Being an OSS superstar can be a humbling experience

Image credit: Just dance | Shutterstock.com

Years ago, I was so confident, and so naive. I was so sure that I was right and everyone else was wrong. Unfortunately I was lucky and got successful, so that kept me ignorant of my shortcomings. I sold my company, felt ready to do something new, and started to learn. But the more I learned, the more I realized how little I knew, and how dumb-lucky I had been. I continued learning until I felt like an absolute idiot…
So I’m glad my old confidence is gone, because it thought I was right, and maybe even great.Derek Sivers.

Confidence is a fascinating thing in OSS. There are so many facets to it. One person can rightfully build the confidence that comes from being the best in the world at one facet, but completely lack confidence in many of the other facets. Or be a virtuoso within their project / environment but be out of their depth in another organisation’s environment.

In my previous post I discussed how much of a bottleneck I became on my first OSS project. Most members of that project team had a reliance on the information / data that I knew how to find and interpret. Most members of the project team had problems that “my” information / data would help them to solve.

As they say, knowledge is power and I had the confidence that came with having that knowledge / power. My ego thrived on the importance of having that knowledge / power. That ego was built on helping the team solve many of the huge number of problems we faced. But as with most ego plays, I was being selfish in retrospect. 

Having access to all of the problems, and helping to solve them, meant I was learning at a rapid rate (by my limited standards). That was exciting. Realising there were so many problems to solve in this field probably helped spawn my passion for OSS.

With the benefit of hindsight, I was helping, but also hindering in almost equal measures. Like Derek, “the more I learned, the more I realized how little I knew, and how dumb-lucky I had been.” To be honest, I’ve always been aware of just how little I know across the many facets of OSS. But the more I learn, the more I realise just how big the knowledge chasm is. And with the speed of change currently afoot, the chasm is only getting wider. Not just for me, but for all of us I suspect. Do you feel it too?

Also like Derek, my old naive confidence is gone. A humbler confidence now replaces it, one derived from many humbling experiences and failures (i.e. learning experiences) along the way.

There are superstars on every OSS project team. You’ve worked with many of them no doubt. But let me ask you a question. If you think back on those superstars, how many have also been bottlenecks on your projects? How many have thrived on the importance of being the bottleneck? Conversely, how many have mastered the art of not just being the superstar performer, but also the on-field leader who brings others into the game? The one who can make an otherwise dysfunctional OSS team function more cohesively.

Leave a comment below if you’d like to share a story of your experience dealing with OSS superstars (or being the superstar). What have you learned from that experience?

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