Corporate performance reviews are anathema to open-source contributors, especially in Bitcoin. For many who have suffered from corporate constraints, being your own boss is a goal in itself. But I’ve observed this freedom can bring all sorts of unanticipated effects as well.
Open-source provides little feedback – positive or negative. In Bitcoin Core, for example, after hashing out concept approval and code review, authors still need to manage rebasing their branch against other changes along with keeping up motivation from reviewers to keep coming back. All of this can feel Sisyphean when someone swoops in with a late-inning critique. It can be a slog. After all that struggle, when your game-changing patch is merged you might get an acknowledgment from someone you respect – but probably not.
Corporations invest in professional development because it’s a cheap way to retain employees. Without feeling like we are progressing, we tend to start looking to change our situation. For those who are trained by the educational system and corporate world to feel the pressure of deadlines, the lumpy and unpredictable flow of open-source pull-request merges can be frustrating. And while frustration at our old hierarchical corpo jobs could have been attributed, or at least directed at poor management or lack of leadership/strategy/etc., a common outlet for this kind of resentment becomes the project itself.
Code > People
Code is definitionally the center of how a decentralized open-source coding project is organized, and therefore, it is prioritized over its contributors. This makes sense. Code is logical (well, it’s supposed to be), people are not. I believe this leads to losing contributors over time with the natural waning of motivation to work on something that doesn’t love you back. Without a strong tie to the people, the code is all we have. I have two motivating factors that have served as a barometer of my professional happiness. Connection to the project (Is this useful to the world? Is it still interesting? etc.) and connection to the people I’m working with. The people part is why Chaincode is a good fit for me, but not everyone has that luxury.
Under normal circumstances, open-source can feel lonely. Couple that with the effects of prolonged social isolation, and you get a group feeling really disconnected. If you work in Bitcoin open-source and are looking for structure, I’m happy to hop on a call. I’ve done this for a handful of contributors on a quarterly basis to visit longer arching themes like career goals, work fulfillment, productivity, etc., with regularity. Here is part of the survey I use to set up the conversation:
- I find the work that I do full of meaning and purpose (rating)
- The work that I do is challenging (rating)
- I feel like I’m growing my skills (rating)
- What is one thing that would make you happier or more productive?
- In what ways would you like to grow your skills? What kind of support will you need?
- Do you feel like you’re getting enough feedback?
- How do you feel about the < project’s> processes in general?
It’s not formulaic. Answers to the questions above serve as fodder to explore how to make things better. When I managed a team, this was, by far, the single best thing I did.
You aren’t alone
I’ve had a lot of conversations with people in Bitcoin feeling disconnected. You aren’t alone. Let me know if you want some help.