Future FOSS contributions

Musings about contributing to FOSS

I write this post after several weeks/months of consideration of why I am feeling a burden when I contribute to the FOSS community, mostly the R community. I want to make public some rules I set for myself for future references and in case it helps others.

How I end up here

I use R for my work and I realized I could use it for my interests. With the creativity of a computer language that I know well, I could answer question I had and help others in the process.

As the questions I answered were more general or more community centered I got involved in more meetings and working groups. Some decisions/commitments were carefully considered, and known to be temporal, others were/are more open ended with an unclear end.

An image of Rataplan the dog of Lucky Luck.
An image of Rataplan the dog of Lucky Luck.

Current situation

  1. I often participate to the R Contributors working group (RCWG), not only meetings but other activities and task.
  2. I am member of the Bioconductor, helping in the forum from time to time1.
  3. I am member of the Bioconductor code of conduct committee.
  4. I am member of the rOpenSci community, helping in the slack and in the forum if the questions are related to the packages I have in their organization.
  5. I am member of the R repository working group (RRepoWG) from the R Foundation.
  6. I impulsed the Bioconductor Classes and Methods Working Group (although there isn’t much activity for the last year and a half).
  7. I co-organized the local R conference of my country for 2023.
  8. I co-organized the local R user group of my city last year (2-3 events) and I’ve been trying to restart it this year 2024 and contributed to others RUGs.
  9. I maintain 3-4 packages on CRAN and Bioconductor2.

I am sure there are several people doing more but after reflection I came to the conclusion that this is not sustainable/worth it for me.

Reasons to keep giving

From now on when I contribute something there are 3 reasons I will keep in mind:

  1. It is part of my work or related to it.

    When I go to these working groups I do not represent my employer or any comunity. I am not paid for anything of the previous list and I need to recover the hours when I have meetings during working hours.

    Here I also include contributions to something that might make help my career. This includes gig jobs or consulting that I am open to do.

  2. It is funny/rewarding.

    These contributions might interest me because I find funny, for example plotting a simple tree with ggplot2.

    Or because it is rewarding helping someone to solve their problems, such as helping a family member to claim her wage for their overtime.

  3. I learn something.

    I don’t like to learn new things for the sake of learning. But I enjoy learning something that could be useful: a technology, a solution, a community or new data I never analyzed. This might be for my personal interest or work related: recently having learn how to parse html/xml helped me at work doing a task in 5 minutes a simple task my boss would have need half an hour or more but I learned it for a hobby project.

If I see a project/proposal doesn’t fit any of these three I will stop contributing/maintaining. I’ll try to avoid commitments that I think that should be done that I could step up or do it but do not fit in these three rules. This includes contributing to books, mentoring, being the glue between different communities or simply sending a PR.

As my time is more stretched with commitments away from the keyword. I feel torn apart between contributing more effectively or stopping. Each hour I spend in a meeting that could/was an email is 2 hours or more that I lose, not only the opportunity cost but also the motivation3 and the time I spent preparing the meeting.

Future contributions

Aside from that and some previous commitments I will finish serving the community. I will no longer prioritize what is good for the community over what is good for me. If they overlap it will be great if it doesn’t, I’m sorry.

ikigai scheme from Wikipedia.

As you now know you can appeal to either of the three motivations now: Ask me something I might find funny/rewarding, ask me to learn something I could use or simply provide a payment or a way forward for my career.

I am open to consulting or developing something, you can contact me useing the email on the blog.

  1. I also receive answers and help too when I occasionally ask too. I also benefit of many questions from online forums (although now it is rare those I search are about R).↩︎

  2. There are many more only in github or some other communities.↩︎

  3. Which frankly lately is very low. I won’t get into details.↩︎

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Lluís Revilla Sancho

Bioinformatician with interests in software quality, mostly R.