May 17th, 2008

Party Of One: Conclusion

This is the final part of the series on one-man open source projects. In the previous entries i talked about the different facets of the issues that face single-developer projects:

There are a lot of big projects out there with dozens of active developers and hundreds of people actively involved behind the scenes. Sometimes, developers of these projects have the luxury to concentrate on what they love to do the most – coding. However, the terms such as steering committee, constitution, incubation and governance models do not apply to the vast majority of the open-source projects. Such projects frequently languish because their developers fail to recognize that all those menial and tedium tasks are crucial for the long term health of their projects.

Sometimes, the solo developer behind a fledgling open-source project has an unreasonably high level of expectations from the target user sector. This frequently leads to frustration from low number of downloads, lack of interest from the blogosphere and may even result in venting your anger against the competing projects in public forums, mailing lists and blog comments. While being the best in your field is an understandable goal, i would advise focusing on other aspects instead.

Is being the best a goal in itself? How about admitting the following three simple things:

  • You know you’ll make mistakes
  • You’re ready to learn from them
  • You hope to not repeat the same mistakes in the future

This way, you will not be afraid to make a mistake, not be afraid to admit a mistake and be very quick to fix one. And in any case, what are your chances of being the best? Next time you attend a technical conference, look around you. What are your chances of being the smartest guy in the room? What are your chances of being the smartest guy at the conference? What are your chances of being the smartest developer using your favorite language? What are your chances of being the smartest guy in the world?

If you have a blog, if you have your own open-source project, even if you comment on somebody else’s blog – you want to be heard. If you’re open to comments, bug reports, enhancement requests and a genuine two-way conversation with your users, you will be surprised at how much you can learn from them. And if you have the ability to cut through the complexity, distill chaotic flows into a clean API and communicate without condescension, they will come.

P.S. This series was originally conceived as a session for this year’s JavaOne and OSCON conferences. Even though the reviewing committees were not overly impressed, i do feel that it is an important topic. You can download the full slides in PDF format. There are no absolutes. This is what works for me.