Love Your Maintainers

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No developer is an island and no developer is perfect. This means that you cannot create anything without using components written by someone else and these components will have defects or missing features. At some point in our life we all asked for support to someone else.

But being a maintainer is not an easy task at all. Think about receiving tons of reports with partial or missing information, or being yelled by strangers for not being responsive or fast enough.

For the health of our industry we must love our maintainers more: in this talk I’ll show how to politely ask for help and how to make sure you provide all the necessary informations.

Paolo Insogna
Paolo Insogna
19 min
15 Jun, 2024

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Video Summary and Transcription

Open source is a decentralized software development model driven by passion, improving software quality. Kindness is crucial in the open source community to prevent burnout and maintain healthy dynamics. When asking for help, do thorough research and communicate effectively. Reporting issues should be detailed and provide relevant information. Follow-up and engagement are important in finding solutions and expressing gratitude to maintainers.

Available in Español: Ama a tus Mantenedores

1. Introduction to Open Source

Short description:

Hello, welcome to Love Your Maintainers! I am Paolo, a Node TSC member and principal engineer at Platformatic. Open source is a decentralized software development model driven by the passion of the people. It has proven to improve software quality and services. Open source allows access to a diverse developer base and different points of view, resulting in increased quality.

♪♪♪ Hello. Welcome to Love Your Maintainers. First of all, let me introduce my company, that's Platformatic, which is the best way to build your Node API and build your Node backend. We provide a comprehensive automated solution for API, GraphQL, and integrated servers and services. Check it out.

Now, the secret is in the manners. It's how you ask people how to do some stuff. Let me prove you how. First of all, I would like to introduce myself. I am Paolo. I'm a Node TSC member and also principal engineer at Platformatic. You can find all my handles down there, especially my website, which I just redesigned. So I encourage you to take a look and give me feedback, please. Okay. Now, let's move on.

What do you expect, pretend, from open source? What is the right verb to use? First of all, let's clarify what is actually open source. Open source is a decentralized software development model that encourages open collaboration and is driven, and this is the key here, by the passion of the people. Now, it is working and it is definitely working. Open source has proven to be really effective when it comes to improve software quality, services, and on some extent, the life of people.

It all started in the seventies, in the free software movement that challenged the traditional for-profit-based development as usual. The problem is that in English, as you might imagine, free means too much. It both means free as in not paid and free as in freedom. It's ambiguous. Not paid was the most understood meaning of the word. Therefore, it was changed to open source, which is a branch of the free software movement, so we get a clear understanding of what it means. Open source is a software that can be used for commercial purposes without retaining, sorry, giving up the freedom. The freedom is retained. Now, why would somebody want to go open source? Because, and allow me the quote here, you can get the best of the best of the best. You can access a developer base which is not even remotely physically close to you, and you can access different culture, backgrounds, and capability, which means different point of views. In every aspect in the human life, this has proven to be a increase in the quality.

2. Understanding the Open Source Community Dynamics

Short description:

Open source is similar to remote working, but the huge difference is that people are driven by passion, not money. Remember that maintainers don't owe you anything. Avoid demanding fixes or features in the wrong way to prevent pushing people away. It's important to remember there are real people on the other side of the screen, and even a small act of rudeness can lead to burnout. A rude message can have serious consequences, as seen in the LWJS project managed by James Sumner.

Also, you have low maintenance costs because open source software is maintained by other people for you, so you don't need an office, and if you embrace open source, you just need a version control server. Now, you don't need an office, right? This is presumable, so something, right? Does it ring a bell? Well, open source is similar to remote working, but it's not. Beware of this, and this is the key of the rest of this entire talk. The huge difference is that people in open source are driven by passion, not by money, and moreover, you are not their boss. Remember that. You are not their boss, so you cannot demand anything. You can ask, but you cannot demand. You cannot command. You cannot do any orders, but in general, everybody is nice if people are kind.

Now, remember, people in open source are driven by passion. Maintainers love, simply love that you use their software. Otherwise, they would never have open sourced it, but we need to give everybody respect. Maintainers don't owe you anything. They are giving their time, their free time, their personal time, their hobby time for free for the passion, but you're not paying them unless you sponsor them, but that's a different topic. Remember that action have consequences, like usual. If you pretend fixes, if you pretend features, or if you just demand attention in the wrong way, you will push people away, like it always happen in any other social aspect in the world. It's not just open source. This applies to everything. This is a general life lesson, if you allow me to give you a lesson.

Also, what you want to do, you want to avoid burnouts. You don't want people to simply burn out. Remember that on the other side of the screen, there are other people. There are people which, like you, have sentiment, have need, and have real-time work. They have real life, they have hobbies, they have family, they have children to take care of, and so forth. Even a single small act of rudeness can burn people out. Don't forget it. What you think might be just a small act of rudeness might be the N plus one that maintainer has seen nowadays, and people will burn out, and eventually will give up on the software. As you can see in the screenshot, I take a snapshot of the GitHub page of the LWJS project, which was managed by James Sumner, which received a nasty, nasty, nasty, and honestly, completely pointless message by a person which was able to put a huge amount of curse words and offenses and rudeness in just six lines of text. James burned out and said, you know what, I'm done. Nobody's paying for it, so therefore I'm retiring the project.

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First, be patient. I often see posts on Twitter or LinkedIn about developers who were promoted to a senior position after a year. And while this is wonderful, I think we forget that each company has a different standard for what constitutes a senior developer, and everyone's journey will be different.
Second, don't be afraid to ask questions. If you try your best to solve a problem or answer a question you have, but you can't figure it out after a reasonable amount of time, ask a team member or mentor for help.
And lastly, invest in the right resources for learning. When I started my journey, I didn't know which platforms worked for me to learn. Now, I have a few trusted platforms such as Frontend Masters, Free Code Camp, or Level Up Tutorials that I go to when I need to learn a new skill.
You're currently working as a software engineer at Spotify. What does a typical day of yours look like there?
I begin my day answering emails. Then we have a team breakfast and a standup remotely as we're all still remote at Spotify. After that, we might have a web tech sync with the other squads in our business unit. The day usually includes some form of pair or mob programming, depending on the work stream. 
My team always has Fika, a traditional Swedish coffee break, scheduled every afternoon. Every couple of Fridays, we have team games planned to release some stress. 
Also, I tend to have a lot of free time to focus, which is nice but makes for a boring answer to this question!
Do you have some rituals or tools that keep you focused and goal-oriented?
I'll admit that I've been struggling with staying motivated in the time of remote work. I've been remote with Spotify since onboarding a year ago, but my team is wonderful, and they help me when I'm down.
Apart from that, I use Todoist to keep track of my tasks, and, naturally, I listen to Spotify while working. But other than that, not really. Maybe I should adopt some new tools to keep me on track!
My current favorite Spotify playlist is Brand New Chill: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/37i9dQZF1DX6uQnoHESB3u?si=380263b3c853442e
I also love Chillout Daily: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7ozIozDp260fjNOZy1yzRG?si=66d6c839ec9b458a
You wrote a book called De-coding the Technical Interview. What was the impulse to do it?
I wanted to give the community a manual of the essentials of computer science knowledge to ace the technical interviews. The book covers data structures like stacks, queues, or linked lists, tackles algorithms, and deals with systems design. You'll also learn about the interview process from start to finish, get tips on how to submit an amazing take-home project, or understand how to problem solve. You'll also gain knowledge on the frontend coding skills needed to excel at a frontend interview.

If you could stress one piece of advice on surviving a technical interview, which would it be?
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What's the single best practice everyone who writes code should follow?
Remember that while you are technically writing code for computers, you're also writing it for humans. Your code should be readable and have as little complexity as possible without sacrificing accessibility or performance.
In addition to the book, you co-host the Ladybug Podcast. What inspired you to enter this field, and what are the podcast's main topics?
We talk about everything tech and career on the podcast, from Java and GraphQL to how to start a business and cross-cultural communication. The podcast is a way for me and my co-hosts to share our experiences in tech, having taken different paths. And I'm really glad for doing it — it has allowed me to meet so many incredible people, learn many new things, and support my dream of teaching.
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***
Follow Emma on Twitter
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Committing to creating high-quality content. That might sound obvious because I'm a full-time educator now, but I would not have gotten my job at PayPal if I hadn't been so active with my blog. In fact, lots of my jobs came out of me being involved in the community around meetups, conferences, or open-source projects. 
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What would be your three tips for engineers to level up their career? 
The number one thing I tell people is to be a nice person. I know that sounds fluffy or silly, but it cannot be overstated. You will get so much further in your career and just in life in general if you're a nice person. That doesn't mean that you take people being jerks lying down, but how you interact with others is out of kindness. You could be the best engineer in the entire world, but if you're not a nice person, you will not reach your full potential or accomplish your goals, whatever they may be.
Second, it's just as important to decide what you are not going to learn as it is to decide what you are going to learn. You could jump into countless things — and there are successful people who are polyglot programmers, but I can't speak to that a whole lot. All I can tell you is that in my experience, focusing on specific things that I want to be truly good at has worked out great for my career. That doesn't mean that I closed myself off to other things. With my website rewrite, I have been doing a lot of dev ops-related work and a lot of back-end stuff that I've typically not been involved in. You want to keep your head up on what's going on outside of what you're doing so that you know what direction to go in when you come across problems you need to solve. However, finding a focus on what you want to be good at has helped me a lot. That way, you feel a little less stressed.
And the third one? 
Learn how to learn effectively. It's a three-step process: you consume, build, and teach. The consumption of newsletters and Twitter and whatever inspires you, but you don't want to spend too much time doing that — implementing it into actually building something matters. This happens naturally if you work at a company, but maybe you're not making the things you want to learn, so you may want to start a side project. The building phase is where you get experience, but you also want to solidify that experience. How? You start teaching. You don't necessarily have to teach it to people, it could be stuffed animals. The goal of the teaching is to retain in your mind what you've learned through the building process.
What are you working on right now? 
The big thing I'm working on right now is a rewrite of my website. It'll be much more than just a developer portfolio — I'll have user accounts, and there'll be fun things that you can do with it. And because it's more than just a website, I'm using Remix, a new cool framework in the React ecosystem. I'm also working on updating my material on TestingJavaScript.com and a TypeScript course as well. 
So, whatever I'm working on, it ends up resulting in lots of opportunities for content.


Do you have some rituals that keep you focused and goal-oriented? 
I have a notepad where I keep all of my notes of what I'm going to do for the day so that when I'm checking things off, I'm not distracted notifications. I've tried apps for that, and that does not work well for me. 
I also am a firm believer in inbox zero. I have my work inbox and my personal inbox, and I keep them both at zero. And I kind of use that as a to-do list. 
And if I'm not feeling excited about working for some reason, I will often hop on my Onewheel, which is an electric skateboard that only has one giant wheel in the middle. It's just a total blast, and I'll hop on that with my backpack and a charger, and I'll go to a Starbucks or a park just to declutter my mind.
What things in the React universe are you excited about right now?
React version 18 is coming out soon. The experimental version is out there, and it's fun to play with. I'm just really thrilled that it's no longer a concurrent mode but concurrent features that you can opt into. Cool things like that will enable React server components in the future. 
But the biggest thing I'm excited about is Remix. That's huge. It eliminates a lot of problems that are solved well other tools, but when I'm using Remix, I don't have those problems, so I don't need those clusters.
You already said that teaching is an integral part of the learning process, and you stand your word since you're also a full-time educator. What inspired you to enter this field?
I have been a teacher for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a church where you talk in front of your peers from a very young age, and my mom was an elementary school teacher, so teaching has just always been a part of me. 
I really just enjoy sharing what I'm learning with others. As far as teaching technical topics, I gave my first workshop when I was still a student at Brigham Young University. With my fellow, we taught how to use AngularJS, and I got Firebase to sponsor pizza so they would show up, and that was pretty fun.
Then I started teaching on the side at egghead.io right after I'd graduated. That was when I first got a paycheck for teaching. And I realized that teaching could be quite lucrative and support my family and me as a full-time endeavor. So I did it — I quit my job. I'm a very risk-averse person, so I'd done teaching as a side hustle for four years just to verify that I could make this work.
When TestingJavaScript was released, and I got that paycheck, I realized that I didn't need my PayPal salary anymore. I could just focus my daytime on teaching and give my evenings back to my family, which was a nice trait.


Apart from that, how has teaching impacted your career? 
Earlier I mentioned that pretty much all of my jobs came because I was perceived as an expert. After the first job, where I was an intern and then converted into full-time, I never applied to another. I worked for four different companies, and they wouldn't have recruited me if they didn't know who I was and what I was doing. My content is how they knew who I was — I just made it easy for them to find me. Teaching made that impact. It made my career. 
We talked about React and Remix. Are there any other open-source projects that you'd recommend keeping an eye on or contributing to?
I have some myself. React Testing Library is probably the biggest one that people are familiar with. And if React isn't your jam, then other framework versions of the testing library. 
React Query is also really popular. If you're using Remix, you don't need it, but if you're not, I strongly advise using React Query cause it's a stellar, fantastic library, and Tanner Linsley, the creator, is a stellar and fantastic person. 
What pieces of your work are you most proud of? 
Probably the biggest thing I've ever done is EpicReact.Dev. It has helped tens of thousands of people get really good at React, improve their careers and make the world a better place with the skills that they develop. My whole mission is to make the world a better place through quality software, and I feel like I've done that best with Epic React. 
There are things that I've built at other companies that are still in use, and I'm proud of those cause they've stood the test of time, at least these last few years. But of everything, I think Epic React has made the biggest impact.
***
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What led you to software engineering?My background is in digital marketing, so I started my career as a project manager in advertising agencies. After a couple of years of doing that, I realized that I wasn't learning and growing as much as I wanted to. I was interested in learning more about building websites, so I quit my job and signed up for an intensive coding boot camp called General Assembly. I absolutely loved it and started my career in tech from there.
 What is the most impactful thing you ever did to boost your career?I think it might be public speaking. Going on stage to share knowledge about things I learned while building my side projects gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of people in the industry, learn a ton from watching other people's talks and, for lack of better words, build a personal brand.
 What would be your three tips for engineers to level up their career?Practice your communication skills. I can't stress enough how important it is to be able to explain things in a way anyone can understand, but also communicate in a way that's inclusive and creates an environment where team members feel safe and welcome to contribute ideas, ask questions, and give feedback. In addition, build some expertise in a specific area. I'm a huge fan of learning and experimenting with lots of technologies but as you grow in your career, there comes a time where you need to pick an area to focus on to build more profound knowledge. This could be in a specific language like JavaScript or Python or in a practice like accessibility or web performance. It doesn't mean you shouldn't keep in touch with anything else that's going on in the industry, but it means that you focus on an area you want to have more expertise in. If you could be the "go-to" person for something, what would you want it to be? 
 And lastly, be intentional about how you spend your time and effort. Saying yes to everything isn't always helpful if it doesn't serve your goals. No matter the job, there are always projects and tasks that will help you reach your goals and some that won't. If you can, try to focus on the tasks that will grow the skills you want to grow or help you get the next job you'd like to have.
 What are you working on right now?Recently I've taken a pretty big break from side projects, but the next one I'd like to work on is a prototype of a tool that would allow hands-free coding using gaze detection. 
 Do you have some rituals that keep you focused and goal-oriented?Usually, when I come up with a side project idea I'm really excited about, that excitement is enough to keep me motivated. That's why I tend to avoid spending time on things I'm not genuinely interested in. Otherwise, breaking down projects into smaller chunks allows me to fit them better in my schedule. I make sure to take enough breaks, so I maintain a certain level of energy and motivation to finish what I have in mind.
 You wrote a book called Practical Machine Learning in JavaScript. What got you so excited about the connection between JavaScript and ML?The release of TensorFlow.js opened up the world of ML to frontend devs, and this is what really got me excited. I had machine learning on my list of things I wanted to learn for a few years, but I didn't start looking into it before because I knew I'd have to learn another language as well, like Python, for example. As soon as I realized it was now available in JS, that removed a big barrier and made it a lot more approachable. Considering that you can use JavaScript to build lots of different applications, including augmented reality, virtual reality, and IoT, and combine them with machine learning as well as some fun web APIs felt super exciting to me.


Where do you see the fields going together in the future, near or far? I'd love to see more AI-powered web applications in the future, especially as machine learning models get smaller and more performant. However, it seems like the adoption of ML in JS is still rather low. Considering the amount of content we post online, there could be great opportunities to build tools that assist you in writing blog posts or that can automatically edit podcasts and videos. There are lots of tasks we do that feel cumbersome that could be made a bit easier with the help of machine learning.
 You are a frequent conference speaker. You have your own blog and even a newsletter. What made you start with content creation?I realized that I love learning new things because I love teaching. I think that if I kept what I know to myself, it would be pretty boring. If I'm excited about something, I want to share the knowledge I gained, and I'd like other people to feel the same excitement I feel. That's definitely what motivated me to start creating content.
 How has content affected your career?I don't track any metrics on my blog or likes and follows on Twitter, so I don't know what created different opportunities. Creating content to share something you built improves the chances of people stumbling upon it and learning more about you and what you like to do, but this is not something that's guaranteed. I think over time, I accumulated enough projects, blog posts, and conference talks that some conferences now invite me, so I don't always apply anymore. I sometimes get invited on podcasts and asked if I want to create video content and things like that. Having a backlog of content helps people better understand who you are and quickly decide if you're the right person for an opportunity.What pieces of your work are you most proud of?It is probably that I've managed to develop a mindset where I set myself hard challenges on my side project, and I'm not scared to fail and push the boundaries of what I think is possible. I don't prefer a particular project, it's more around the creative thinking I've developed over the years that I believe has become a big strength of mine.***Follow Charlie on Twitter

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