Every open source project is made up of more than code. It’s more than pixels, more than binary. People create the code, craft the experience, test and support. Open source really is people source and the trouble is we keep forgetting that.
One of the biggest things you can do wrong when interacting with someone is assume anything you don’t know. If you don’t know their history, don’t assume. Don’t even think you can guess – because you probably can’t. Assumption is another word often for judgement and nobody likes that.
Learning to just see the human and not try and make up the extra parts is a constant life learning process. As humans, our brains try and fill in gaps. When written communication is our only format those gaps quickly become vast chasms of wrong.
Whilst we all may be cut from the same ancient genetic cloth to a variable percentage, that’s where the connection ends. I am not you, you are not me. We all travel this great adventure of life with different backpacks, we all take different paths. That’s part of the amazing that is the human race. The difficulties in trying to communicate with your polar opposite often becomes delight when you gain a different view through talking.
As the old idea goes, sometimes walking in someone else’s shoes means they fit better. In open source we should cherish the differences and protect them. Give space for everyone to be able to communicate. Some of us are shouters, some of us take a little time, some of us just need a bit of space for our voice to be heard. Giving that space for someone to be heard in their way, that is something we should all try and provide.
Impact of projects on lives
What we create has weight and impact on lives. This code, this non-existent digital flotsam. It has real physical and mental impact on real human lives. People feed their families with it. They have been enabled to make something that without projects they wouldn’t have. That’s kind of amazing to realise, but it’s also kind of deep to think about. Those interactions, the choices, they matter because of the impact on people's lives.
The human behind screen
Non-verbal communication online really isn’t great for remembering your interacting with a person. Sure, you have this tiny static avatar, but it’s too easy to get caught in your own head and not see the human your interacting with. Real time methods are a little better, but it’s all various degrees of numbing to the fact your interacting with a real human.
Remembering and not assuming is the only way projects get through ups and downs. Remembering the project is made of humans and not assuming anything about those humans. A culture where respect is given to all is a hard one to ensure, but it’s one worth striving for. A project that recognises the lives beyond commits are just as important.
When was the last time you said thank you to a core contributor? When did you say thanks to someone for silently manning the forums? Perhaps rather than focusing on #drama of any sort, thank someone. They don’t have to be only core either. Every open source project is deeper than those that have the ability to make a patch live. Recognising people rather than using a tag that just perpetuates the drama it points to, that’s a positive move in anyone’s book. In thanks, you are recognising a person. You are recognising that open source is made of people.
Next time you interact on Twitter or on trac, take a moment. Think about the person you are writing to. Maybe they’ve had a bad day, maybe they care about the thing you disagree with for a real reason. We all live complicated lives. When you respond, take a moment to really see the people, really understand that open source is about connections. You don't have to agree with everyone – nobody does. The point is how you disagree. Open source is about people joining together to create something amazing. Without people, there is no open source.