November 24, 2014
There’s a very popular topic making its rounds lately in open source communities. The concept of burnout. This idea can be roughly summed up as an individual spending too much of their time contributing voluntarily to a community and quickly becoming tired and leaving the community. Unfortunately this does happen and is a very real problem in volunteer-driven communities. If you’re interested in reading more on this then I suggest this post which covers the topic very well. But I want to write briefly on a different aspect. I want to talk about an aspect which might not be as quickly considered and times when there may be a mislabelling of a situation. Let’s talk about what is not burnout.
Burnout is not a catch-all excuse
Unfortunately, burnout is not always the reason for a volunteer stepping away or shifting focus. Sometimes people tend to use burnout as an excuse for more serious problem. What I mean when I say more serious problem? Simple, sometimes when people are leaving a community they are leaving for other reasons besides being burnt out. Maybe they have an interest in something different, maybe they want to focus their time more efficiently, or maybe there is a deeper problem within the community which is keeping them contributing as they would like to. All of these are examples where burnout is not really the cause for change but something else, something deeper, is the real problem and should be uncovered.
The danger of mislabeling burnout
The community suffers when someone mislabels an individual leaving a community as the result of burnout if in fact it’s another reason. By failing to address the real reason for individuals leaving the community there is no opportunity for change. Without change the problem will repeat itself with new volunteers for new contributors. The vicious cycle continues. This is obviously extremely dangerous to a community. If we are unable to correctly diagnose problems within the community and instead resort to mislabeling them as burnout, or the fault of the volunteer rather than the community, the health of the community will be affected.
People make up a community and if those people aren’t perfect, neither are their communities.
If we want to ensure that we are not mislabeling problems within the community then we need to be very careful when we use the term burnout. So how do we prevent mislabeling a problem? By listening. If we listen to those individuals leaving a community, if we ask them for the reasons why they’re leaving, and if we hear their answer then we can ensure that we label the problem correctly. It may very well be that an individual is leaving because they are truly burnt out. If that is the case then following some of the advice given in the other blog posts such as the one I mentioned earlier is very applicable. However if we listen to their replies and we can see they are not burnt out but instead there are other issues, problems, or concerns that these need to be addressed and labeled correctly.
When a community is strong enough to diagnose problems, to label them correctly, and take action as a result that community will thrive. The community which listens will thrive. Yes, burnout is a very real issue particularly in open source or volunteer communities. But let’s be careful not to label every individual which leaves the community as being burnt out.
September 30, 2014
Open Source Appreciation
When you’re volunteering in an open source community most of the time you understand that you are giving your time and talents without any expectation of payment. Monetary payment. You do the work because you see the value in the community and you see the opportunity to get involved, contribute your skills, and make a difference. You don’t do it for the praise and you don’t do it for the personal gain. You’re volunteering.
However there is an opportunity for the community here to do something remarkable. Open source communities have the chance to appreciate you as the volunteer. There is an opportunity to offer heartfelt thank you and appreciation for the donation of your most valuable asset – your time.
The Greatest Community
The best open source communities understand that their volunteers are worth far more than a check from a venture capitalist firm or a sponsor payment seeking some specific return on investment. These outstanding communities place their worth and their value in their volunteers. Those individuals who are so committed and dedicated to the community they give the one resource they can never get back. They give their time. When these superior communities understand this principle it is reflected in their attitude, in their behavior, and in their treatment of their contributors and volunteers. They demonstrate excellent appreciation.
How can this appreciation be demonstrated by an organization or community where finances and money are not the motivating or driving factor? What are some ways in which appreciation can be shown. Great communities have already figured this out and the put these ways into practice on a daily basis. Here are a few examples.
A Public Acknowledgement
There are several great examples of this idea of public acknowledgement. I’ll give only one which I found recently and thought it to be an exceptional one. If anyone is familiar with Mozilla Firefox they have done some amazing things to publicly appreciate their volunteers. One of those is the San Francisco Monument they’ve constructed. It’s a fantastic example of just one way in which Mozilla has very publicly demonstrated appreciation for their volunteers.
Of course it doesn’t take a marble pillar to publicly acknowledge the hard work and effort of volunteers. Sometimes all it takes is a blog post. Finding ways to publicly thank those individuals giving their time is a fantastic way to demonstrate appreciation.
A Personal Note
You don’t always have to be public in your appreciation. Some communities send a note to active volunteers thanking them personally for their work. This is almost the reciprocal action of the public acknowledgement. Rather than publicly thanking someone you can do it privately.
I’ve seen some examples of this which are truly awesome. A handwritten letter in the mail. Yes, that’s right an actual snail-mail post thanking someone for their efforts. It doesn’t cost more than a stamp, an envelope and a little time. But the value is immense. If you’ve ever gotten a personalized note you know what I’m talking about. It’s a great feeling to feel appreciated and valued. It doesn’t cost much to personally thank someone.
I was going to list several more ways but I erased my points because I want to leave you with these two thoughts. Public and Private appreciation. A personal connection. This is what it all comes down to. The ability to connect with each other not just as a community of volunteers working on a project but as people interacting and growing.
Our communities are a place where relationships can thrive. Lifelong friendships can be made and personal growth is encouraged. The truly great open source communities realize without volunteers they have no future. These communities show this realization through their personal relationships and thoughtful appreciation of each volunteer. At the end of the day its the relationships which matter.
In our communities the focus should be the person not the project .
August 18, 2014
Why Do You Use Open Source?
I’ve been thinking about this post for a little while. I wanted to make sure I gave the right message and asked the right questions. I think I have a few key questions now that I’d like to present. There are of course other reasons, everyone is unique and we can certainly have vastly different reasons for contributing (or using) open source. My main question is semi-rhetorical-Why do you use open source?
There are of course a number of reasons to use open source and as I mentioned in my opening paragraph it would be foolish to think I could cover all of them in a simple blog post but I’m going to list a few and I’d like you to use them as starting points to decide why you use open source and if it makes the most sense to continue using open source for your needs.
Reason 1: Belief in a goal
The first reason many people get into open source is for a deep-seated belief in a goal. I’ve written previously about what makes a strong community and why a shared set of goals and a vision is a powerful motivator. Does that require the product or community to be open source? Remember, I’m asking just questions I’d like you to consider and think through your reasonings. Can you accomplish the goals you want without being open source? Is there a reason you selected open source to accomplish what you want?
Reason 2: Make the big bucks
Second reason for choosing open source. You want to make the big money. You want to find yourself ridiculously wealthy and open source sounds like a hot buzz word that would be a great niche market to make your fortune. Is this a valid reason for choosing open source? Certainly there are open source companies which have done exceptionally well (obligatory link to the RedHat model). However, there are dissenters who strongly disagree with this model. Did you choose open source because of the money? Was open source created by companies looking to maximize profitability?
Reason 3: Share the joy
The third reason I’ll list why you might choose open source is because you like to share in something fun. Maybe you like to have a good time and enjoy hanging out with friends and having a laugh. Open source communities are a great way to meet people and just ‘hang out’ but I’d ask the same question as before. Does it have to be open source to do that? Can you have the same amount of fun outside of open source? Sharing is more unusual in a business environment but sharing fun is still something you do with your friends outside of work. Of course open source is all about sharing…but is it all about fun? Is this the reason you chose open source?
Reason 4: Leave a legacy
Maybe you chose open source because you want to leave a legacy. You want to be legendary and you believe open source is the only way to do that. Obviously that’s a bit tongue in cheek as there are many ways to leave a legacy without working in open source code. Right? A quick look at history will yield the truth about the true legends of our time. Does open source offer the only way to be legendary? Does it offer any way to leave a legacy? Be sure your focus in right when considering your motives and reasons for wanting to leave a legacy.
Of course there are many, many good reasons for using open source. I will list a handful of them in a future article but for this particular post I simply want to ask you why you chose open source? What do you want to accomplish? What motivates and drives you to work with open source.
Where to start
The best place to start is understanding your “why”. This point is key. If you aren’t sure then watch this clip from Simon Sinek. It’s absolutely worth your time.
September 21, 2013
Joomla! and You
The following presentation was given at JoomlaDay North Carolina 2013. The focus was demonstrating how easy it is to get involved in the Joomla! project and the many opportunities available
September 13, 2013
Joomla!, The Future, and You
This presentation was given at Joomladagen Netherlands 2013. Below are the slides.