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RailsConf 2015 - Atlanta: Day One

I'm here in Atlanta for my sixth RailsConf! RailsConf has always been a conference I enjoy attending because it includes a wide spectrum of talks and people. The days are long, but rich with nitty gritty tech details, socializing, and broader topics such as the social aspects of coding. Today's keynote started with DHH discussing the shift towards microservices to support different types of integrated systems, and then transitioned to cover code snippets of what's to come in Rails 5, to be released this year. Watch the keynote here.

Open Source & Being a Hero

One of the talks I was really looking forward to attending was "Don't Be a Hero - Sustainable Open source Dev" by Lillie Chilen (slides here, video here), because of my involvement in open source (with Piggybak, RailsAdminImport, Annotator and Spree, another Ruby on Rails ecommerce framework). In the case of RailsAdminImport, I found a need for a plugin to RailsAdmin, developed it for a client, and then released it into the open source with no plans on maintaining a community. I've watched as it's been forked by a handful of users who were in need of the same functionality, but I most recently gave another developer commit & Rubygems access since I have historically been a horrible maintainer of the project. I can leverage some of Lillie's advice to help build a group of contributors & maintainers for this project since it's not something I plan to put a ton of time into.

With Piggybak, while I haven't developed any new features for it in a while, I released it into the open source world with the intention of spending time maintaining a community after being involved in the Spree community. Piggybak was most recently upgraded to Rails 4.2.

Lillie's talk covered actionable items you can do if you find yourself in a hero role in an open source project. She explained that while there are some cool things about being a hero, or a single maintainer on a project, ultimately you are also the single point of failure of the project and your users are in trouble if you get eaten by a dinosaur (or get hit by a bus).

Here are some of these actionable items to recovery from hero status:

  1. Start with the documentation on how to get the app running, how to run tests, and how to contribute. Include comments on your workflow, such as if you like squashed commits or how documentation should look.
  2. Write down everything you do as a project maintainer and try to delegate. You might not realize all the little things you do for the project until you write them down.
  3. Try to respond quickly to requests for code reviews (or pull requests). Lillie referenced a study that mentioned if a potential contributor receives a code review within 48 hours, they are much more likely to come back, but if they don't hear back within 7 days, there is little chance they will continue to be involved.
  4. Recruit collaborators by targeted outreach. There will be a different audience of collaborators if you open source tool is an app versus a library.
  5. Manage your own expectations for contributors. Understand the motivations of contributors and try to figure out ways to encourage specific deliverables.
  6. Have regular retrospectives to analyze what's working and what's not, and encourage introspection.

While Lillie also covered several things that you can do as a contributor, I liked the focus on actionable tasks here for owners of projects. The ultimate goal should be to find other collaborators, grow a team, and figure out what you can do to encourage people to progress in the funnel and transition from user to bug fixer to contributor to maintainer. I can certainly relate to being the single maintainer on an open source project (acting as a silo), with no clear plan as to how to grow the community.

Other Hot Topics

A couple of other hot topics that came up in a few talks were microservices and Docker. I find there are hot topics like this at every RailsConf, so if the trend continues, I'll dig deeper into these topics.

What Did I Miss?

I always like to ask what talks people found memorable throughout the day in case I want to look back at them later. Below are a few from today. I'd like to revisit these later & I'll update to include the slides when I find them.

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