I mentioned it briefly in my last post, but lately I've been listening to The Bike Shed podcast starring - at least in the episodes I've heard so far - Sean Griffin and Derek Prior. I've got a hefty commute, so I'm listening to it straight through from the beginning and am about 30 episodes in. I've been really encouraged by the episodes I've listened to so far and a couple of things have struck me:
- Open source framework maintenance is a ton of work. These early episodes were back around the Rails 4.1-4.2 timeframe and Sean and Derek spend a lot of talking about various features and refactorings that might get pushed to 5.0, or just aren't ready for the next minor release. You can tell there's a lot of thought going into lining up features. My open source work has mostly been on development tools, where if I mess up a release the users can just hang around on the previous release until things get straightened out with a followup. And with that kind of work there really aren't security implications since the utility is just analyzing source code or some other development artifact. That's a world of difference from the pressures under which the Rails core team is operating.
- Sometimes I get the feeling that big open source projects are run by super-geniuses who have it all figured out. But on this podcast it's clear that no one has all the answers. The hosts and the guests suggest things, disagree, propose possible solutions, dismiss those with a "oh wait that won't work" thirty seconds later, and generally display the same fallibility as everyone else. Maybe a difference is a willingness to be wrong and to change direction once it's clear that there's a better way. I feel like Dave Copeland's The Senior Software Engineer has some words to that effect.
- Both Derek and Sean work on side projects. Well, for some value of "side" - sometimes these are short-term consulting gigs, sometimes lower-profile open source efforts, and sometimes personal projects. But they're doing things other than straight-up Rails development. There are other posts which eloquently describe the advantages of side projects, so this seems like another confirmation of that. Doing a side project in a different language seems like a big winner in terms of growing as a developer, too. All good stuff, especially if it feels like a break from "work" and yet is still something in the neighborhood of professional development.
- Regarding open source frameworks again, another thing I'm getting from the podcast is that every little bit of contribution helps. Documentation, tests, issue triage, IRC support, Stack Overflow, etc... it all counts. At the very least, answering a fellow developer's question prevents a core team member from spending cycles on it, and maybe that'll result in the framework getting a little more focus. So come on in, the water's fine.
Long story short, I highly recommend adding The Bike Shed to your podcast queue. It's on my short list right next to Functional Geekery.