Maintaining Open Source

Software Engineer
Updated at
Jan 5, 2022 1:44 PM
Published at
November 15, 2020

This topic is recurring on HN. Some maintainer gets burned out and declares that Open Source is toxic. Ensues discussions.

Here are some thoughts on this subject, mostly to clarify my own ideas.

On maintaining direnv

I have been maintaining [Direnv] for 10+ years now and have been fortunate. There hasn’t been too many toxic users there. Maybe a shell extension is geeky enough so that mostly knowledgeable people filter through. I have a sense that with experience, also comes respect. We have been there and know what it means to maintain a project.

But still, it’s not easy.

I still remember taking 30min to reply to a single issue, and I still do from time to time. Saying the right thing is difficult and nerve-wrecking. Especially when the user has a good idea. I don’t want to let them down, but also this particular issue is not interesting to me.

The hardest part, to me, is to set the right mood. Fostering collaboration is difficult. I feel like I haven’t succeeded to do that. On the other hand, it’s quite common to have projects with a single main contributor. So is it my fault? Or is the project not suited for a more vibrant collaboration?

To me the whole endeavor feels a lot like some sort of exercise. A communication exercise. It’s never easy, but it gets easier with time. And it has its own type of rewards.

The biggest thing that I had to learn is where I stand. Each new issue is like a test. I found that if I can communicate that clearly, people are generally understanding. Saying yes is easy, it’s mostly about different types of no: out of scope for this project, interesting but needs a PR, …

That’s all for today.

Links to some other opinions