There. I said it. The green pastures of developer passion are not boundless: they have a finite acreage. A point at which one stops hearing “I love your project!” and “thank you for your hard work” and starts to hear “what have you done for me lately?” or “is this project abandoned?”. Developer psychology has been infected with the sickness of consumerism and there is no going back. Don’t believe me? Well then, let me find my soap box.

In the Cathedral and the Bazaar Eric Raymond said:

Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer’s personal itch.

That makes sense right? You probably have written a module or two yourself. Most likely unpopular modules that don’t go beyond your own itch. The fun weekend side project that gives you a momentary sense of satisfaction because you “built something”.

For whatever reason some modules don’t stay unpopular for long. Jacob Thorton, the creator of Twitter Bootstrap, calls this “the cute puppy syndrome”: where a developer creates a module because they want to. This is “buying the puppy”. Then suddenly, the module becomes exceptionally popular. It “becomes a dog”. And maybe you didn’t want a dog. Maybe all you wanted was a puppy. Suddenly the guilt piles up and doing what you love isn’t fun anymore.

All the developers who help make a module popular (who turn the puppy into a dog) usually have never been on the other end of the story. They have never had to sacrifice to maintain Open Source software. Those who have are more empathetic to the “plight of the maintainer.”

Thus: the mantra of “everyone wants to create, no one wants to maintain” rings true across the plains of Github.

What’s my point will all of this veiled negativity? Why would I choose to fault a system that (overall) has produced such an enormous body of work? A system that fails to accommodate the exceptional will be doomed to mediocracy. In other words: the attitudes from developers have to change if Open Source is going to continue to grow at its current pace. We need more exceptional creative developers to continue building Open Source software. Maintaining is a lot of thankless, unpaid work, and a lot of developers who become active maintainers burn out and leave their respective communities permanently.

If we continue to lose these kinds of seminal minds without learning from the mistakes that lost them we will change from trending upward to trending downward very quickly. Open Source can continue to eat itself so long as it does not overeat its talent pool.

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