contributing to projects in the enterprise

Posted by anton
on Sunday, November 25, 2007

i really like this idea of starlets grouplets (as used by googlers) – informal gatherings of people interested in the same topic and willing to dedicate their 20% “extra-curriculum” time to it.

they do not necessarily come from the same team (in fact most of them do not), but they come to work on something together. for some of them it might even become their “main” project.

there are probably half a dozen (at least) small-ish projects at work that i would like to hack on – from an api to a commonly used tool to some improvements to existing tools. this is the stuff that has been created and is maintained by other groups elsewhere, but i have the energy, the ideas, and the expertise to contribute.

the unfortunate thing is that right now it is pretty much impossible (at least with the projects i am interested in). it is not necessarily the direct managerial support – although it would make it easier. i think for motivated people this support does not matter as much – most of the stuff like that i’ve done on my own time as a skunkworks project.

i think the biggest roadblock in my case is the internal culture – people just do not think this way. their first reaction is suspicion and thinly veiled irritation. i understand that this is probably the result of many incompetent people bombarding them with impatient requests, but wouldn’t it be nice, if i simply could check out some code, tinker with it, and then submit a patch? and have someone answer my question or two? it would immediately help some of my daily activities, and benefit others. sort of like the way open source projects are – scratch my own itch and help others in the process.

perhaps, one of the first steps is to make it easier – open up source control, do not require one to chew through the permissions/requests muck to get access to code/environments, start an area on an internal forum (you got one, right?) and an area in an internal wiki (you got one, right?).

most of it will benefit you, but also allow others to come in and contribute. in fact, most of the stuff that can be done is simply a copy of best practices by open source projects.

apropos

Posted by anton
on Thursday, November 15, 2007

speaking of motivation, this article by esther derby that muness pointed out to me a while ago is quite appropriate. here’s a quote:

Most people show up for a new job with high motivation. They’re excited and they want to do a good job. But as the weeks pass, motivation dribbles away. It’s not because managers are failing to motivate these once-enthusiastic people. It’s because organizational systems, policies-and yes, management actions-actively demotivate people.

sadly, i’ve seen this happen over and over again.

this time with the newcomer is quite special – take advantage of it (or cultivate it, if possible). they have a perspective and the motivation that might disappear later. they can bring in the new ideas, point out something you’ve never thought of, or simply challenge the status quo. this sort of disruptive energy is very healthy and should happen on regular basis… just stop demotivating me! (sorry, i could not resist – the article title is way too catchy)

looks matter

Posted by anton
on Wednesday, November 14, 2007

well, actually, excitement matters.

in particular, how do you motivate people to contribute; to write that dreaded documentation, for instance?

perhaps one thing worth trying is appealing to the geeky side and giving them(us) toys tools that tap into intrinsic motivations.

in my experience it turns out that if output looks pretty and is immediately available (and especially instantly viewable by others) – people are motivated to tinker and create. in fact, this is precisely the stuff that made internet happen.

to reiterate – instant turn-around and aesthetically pleasing results will take you a long way. probably somewhat related, but better worded – optimize for happiness.

this post is brought to you by the scars and bruises acquired by yours truly as i crawl away from a slow and beaten up twiki instance (that looks like something designed by that stoic mosaic folk back in the day; man, i can hear the sound of knuckles scraping the floor).

refactoring quote

Posted by anton
on Tuesday, November 13, 2007

great quote from ward cunningham in response to steve mcconnell’s post on technical debt:

I would also sometimes explain refactoring to my management as follows: “We tried to add the feature to our application but found that there was no place for it. So we first made a place, and then added the feature there.”