Not sure if this question belongs here, on the main site, or not on TeX.SX at all. Let me know if it belongs somewhere else.

I have recently made some leaps in my knowledge of LaTeX, in particular its packages. I am very impressed by projects like beamer and tikz, so I really wonder: how do package authors find the time? It appears many are in academia. Being in academia myself, I know how time-pressured it can be. When Knuth wrote his computer programming book, he got side-tracked and developed TeX for many years. On a smaller scale, there appears to be years of time in some. Do authors receive specific grants for package development, or do they really work crazy hours in evenings and weekends (where other academics would spend time on their science)?

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    I'm not sure if your question is on-topic for the main site, but it surely doesn't belong on meta. +1, though, because I like your question.
    – lockstep
    Dec 6, 2011 at 21:15
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    It's not just package authors. There are whole operating systems written from scratch by volunteers! That's crazy!
    – Seamus
    Dec 7, 2011 at 16:10
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    Yes. But wasn't e.g.\ Torvalds a student when he wrote Linux? Maybe he had more time (I don't know, but I certainly had more spare time as a Master student than I do now). Also, quite some people are getting paid to work on Linux. And maybe I personally appreciate the business of LaTeX authors more because I work in the same field (academia). Something like that.
    – gerrit
    Dec 7, 2011 at 16:15
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    (beamer and tikz are both by the same author) Apr 1, 2013 at 14:08

6 Answers 6


I class my own modest contributions as structured procrastination. I also count my time on this site that way.

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    sort of like my first package -- christmas break from work, i was ill, and i had my dos pc, with the first alpha public release of latex 2e. i alternated a few minutes working on the package and sleeping. the result wasn't quite up to release by the end of the break, but it's what eventually became footmisc Sep 4, 2012 at 19:11

Yes, we really work crazy hours (not only) in evenings and weekends (where other academics would spend time on something else than their science, too). It's our hobby. Other people just have different ones.

Many packages got initially created because I needed them for my thesis, like svn-multi, tikz-timing and standalone. On the other hand if I would work 100% of the time on my research and thesis I would be crazy already.

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    I once worked untill 5am in the morning on some latex project of mine, slept for a good 2 hours then went to my lecture. Now some would call me crazy. But what if someone played StarCraft until 5am? It would just be considered his hoby. Well like Martin says, Latex is a hoby of mine. Sometimes you just lose track of time because it`s so fun! Dec 7, 2011 at 13:43

Speaking about myself, there are two reasons why I write packages.

First, I might need some functionality not provided by a pre-existing package. For example, I needed an alphabetical list of symbols in my paper with the references to the equation where the symbol appeared -- and I wrote the first version of nomencl. Since then, other people needed this functionality, and they took over the support. I wrote a number of packages this way.

Second, sometimes people pay me to write LaTeX code for them -- mostly publishers and authors. Sometimes the code I develop for them can be easily converted for general use -- for example, this is how rviewport or adjmulticol were written. Of course the class files are also usually published for the authors working with these publishers.

  • It's hobby.
  • I need it myself, then write some code and distribute it. (like diagbox)
  • Sometimes I just want to do some practice and learn TeX and friends. (like some Asymptote's docs)

My initial motivation was to create a package that addresses the needs specifically for the courses I teach and to expose students to LaTeX sooner rather than later, because they all will be required to learn it eventually (they're STEM students). Most recently, I have come to see learning LaTeX as a way to get students interested in computation. The final product isn't a working program, but a beautifully typeset document. Over two semesters, students accumulate a library of documents (typically problem solutions) that can be used in future coursework. Also, writing a package forced me to learn a lot about LaTeX in a short amount of time.

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