input and direction to improve the organization's
practices.  The free software activist/advocate could offer information
to explain why free software is important, and how the company may
benefit from the liberties preserved by it.

The other option, of course, is to restrict oneself to positions that
only make use of free software.  But depending on far too many variables
to list here, and depending on your priorities, that may be very
difficult to do.

On Sat, Aug 08, 2020 at 21:09:20 +0000, lily via libreplanet-discuss wrote:
> I am very passionate about Free Software, without it I would be
> nowhere. It was there for me all throughout my studies in mathematics
> and beyond. But now, as I have only been in the biostatistics field of
> paper pushing research for less than two years, I fear that if I upset
> my manager too much I could easily lose this job (I have been at this
> job for less than a year). I am the only biostatistician on this team,
> but unfortunately, the team can get away with producing research
> papers without understanding the mathematics/statistics, because they
> can run some code and there will always be an answer. So, practically
> they can do without me.

I cannot in good conscience suggest that you do anything that would
negatively impact your livelihood.  I would suggest that you approach
your manager in a way that you know your manager would be receptive
to.  You could frame this as a suggestion to better the company.  You
could frame it as a personal concern, as something that makes you very
uncomfortable, and ask if they could be more accommodating.  But the
latter is less likely to change corporate policy.

> 1. Continue to use Free Software just for myself and keep my mouth
> shut, and give the results of my work in the non-free software format
> like Word and PowerPoint to keep the manager happy so that I may
> continue to eat and donate to the Free Software movement. (This option
> I also risk loosing the Free Software I have, since eventually they
> plan to take away my admin rights.)
> 2. Gently try to push for a little more Freedom in the work place, but
> risk loosing my job and not be able to contribute what I can
> financially to the Free Software Movement.

I can share my personal experience.  I'm a free software activist.  The
computer I'm typing on now is free from the BIOS up.  I use exclusively
free software.  I use Replicant.  I make my life very difficult at times
to use only free software.

But at work, I have to collaborate with people who do not agree with my
ideals, despite knowing about them for about a decade.  The hardware
setup (Windows) is mandated.  I use a GNU/Linux VM as my safe
environment---I use free software as much as I am able, and only out of
necessity (to integrate with others) do I use non-free software that has
been prescribed.

I'm in a position, as a principal developer in the organization, to
essentially say what I please.  I frequently push for free software, and
I often win.  But often I don't.  I lament that decision not for me, but
for my employer.  I voice my objections, make my concerns known,
document them if need be, and we move on.  I can't make hard-line
demands any more than they can, and I assure you that I disagree
strongly with some demands that others make.  We compromise.

But I always go home to freedom.  It has no impact on my personal
computing.  If anything, it's strengthened it, since I strive to find
free replacements suitable for my employer.

Working remotely has blurred some lines for personal computing.  I do
not permit running non-free software on any device I own.  For example,
the company mandates Duo for 2FA.  Nearly every employee installs an app
on their mobile device to do so.  My employer instead provided me with a
hardware token.

Note that I'm not suggesting that my employer should be required to
accommodate this need.  They're nice enough to, and I think they ought
to, but I would have also considered it acceptable if I had to pay for
that myself.

But with this comes a constant discomfort.  It is a discomfort that
will, among other reasons, cause me to one day leave for a position that
is more in line with my ideals.  But that's not an option for me right

> I am leaning more towards Option 1, but if I lose the Free Software I
> am able to work with, I will also lose the opportunity to learn and
> grow as a biostatistician.

If you feel you cannot grow professionally in the manner that you wish,
then your position is probably not one you should stay in.  But I'd
recommend you line something else up first, or see if you can create the
change you're looking for.  See if you can find someone who will
advocate for you within your organization.

When I was younger, my approach was very different.  I was much more
aggressive when it came to my ideals.  The only reason I'm still in my
position is because I have a manager that kept others at bay when I
pissed off the wrong people in the company.  I've grown a lot since
then---both personally, and as an activist---and have developed a better
strategy.  I've matured.  (I was 19 when I started the job; I'm 30 now.)

But sometimes you're in an environment where no strategy works, and no
progress can be made.

> Thank you so much LibrePlanet community, you are wonderful! I also do
> volunteering where I get to promote Free Software, but again with the
> pandemic, those activities have come to a halt. And as a result I
> tried pushing for alternative software in the work place, which is
> having a the negative outcome I described above.

Let's also try to look on the bright side: you have strong ideals that
you care for deeply.  The cognitive dissonance that you feel will be
critical toward evaluating and refining (if need be) your ideals, and
will serve as a guide for your future decisions.  This is what is
important.  Life's is never ideal.  It's always a balance.  Some people
within our community do manage to land those ideal positions where
there's no personal conflict and they are truly happy.  I hope that you
can be one of those people.  I hope the same for myself.  But until that
time comes, what matters most is that you work toward realizing your
ideals the best you can given your situation.  As long as you recognize
and admit to yourself when something is wrong, and recognize that
they're wrong and in need of improvement rather than coming up with
excuses to justify them, then you will make progress.

Thank you for sharing your concerns, and I hope I was able to provide a
useful perspective.  It's something that's bothered me for nearly a
decade now (I started the job before I became an activist).

Mike Gerwitz
Free Software Hacker+Activist | GNU Maintainer & Volunteer
GPG: D6E9 B930 028A 6C38 F43B  2388 FEF6 3574 5E6F 6D05

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