Tips for Collaboration in an Open Source World

In open-source projects, it’s inevitable that you’re going to work with others, perhaps many others, and how you collaborate is key to getting things done. Andrea Middleton published some advice that she routinely gives to others on collaborating in open source and the first one on the list struck a chord with me and that is to love your critics.

If you accept the notion that good ideas can come from anywhere — a foundational idea in open source, fwiw — then it’s criminally stupid to decide to stop listening to someone, just because you don’t like what they’re saying.

Beyond avoiding dumb moves, sometimes critical feedback is immensely useful. You can use it to check in with fellow contributors to see who shares the same ideas but just hasn’t been brave enough to say anything. You can use it to learn how you might be mis-communicating or misleading people in your communication. You can use it to fill in your own blind spots.

Andrea Middleton

While WP Tavern was a news site at heart, I often published posts criticizing or at least providing feedback on decisions, features, and how some of those things came about. Over the years, I know quite a few people on or near the core development team that despised the Tavern for the criticism of their work that was published on the site and in the comments.

However, I tried to structure my criticism in a way that was constructive and could be used as feedback. I recognized then and I do to this day that I’m not the one writing the code or in the trenches doing the dirty work and so offering blind criticism is not productive for anyone. Some of my best work on the Tavern came from publishing feedback/criticism and working with people on the core team responsible for those things and collaborating with them to improve the situation.

Those experiences were wonderful and I wish they happened more often but it’s far easier to dismiss constructive criticism than to look at it in the face and deal with it in a way where progress can be made. And let’s face it, not all criticism is warranted or necessary and how it’s delivered greatly affects the possible outcomes. But, when we can step back, calm down, and try to navigate through the weeds to work on a compromise, it’s a beautiful thing.