Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why Make A Run For It

It has been almost two years since I decided to go public with RightJS and on this occasion I'd like to post some reflections on it.

Those days, thanks to github, it's pretty simple to start an open-source project. You just make a repo, write some awesome stuff and push it under the "I don't owe you shit" license. And I like it, in most cases that's all you really need. But, as fun as it is, there is actually another level to open-source projects. The level, where you decide to get serious about it and go public with your project. With promotions, users, official site, docs, tutorials and so on.

It is not completely necessary to make your project kinda "officially public", in many cases it might be even a bad idea, because that will distract you from the actual programming, but there are several important things in this process, which can be pretty valuable as well. And that's what I'd like to write about today.

It Will Make You A Better Programmer

The trouble with programmers is that we work in this area where most people don't really understand anything. And because of that, at some level, programmers tend to start thinking that they are pretty darn smart and kick ass.

A healthy portion of self-esteem is not a bad thing, it might help you to overcome some small obstacles on your way, but for a programmer as a knowledge worker it is crucial to stay hungry for new information.

And running your project for real, will give you exactly that. If you do something interesting enough, people will respond, they will throw all sorts of ideas at you, they will criticize and they will like (hopefully :)) some parts of your work, which will give you all sorts of new information.

With new information you'll face new problems and discover new ways to solve them, and that will make you better at what you do.

It Will Make You More Organized

It is not a secret that many developers don't like TDD and Tickets. Even the ones that do, often cheat and don't cover everything, don't document bugs and so on.

But, when you start an open project for real, you will have to deal with those things. You will have to handle tickets, document bugs and cover everything you can with tests so that folks who use your code had a hight quality experience.

More of that, most open-source projects, especially individual ones, are just about "scratching your own itch". It is highly doubtful that you will make any real money directly from your project, and as much as you might enjoy the creative process of writing code, at some point, you will have to get pragmatic about what you do.

You will need to start thinking strategically, where is it worth to invest your time and where it's not. And that is a highly valuable skill, not just for developing a software project, but genuinely in life.

It Will Make You Better With People

Well, you know what they say "all programmers are bad with people" :). The thing is, that people are irrational, even the smart ones. And there is only one way to learn how to deal with irrational - by accumulating experience.

One of the hazards of the trade is that programmers spend most of their time with computers, and that's certainly not a good thing for your social skills.

When you run an open-source project you will have to handle contributors and do that nicely. Because contributors are privilege. But as all people have different coding styles, different ways to approach issues and just different personalities, you will learn how to find common grounds with different folks, how to work together and how to coordinate the changes.


I don't want to sound like an open-source project is the most awesome thing that might happen to you. By the end of the day, if you're vicious bastard then all that will help you is an old-fashioned kick in the ass.

But, if you're interested in software-development, if you want to learn why and how the things done, running your own project for real might be very insightful and teach you quite a few things.

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