The burden of an Open Supply maintainer

Or: Why cannot you simply merge my ten-line PR already?

I preserve over 200 open supply tasks. Apparently (that is information to me) I'm ranked within the high 200 GitHub customers by followers, and there are 18,000 forks and 42,000 stars throughout my repos.

On a mean day, I see between 50-100 emails throughout my repositories for points and pull requests, and I filter these all the way down to about 5-10 that I deem worthy of a private follow-up.

I merge between 5-10 Pull Requests per thirty days, and commit new code or fixes round 166 occasions per thirty days.

I am one maintainer, in a tiny nook of the Web, sustaining a small however broad set of tasks from Ansible roles for infrastructure automation to a couple small however still-used PHP and Node.js libraries.

Coping with burnout

There have been a number of occasions I've burned out. That is typical for a lot of maintainers. You both study coping methods or burn out fully, and in the perfect case find yourself a woodworker or farmer. At the very least that is what I see more often than not.

My coping technique for the previous 5 years has been considerably ruthlessly closing PRs and issues. I additionally wrote about enabling the stale bot two years in the past, and let me let you know:

Regardless of how a lot some individuals detest the stale bot, it—together with a extra laissez-faire angle in the direction of my tasks—is the perfect burnout prevention measure I've taken.

I license my tasks as open supply for 2 causes:

  1. I've a Pay-it-Ahead philosophy relating to code and information.
  2. It helps preserve me strict about documentation, generalization, and safety.

I do not publish my tasks with an open supply license as a result of I need to leverage them into VC funding or construct a brand new Silicon Valley startup. Nor do I plan on monetizing any of my tasks by providers or an 'open core' mannequin.

I've a household, and I've a power sickness, and I've to keep up some semblance of a work-life steadiness.

The issue is, customers do not perceive my challenge objectives or life scenario—not that I count on them to.

However a few of these customers and potential contributors take offense when a problem they publish or a PR they toss over rots for a number of months, ultimately will get marked stale, and will get closed.

It is nothing private.

I have a look at it this manner: if I did not use my methods to stave off burnout, I would not preserve my tasks in any respect. And having a challenge that works nicely and is maintained for 80% of the individuals who discover it's higher—in my thoughts—than including on additional help and upkeep burden by coping with each challenge and PR that comes my approach. And in the long run, I preserve the tasks for my very own wants first.

Perhaps that sounds callous, but it surely's the fact of the open supply contract, whether or not the challenge in query is backed by a multi-billion-dollar company or a random man in St. Louis.

Why did you mark my PR stale?

Even a one-line PR that appears innocuous might break present use instances, trigger bizarre bugs that CI assessments do not cowl, and add upkeep overhead that I can be answerable for by the lifetime of the challenge.

And perhaps that one line change results in the following Log4J. However the one that submitted it is not going to be the one staying up late on the weekend earlier than a vacation cleansing up the mess:

The buck stops with the maintainer(s).

Subsequently I by no means take into account any PR 'easy', outdoors of grammar fixes in a README.

I am very choosy about which PRs I will even spend 5 minutes on—normally I will solely look into the code modifications if it is (a) fixing a bug in my challenge, or (b) including a characteristic I'd take into account including by myself.

And of these PRs, I discover issues requiring a follow-up greater than half the time.

I've a singular downside of sustaining a various set of tasks, quite than one or two huge tasks, so generally I am unable to be as deep within the code on every challenge as I would prefer to... however even for maintainers of 1 or two tasks, a seemingly innocuous change can introduce main bugs for some share of present customers, in order that chance at all times tempers your enthusiasm to merge the code.

After which there are the PRs for options that I do know I will by no means use. Often (in my tasks' case) for obscure performance solely wanted in severely restricted enterprise environments.

Subsequently I usually take one in every of two approaches:

  1. As an alternative of merging the repair immediately, I will patch in some performance that enables my challenge to be extra versatile, so they might plug of their particular modifications extra simply (however not as simply as them injecting their code immediately into my challenge—thus giving me the upkeep burden).
  2. I will suggest they fork the challenge.

And possibility quantity two is actually the place issues find yourself so much, for options I would take into account a minority use case. After I labored within the severely restricted enterprise surroundings, I used to be used to sustaining forks and/or patches for quite a lot of tasks, so I might make them work in our unusual surroundings.

The place I believed it could be helpful to the upstream challenge, I'd submit patches and PRs, however I totally understood there was little likelihood of getting the modifications merged.

That is life within the open supply world. That is why there are a zillion forks of the Linux kernel. That is why there are 18,000 forks of my 200-odd tasks.

So generally, when somebody will get cranky about my option to ignore a characteristic or will get overly zealous in calling me out publicly in a problem for not responding, I kindly inform them to go fork themselves. The challenge is open supply for a cause.


Each few years, there's one other dialogue about how, if solely we might inject money into the open supply maintainer's pockets, we would not have future Log4J's, or Heartbleeds, or Shellshocks. I do not suppose that is the case.

I am one of many few maintainers who can truly pay my mortgage utilizing the help from people and small companies who contribute to my open supply work. And I am extraordinarily grateful for that.

However I've two ideas relating to 'compensation':

  1. Per my objectives acknowledged earlier, donations aren't a contract—if $megacorp wished me to make a change to my code, I would be extra amicable in the event that they donated, however I'm not beholden to them, nor do I ever need to be (if I did, I would just work for them).
  2. I've had Patreon and different sponsorship strategies for years; it was solely after I shifted my method that I began getting any important sponsorship.

On that second level, I've to drag out the dreaded M-word that every one software program devs hate: advertising and marketing.

The one approach I used to be lastly in a position to enterprise out by myself, and commit extra time to open supply work, was to market issues like my books and my YouTube channel. E-book gross sales make up nearly all of my income at present, and YouTube + sponsorships fill in the remainder. And one might argue that many of the sponsorships I've are the results of elevated visibility on YouTube.

Even nonetheless—with YouTube + e-book gross sales + donations—I make half what I made as a full time software program developer, particularly after I was consulting and charged a considerable hourly fee.

The reality is, cash will not stop the following Log4J vulnerability, or stop maintainer burnout (resulting in the following colors and faker fiasco). It helps, and it is necessary to attempt to fund builders higher—however you may't simply say "Microsoft ought to pay developer X $80,000/yr and that can stop one other Shellshock."

Company cash usually comes with expectations, and as an open supply maintainer, I've sufficient to fret about moreover making an attempt to maintain tabs on which sponsors/donors count on what, so I make it clear they don't seem to be 'shopping for' my time or consideration. They're simply eradicating limitations to sustaining the perfect open supply tasks I can.

I do suppose firms ought to have open supply funds, and allocate them to tasks and maintainers they rely upon, on a month-to-month foundation. However I do not suppose it can remedy the funding downside, largely as a result of this type of suggestion has been on the desk for over a decade, and there are a number of methods to route the funds (GitHub Sponsors, Open Collective, et all), but bigger firms nonetheless allocate a pittance (if something) to open supply maintainers.


This publish was considerably a stream-of-consciousness publish for me, so I am sorry it is just a little disorganized. In case you do need the best likelihood of me merging your code, I wrote about that again in 2018: How can I get my PR merged into your open source project?.

And should you work for a $megacorp, preserve combating the great combat to allocate some funding to open supply tasks and maintainers. Just a few firms are keen to considerably help sure tasks they rely upon, however they're sadly the exception, not the norm.

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