Dear Open Source Project Leader: Quit Being A Jerk

I do my best to support the people that use my open source projects. I don’t always do things right, I don’t always respond in a timely manner. Sometimes I just have to walk away from an issue or request and let it die from lack of attention. But I do my best, and I take the time to provide meaningful answers whenever I can. I get a lot of “thank you!” notes from people because of this, and every now and then I get a comment like “best open source project leader, ever” or “you do so much more to help, than any other oss project leader i’ve dealt with.”

The first few times this happened, I was genuinely shocked. The next few times, I began to think “wow, I’m doing something great, here.” But then the last few times it happened, I started moving back in to “shocked”. I started wondering why people were reacting this way. Am I really doing something special? Am I going above & beyond? I don’t think I am… but maybe I am?

(No, this is not a humble-brag. I’m making a point, here…)

A short time after I started asking these questions, I saw something on twitter, something clicked in my mind and I became very sad as I realized why people are reacting this way.

The Open Source “Elite” Are Immature Jerks

What I saw on twitter was yet another comment from an open source “elite” – a person of high visibility with a project that is well known by tens or hundreds of thousands of people – making fun of someone else trying to contribute. Again. And again. And again. Over and over. And it makes me very very sad.

The comments tend to be the same, no matter who the perpetrator is… “Stupid pull request of the day”, “WAT”, “What is this, I don’t even…”, “LOL”, and other phrases and words that basically say “look how stupid this person is. can you believe they would send in a pull request like that? HAHAHAHA! they’re so dumb! don’t they know that [arcane reason for the way things are]?”

I can’t think of a better way to get people to stop contributing to open source projects. Seriously… there is nothing more demotivating and demoralizing than this kind of high-school-bully response. It needs to stop.

Destroying The Community

Once I realized what was happening, I started paying attention to the pull requests I was getting, and how people would start them. Many of the pull requests that I see have something like this to open the conversation: “this is my first pull request. sorry if this is supid,” or “I’m not sure if this is a good idea, so feel free to just close it and ignore me,” or “sorry if this is dumb. i couldn’t figure out …”

I’ve received email profusely apologizing for asking questions and not knowing the answer. I’ve seen people belittle themselves in public forums like IRC and twitter, in order to get the attention of someone who knows the answer. I’ve seen people delete their accounts, disappear from the internet, and leave the open source community behind because of jerks that torment and belittle and tear apart the work that they are putting in.

Chances are, mr or mrs open source elite, you have been on the receiving end of this in your life. You know better and I expect more from you. You are shaming yourself, destroying the good will you have created in the community, pushing people away from amazing open source projects and communities, and generally being a horrible human being when you do this. And why? For what gain? Is it your turn now? Does it make you feel like a better programmer to belittle someone else’s contributions?

It makes me very sad.

No One Deserves That

The worst part of this is knowing that some of these “OSS Elite” were the geeks and freaks and nerds in high school, that got picked on by the jocks and other popular kids. Apparently the new found success in the open source community has caused selective amnesia in these “leaders” and they either don’t remember or don’t care about how it felt to be trampled upon by the popular voice in the room. The victims are becoming the perpetrators, and we are often laughing right along side with them.

I’m Not Innocent Either

I’ve done it, too. I’ve looked at commits that people linked to from twitter comments and laughed. I’ve had those same kinds of “wouldn’t it be funny if I said …” reactions to pull requests and issues submitted to my projects. I’ve wanted to be that guy… the big fish, smacking the little fish aside with a self-righteous, “I’m better than you” smirk, a comment about the stupidity of the request, and a public shaming of the person that asked or submitted.

Do Better. Don’t Be A Jerk

I do my best, like I said. I know I have a tendency to react this way and I want to be the jerk and the “big man on campus”. I sat here and blamed the crowd of people that I pay attention for teaching me to do this. But in the end I realized that I am choosing to be this way and I’m as bad as any one else in this.

But I’ve realized how horrible this is. And I’m trying to do better. I expect everyone else in any kind of leadership position to do the same.

Recognize your own faults in how you react. Take time to respond calmly and with genuine guidance and reason. Don’t be a jerk. When someone submits an issue or a pull request that is “obviously wrong” in your eyes, don’t make fun of them and kick them out of the cool club. Help them learn from the situation. Ask more questions, find out why they are suggesting this change. Dig in to the reasons behind the request and see if there is any merit to it. Take the time to understand their perspective and thought process before you react and judge others.

Warm Crocodile Conference: Copenhagen, Denmark