2015, the year of the Never Ending Open Source To Do List

This year was the year I took on way too much. It’s so easy to hit Fork on a GitHub repository, or to raise an issue, to try to help out on someone else’s project but eventually it all catches up with you.

I feel most guilty about bailing on WheelMapespecially as building accessibility is something that affects me personally. I was supposed to help implement a new search API but I got distracted building a Dockerfile to make my development setup easier. This eventually ended up sapping my enthusiasm for the project, then (paid) work got crazy and I had to step away.

I feel like I have open-source-ADD. There are so many cool projects to help out on, so many bugs that could be fixed if I could just spend 30 minutes on them… then another 30 minutes, and another until it’s Sunday at 3am and I really should sleep, lest my nighttime exploits affect my ability to pay for my Internet connection.

I didn’t really have a term for the way I was approaching open source / volunteer work until I replied to someone on Hacker News. The Never Ending Open Source To Do List. It’s like making the minimum repayments on a credit card while continuing to buy every game in a Steam Sale. It’s not going to end well – eventually you have to start paying interest.

in an article titled A Lot Happens, Jesse writes

You can’t be emotionally all in on everything. You can’t make another 24 hours appear to be “present” for everything. Instead, I stole time and ran my emotional credit card like it was limitless.

I guess reading about what Jesse went through stuck with me. I am NOT comparing our two experiences, but I can definitely relate to some of the patterns of behaviour (and I feel a bit guilty because I know I’ve asked favours of Jesse in the past).

You should go and read that one, and the followup. This article will still be here when you get back. It should serve as a warning for everyone who has stayed up late at night, somewhere near the Ballmer Peak, trying to get one more patch in or one more mailing-list discussion sorted.

In my perfect world, someone would pay for me to be Open Source Batman, swooping in on every call for contributors to help get projects going again. I mean, I was able to help PureDarwin by sending a few well-placed emails, wasn’t I?

In reality, I’m trading in my free time for a bit of an ego boost when issues get closed or patches get merged. My free time is a limited resource and sometimes it’d probably be better used getting fit or learning TypeScript.

I’m lucky I’ve had a bit of spare cash this year so I’ve been able to just spin up another instance to run another build for whatever project I’m working on this second, without putting too much thought into it. Unfortunately, the Australian dollar took a dive this year and most of the services I rely on are billed in US dollars. Renewals for things like my password manager, my VPS and my development tools came up and I found myself facing a bit of a shortfall.

Next year I’ll look into setting up a Patreon or something to cover the cost of the AWS instances I’ll be using for a lot of development as I’ve just turned off my DigitalOcean instance due to the falling Australian dollar.

But first I’ve got to do something worthy of being paid for – thus the cycle of the Never Ending Open Source To Do List starts again.

I hope that whatever job I find next year (hire me!) allows me to contribute to open source. I really do derive a lot of happiness from contributing to open source, but it’s a delicate balance between extracting a bit of a buzz from hitting the Fork button and getting enough sleep.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, and you should go read Ashe Dryden’s post on OSS and unpaid labor if you are also struggling with your open source contributions.

Here’s to knocking off a few more items on the List in 2016.

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