Leadership in Software Development Part 2

Principle #6 – Know Your Personnel and Look Out for Their Well Being

In an Open Source software project, who are “your people?” Your people are your community. Whether they are a fellow developer from your own company, the guy that pops in once every couple of months to make a typo fix, or someone that just reports bugs, they are all the people that lead to the success (or lack thereof) of your project.

Since they don’t report to you (normally) you can’t look out for their well being the same way an Army Officer is expected to take care of the Soldier’s in the unit. You won’t be checking their feet for frostbite unless it is after a drunken Meetup on a winter night. Most open source developers will not meet each other face to face.

What you do need to do is to be aware of the reasons that the people that are drawn to your project have for getting involved. The most common reasons are that your project are essential to them getting their “day Job” done. As such, taking care of them means doing right by the project. Probably most important is to be responsive to patch submissions. If a user submits a patch, it means that they care about the feature or bug addressed by that patch. It might be essential for them putting your product into live deployment, or shipping their own product. You have to be smart: balance stability against responsiveness. Communicate, don’t let changes sit unanswered.

As with most organizations, there are going to be different viewpoints on topics. As a leader, it is not your job to make every last decision. Part of being a grown up is letting go of control, especially about the things that you care less about. Take input from many community members on process, code standards, dependencies, and let consensus grow. Sometimes you need to make the big decisions, just don’t feel the need to be all the time.

One of the quotes on leadership that has made the deepest impression on me is Schofield’s Definition of Discipline:

The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army. It is possible to impart instruction and to give commands in such a manner and such a tone of voice to inspire in the soldier no feeling but an intense desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot fail to excite strong resentment and a desire to disobey. The one mode or the other of dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander. He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them regard for himself, while he who feels, and hence manifests, disrespect toward others, especially his inferiors, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself.

You have to respect the people in your community, especially the ones that you disagree with the most. Your communication should be respectful. It is easy to assume the worst in someone, to get angry, and to lose your head. You will regret it. And nothing disappears from the internet, at least not quickly.


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