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The Few, the Tired, the Open Source Coders

By Wired

November 25, 2020

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While you're surfing the web, you ought to thank Jacob Thornton for making it so pretty.

He's a programmer who, along with web designer Mark Otto, created Bootstrap, free software that the pros use to make their sites look spiffy. If you've ever noticed that a lot of websites have the same big chunky buttons, or the same clean forms, that's likely because an estimated one-fifth of all websites on the planet use Bootstrap.

One reason for its spread is that Thornton and Otto made Bootstrap open source. Anyone can use it without permission, and anyone can tweak it and improve it. Thornton didn't get a salary for making Bootstrap. When he and Otto first released it, back in 2010, they had day jobs working for Twitter. But both were propelled by classic open source motivations: It was a cool challenge, it burnished their reputations, and it felt neat to help people. Plus, watching it surge in popularity—Green Day's website used it, as did Barack Obama's White House—was thrilling.

But open source success, Thornton quickly found, has a dark side. He felt inundated. Countless people wrote him and Otto every week with bug reports, demands for new features, questions, praise. Thornton would finish his day job and then spend four or five hours every night frantically working on Bootstrap—managing queries, writing new code. "I couldn't grab dinner with someone after work," he says, because he felt like he'd be letting users down: I shouldn't be out enjoying myself. I should be working on Bootstrap!


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