The grueling emotional labor of an open source maintainer

Nolan Lawson is burning up the free/open source web with an essay called What it feels like to be an open-source maintainer, where he describes the contradictory and negative experiences of trying to please hundreds of people who are just trying to get his code to work, where the more emotional and technical work he does to make them happy, the more he ends up with.

In response, Node.js's Mikeal Rogers suggests stepping back and letting other people run the project, something that won't happen on its own and requires the maintainer to step back; and Jan Lehnardt recommends learning not to give a fuck about things unless they make your life better.

You wonder how much longer this can go on before you just burn out. You’ve considered doing open source as your day job, but from talking with folks who actually do open source for a living, you know that this usually means permission to work on a specific open-source project as your day job. That doesn’t help you much, because you have dozens of projects across various domains, which are all vying for your time.

What you want most of all is to have more projects that maintain themselves. You try to follow all the best practices: you have a CONTRIBUTING.md and a code of conduct, you enthusiastically hand out owner privileges to anyone who submits a high-quality PR. It’s exhausting to do this for every project, though, so you’re not as diligent as you wish you could be.

You feel guilty about that too, since you know open source is frequently regarded as an exclusive club for privileged white males, like yourself. So you worry that you’re not doing enough to help fix that problem.

More than anything, you feel the guilt: the guilt of knowing that you could have helped someone solve their problem, but instead you let their issue rot for months before closing it. Or the guilt of knowing that someone opened their first pull request ever on your repo, but you didn’t have time to respond to it, and because of that, you may have permanently discouraged them from open source. You feel guilty for the work that you do, for the work that you didn’t do, and for not recruiting more people to share in your unhappy guilt-ridden experience.

What it feels like to be an open-source maintainer [Nolan Lawson]

(via Four Short Links)

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