Guilt on the open-source

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Fábio Costa

Posted on 13/01/2022

3 minutes read

A person feeling guilty
Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

Everyone uses or has used at some point, some open-source library or framework. But have you stopped your work to give your gratitude toward the creator/maintainer? Have you stopped to think that this creator/maintainer or even team of maintainers are not machines and they are working for free most of the time? They are not obliged to by any means to the project.

They are humans... they have a life outside of GitHub... They have families... and most of them, have jobs that pay the bills... Most of them work on these side projects, on their own time, after work, or when the family is already sleeping. And like all of us, they also need to sleep and rest.

An hand in the middle of the ocean
Photo by Stormseeker on Unsplash

Have you heard of “Burnout”? yes, it’s more discussed right now because of COVID-19 and the constant working from home consequence. But it existed before the COVID-19 situation and it will continue to exist. As long as people have a “burden” higher than they can manage. If you have more tasks on your plate than you can manage/work on and this situation happens for a long time, you are on the path to having burnout. It’s a serious problem and should be addressed carefully. If you have this feeling, do not hesitate to seek help. I am sure that you are surrounded by colleagues/managers/family or even specialists that will be able to help you before it gets too problematic. And of course, if you know someone that might be experiencing this, help him, as he might not even notice that he is on the path of doom.

After this public health call, let us go back to the open-source subject. It’s possible for open-source maintainers also to have burned out. When the project gets famous, it’s used by several people/companies, the issues/requests arrive. They arrive faster than you can correct/implement them. But you feel bad if you do not work on it. You have a feeling of guilt. The path of doom is being walked by, and if not carefully, it will arrive at a dead end. What happens after? Usually, the project is abandoned. No longer maintained. No evolution. Security holes accumulation. And of course, people get mad about it. They need to find an alternative or fork themselves the project and do the corrections needed. Another dead project to be added to the big cemetery of code repository that we can find online.

BUT, let’s go back a little. You might think: “Is there something I can do to help avoid this situation”? And I say, “Yes”. Even if it does not fully “cure” this problem, it’s possible to reduce it. It's possible to fight it.

A woman holding an umbrella for a child
Photo by J W on Unsplash

There are several ways to help. You can find out how to contribute to the project (producing code, documentation, etc), you can donate (If the maintainer gets enough donations, he might dedicate full time to the project) or even give a simple “Thank you for your work” to the maintainer. Show to the maintainer your gratitude. Do polite requests/suggestions, not demands.

Let's all contribute to a better world, where we help each other. We are all in the same boat. I leave here a video of the event dotJS 2012, where this guilt is told in the first person, by Fat:

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