What is your goal?

Many people have (personal) projects. Some people have many, some people have only one, and some people are in between projects. In the world of open source software, the open source software project is very often some people’s personal project. Even if open source projects are a good example, this is not related to open source software, software development or even the digital world in general.

In the last few years, with the ubiquity of git and plentiful availability of source code repository hosting (primarily GitHub, but also GitLab and BitBucket), open source can potentially be a very fast-paced hobby. The threshold to contribution is as low as it has ever been. It is easy and fast to contribute. (That does, however, not mean that contributions are readily accepted.) Projects that gain some popularity can attract new contributors very quickly. This makes open source development an exceptionally fast-paced environment. Much faster than many things outside of the digital world.

With the increase of speed and the pace of development, other problems form. I have heard of multiple occurrences where developers “lose themselves” in their project. The sheer amount of activity is so large that all focus goes to the project’s management and the “perceived importance, requirements, needs of its users”. Developers are so focused on delivering on perceived and expressed expectations that they do not take time to take a step back and consider what their personal goal for this project is … or rather, was.

Now, understand that when we talk about a personal goal, we’re not talking about their own desired improvements to the project. Instead, we are talking about what motivates the developers, brings satisfaction for his efforts: his reason for starting/joining the project in the first place. The personal goal can be very different from the target of the project. The project is the mechanism. It is just a very direct, effective and efficient way of enabling you to realize this goal.

I have no personal experience in completely losing sight of the goal. I did however experience how, when project dynamics change, you need to re-evaluate your role in the project. And my own goals have also changed in the meantime. My previous goals, i.e. my reasons for joining the project in the first place, were no longer valid (at least not completely). I did not decide to pick new, unrelated goals. Instead, my goals have silently evolved since then. This change in particular, indicates that it might be time to change focus.

So, think about your current project, on-line or off-line. Are your goals still aligned with your project efforts/contributions? Does it still give you the new experiences and satisfaction that you aimed for at the start? Or have your goals evolved?