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Why do we do what we do? We talk about intrinsic motivation, the role it plays in creative work with uncertain outcomes, motivating new contributors, and sustaining motivation over time.


Conversations may be edited for clarity. (edit)

00:00 Henry: So, in this episode, uh, I want to bring up topics around like work burnout and work and why we do what we do. And, um, I guess, motivations and, and goals that we have when we’re working in open source or, or anything in life.

00:17 Henry: Uh, I guess, the last weeks, I, I’ve been feeling kind of burnt out in terms of, um, just like the burden of doing something in public, I guess. And also, you know, having … not being able to release, uh, a major version for like a year. And like kind of everyday it’s like, “Oh, I still haven’t finished,” kind of thing.

00:37 Henry: And so, um, there’s a similar issue with … i- in faith too where it’s like, you know, you’re working and, um, maybe you’ve lost sight of the vision or stuff like that.

00:50 Nadia: Hmm. I wonder … i- it seems like this is sort of relevant to I guess my work in research. And I was just thinking about that with relation to faith and with open source, of sometimes I think what makes it hard is your timeline is not super clear and you don’t always have these measures of how do you know you’re doing something well or not.

01:14 Nadia: I was just thinking maybe this is also why people in non-profit work or just like social sector work can also get burned up because, um, there’s kind of no end to it and you don’t like … almost like, I mean, the definition of faith is that like you don’t know what you’re having faith in, that what you’re doing makes sense or the … this is the right thing to be doing. And it’s a lot about just sort of like just trusting yourself and being very inwardly focused instead of looking for external indicators of how well you’re doing.

01:42 Nadia: And I think like maybe that’s also true for a lot of open source work where it’s not clear when a product is ever done, right? It’s sort of like, well, and if it’s not ever done or there’s always something else I could be doing, then how do I find a way to sort of find my own inner quiet and … be able to sort of stand still and say, “I’m doing this for me and not because I’m chasing after whatever extrinsic reward there is.

02:14 Henry: Yeah. I think that’s something that even just for software itself. I, I talked about this on, um, a different podcast, but like how unlike … like if you’re writing a book or a paper or a movie or a piece of artwork, it’s like there is a point where it’s done, and you’re not ever … you’re not really ever go back and make it better. But with software, you can always make a new version. In some sense, it never ends, which is … can be helpful and also not helpful if you’re feeling burned out (laughs).

02:47 Nadia: Yeah. And starting … it’s finding some, some way to just be happy and be in the moment versus chasing towards some end, right?

02:59 Henry: Yeah. I mean, I guess with faith, it’s like you … yeah, it is, uh, I mean, it’s kind of it’s a lifelong commitment really. And so, there is no, um, yeah, I, I, I, you know, there i- … there is a sense where we, we, we all wanna have some kind of validation, but if we’re all seeking that and we’re never really always gonna have it, um, it does, yeah, it does have to come internally where it’s like, “Yeah, I’m internally motivated to continue moving on.”

03:35 Henry: And yeah, what you said like being in the moment and, um, enjoying what’s happening right now, even if it’s not going well at at the current time, but like having hope, um, through what the future holds, I guess.

03:52 Nadia: I think it’s part of why community becomes so important in these situations-

03:55 Henry: Yeah.

03:55 Nadia: … too like, ‘cause like it is … community can make you … can bring you back to the present moment in that you’re thinking about the connections you’re feeling to the people around you. I just like, I generally notice that I’m much, much happier when I feel connected to other people and ch- … that’s like a very present thing, right? Like community isn’t really so much about-

04:14 Henry: Mm.

04:15 Nadia: I mean, yes, it’s less about the past or the future and it’s more about like in this moment, I feel like I’m part of something. And so, I’m wondering if that just like helps draw our mental eye back to the present instead of trying to project into the future.

04:27 Henry: Yeah, and not … like ‘cause the future and the past, it’s all about like worry, like, “What’s gonna happen to me?” Or “What’s gonna happen to this project?” versus, yeah, being in the present. And even, a similar where presence, the presence of other people, and kind of like we were talking earlier about how like if you’re doing something that’s hard or difficult, um, with other people or you’re gonna … there’s like … there’s like a, a sense of burning that you get.

04:57 Henry: And struggling through something together can definitely help. And so with, with faith, it’s like maybe you’re not, you know … um, yeah, you’re not feeling great, but other people can build you up. In the same way with open source, when you’re feeling burnt out, you know, talking to other people on your team or other maintainers …

05:18 Henry: I know when I was feeling like that just like this last week, I don’t know, just talking about it with friends, um, yeah, it really helps at least to get you out of that place so that you can continue to move forward from getting stuck.

05:37 Nadia: What are the ways in which those conversations happen naturally in like a faith-based community?

05:45 Henry: Yeah, um-

05:46 Nadia: Is there space for that?

05:48 Henry: Right. That’s a … that’s a really good point, actually, because you think about it, um, it’s like if you’re feeling this way, you might feel weird about telling someone about something you’re dealing with. And so, um, I think the fact that, you know, in a community or Christian community, there’s like almost explicit, you know, I guess structures for that. I- it’s helpful ‘cause you’re like, okay, you know, say, um …

06:15 Henry: Yesterday we had like a prayer meeting and, I mean, that’s literally a time where you can go and talk to someone about what you’re dealing with. And so, you know, there’s a time to kind of, uh, we … and we have a worship session and then we pray and we use the word intercede. So praying on behalf of other people like what’s going on in our … the country or the city or the church, and then afterward, just, uh, with the people that are there. And you know, we’re called to, you know, talk to people that we don’t know and people that we do know.

06:47 Henry: And this is just like after work and you know people are tired, but they’re willing to, you know, be there for one another … and it’s like, you know, in a smaller environment so it’s, uh, pretty intimate. It’s not like, uh, you know, out in the open or whenever.

07:05 Henry: And so that’s like, uh, every week that you could have that opportunity. Otherwise it’s like, um, if you’re in like a … we call them like small groups, when you join a church, it’s, it’s hard to meet people if, you know, maybe there’s hundreds of people or something, you’re never going to be able to meet everyone, and be able to go deeper, right? And so, having a group … and then we have our own group chat, and everyone has their own contact. You can message people directly, uh, if you’re dealing with something.

07:39 Henry: Like my friend, uh, he, he just met … or called me the other day ‘cause he was trying to … he was dealing with some issues with work, and, wanted … and the job stuff. And so, I was able to talk about it with him … but, yeah, like it would be interesting to think about how, how would we have that in open source.

08:01 Nadia: ‘Cause I feel like … I mean, even as you describe that, it sounds like there’s, there’s almost two purposes in being able to share your … what you’re feeling with the rest of the community and like one is almost having other people just bear witness to something you’re experiencing, which-

08:17 Henry: Mm.

08:17 Nadia: … because I mean, like, saying you’re having a hard time or a hard week or whatever, it gets very different in a context of … like I don’t know the size of the small groups you’re talking about. But even if it were like five people, it’s, it’s very different to have a conversation in that context versus one-on-one. And it sounds sort of like there was one thing to be able to say publicly like-

08:38 Henry: Hmm.

08:39 Nadia: … why you’re just kind of having a hard time, you know, so that people know that that’s true. And then it’s another to kind of go off in that side channel, like what you’re talking about with your friend, and having like a more one-on-one conversation about what’s going on. But those are like different, different channels, right?

08:55 Henry: Right. So like, in a small group setting, you might share with the whole group. And then, maybe individual people can speak up. But then, you, you definitely … there is, um, intentional like kind of breaking up into like one-on-ones kind of thing, ‘cause yeah, then it’s just different dynamic and di- di- … around different people, you know? Maybe not everyone can understand what you’re dealing with, so.

09:20 Nadia: Yes.

09:21 Henry: And, um, I guess it’s like, yeah, what you said about bearing witness, like you want … you wanna be, I guess, known. You want people to like know what you’re going through. And that, that time requires, um, a more personal one-on-one situation.

09:41 Nadia: Do you feel like there are explicit spaces for that in like … I mean, it’s not even just open source, but any sort of like, largely asynchronous work context, like I felt this- … I worked at two completely or mostly distributed companies now. And when you don’t have that sort of like casual watercooler topic, it’d be hard to be like, you know, the only time you’d … if the only time we talk to each other is about a work or a task-oriented thing, then like where do you find the space to have those side conversations? And like I found it comes just from like forming personal relationships and then be able to talk to that person, but it’s, yeah, it’s um, yeah, it’s hard to find that space.

10:22 Henry: Yeah. I don’t know if it comes … I mean, like, anyways, it comes naturally then. It’s just, you know, you find someone that just happens to … that just feels like you’re, you’re able to share with that person. But, so maybe it’s not like a company per se has to create those kinds of spaces, but, um, provide the environment in which you can feel comfortable doing that. So, I don’t think it means that you necessarily have to make like meetings or that kind of thing, but like, um, through just like conversations at lunch, or, or outside of work, it’s like that’s when you kind of get to know people out- outside of the work context.

11:00 Henry: And then, yeah, people will bring up, you know, what they do ou- outside of that and what they’re dealing with sometimes.

11:07 Henry: I’ve had people that even at work, they’ve asked about like, uh, just, they’re like, “Oh, yeah. You’re … you know, you, you’re talking about faith a lot,” and so that conversation comes up. And then, through that, you might talk about things that we’re dealing with and how I handle that, so.

11:27 Nadia: I think I brought this up last time we, we talked. Um, but it also … it just brings up this question for me of like how much do you share with fellow maintainers versus how much do you share with the general public and like how much do you kind of filter it to be like, oh, everything is going great versus like, a smaller set of people where you can be honest?

11:45 Nadia: And I, I saw that you like tweeted a few days ago about being like, “Hey, I wanna feel … I’m feeling like not so …” (laughs) and like clearly like you didn’t do that at all in like how, like, whe- when do you feel comfortable sharing that stuff super publicly versus like in a more intimate context. And, and also like what was your reaction to being able to say something like that publicly?

12:06 Henry: Yeah, that’s it. That was a struggle and I didn’t even wanna say anything at all, um, because it’s like you don’t really … well, that’s the thing, right? The point of it (laughs) part of the point of the community is so that you can bring your burdens to people to know about. But I don’t wanna just like be all negative all the time. Obviously, everyone’s going through stuff all the time. And I don’t know if tweeting like a thing that just says, “I’m not feeling well,” is that even that helpful ‘cause there’s really no context. And so, it’s like I almost feel like I have to bring all this stuff so that people understand. Otherwise it’s just like, “Why do I even need to say it if I’m not saying anything then that means something, you know, is up” I guess (laughs).

12:49 Henry: I don’t know. But, yeah. And then, with … in a more private conversation’s easy ‘cause you … and you, maybe you have a private Slack channel just for the maintainers and you just talk about it like, “Hey, I’m .. I just … I’m not feeling well.” Like, “I don’t think I can work today,” or stuff like that.

13:03 Henry: Um, publicly, it’s so weird. Like I, I don’t wanna … I don’t want people to have the impression that like, um, I’m like some like superhuman that like doesn’t have these issues. But I also don’t wanna like, uh, I don’t know. It’s, it’s hard (laughs).

13:23 Nadia: Yeah.

13:26 Henry: And I feel like it’s better if it’s more, uh … like if I wrote a blog that’s about that, it would feel better to me even as there’s more context.

13:38 Nadia: Hmm. And almost like maybe more distance too of … I mean, so I think of it more as like you might write a blog post as a reflection to work out your feelings, which doesn’t necessarily necessitate a response.

13:52 Henry: Yeah. Like I’m not looking for someone to like help me, per se, ‘cause we’re … it would be weird to ask … I don’t know. It’s just like I’m asking random people online for like support in that way versus like … I know there’s people that are more close to you locally that you probably wanna share with.

14:09 Nadia: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

14:10 Henry: Not that I wouldn’t accept that help. It’s just that there’s, there’s no connection there really, so.

14:15 Nadia: Yeah.

14:15 Henry: Um, it’s kind of one-way usually.

14:17 Nadia: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So how do you like … I guess, shifting a little bit, um, how do you find that level of like intrinsic motivation, um, when like if you are feeling that way, to just like find that sort of like inner peace and inner calm?

14:40 Henry: Yeah, ‘cause, you know, I think in the end when you start feeling the sense of like almost like dread and like not wanting to even look at it, ‘cause a lot of it for me was that, you know, we haven’t released this major version in like over a year. And so, like, everyday someone’s gonna be like, “Hey, how is it going?” Kind of thing. And then, each time like if you’re already feeling bad, you don’t even wanna like think about it. You just wanna like do stuff, and that everything is a distraction to, to that.

15:08 Henry: And so, I don’t know. It makes you think about like, “Yeah, why are you doing this in the first place? How did I even get to this point?” And what happens is, yeah, you put so much pressure on yourself, which in the end is as … to me it feels like just pride because that means I don’t wanna actually say that I either messed up or don’t know what I’m doing, because if I finally realize that, then I should feel free to just get the work done.

15:38 Henry: And there’s this weird internal pressure to keep moving. So when you’re not like … I think if you’re new, you … it’s good to have that kind of thing ‘cause it pushes you to go forward, but when you’re already doing it, I don’t know if you need to like feel like I have to keep … continue to output, you know, like, oh, if I don’t have a consistent thing that I’m not like doing well, and I have to continue to like satisfy people’s wants, but that’s all perceived.

16:11 Nadia: It seems like so much of the unhappiness or discontent that I’ve noticed in myself and in other people on these situations is less about what you’re doing and more about a fear around how are you being perceived for what you’re doing. It’s like only when you have this sort of like external measure that you’re worried about like, yeah, what will people think if we haven’t like done this release yet? Um, that then people get upset and like tuning that out is a pretty like fast way to stop feeling shitty about (laughs) it.

16:43 Henry: Yeah. That’s why I was saying I wanted to … I was telling you I wanted to write that blog post about fear-driven development.

16:47 Nadia: (laughs).

16:48 Henry: Because that’s what I was feeling. It just paralyzes you in everything.

16:53 Nadia: It’s hard to find that perfect balance between … like, to some extent, I think I’m like pretty … you know, I, I think I generally skew towards I’m doing the things I’m doing because I wanna do them. Um, but if no one ever paid attention to anything I did, I would also be like kind of sad, I think. I’d kind of feel like (laughs) does anyone care? Um-

17:16 Henry: Yeah. Does what we do matter? Yeah.

17:17 Nadia: Yeah, like, you wanna feel like you’re contributing to something, to the world. And so like, like there is some version of like fear-related (laughs) development that is probably like a good, um, forcing function-

17:25 Henry: Mm.

17:26 Nadia: … to you. You don’t wanna feel like it just doesn’t matter at all what other people think. But then, on the other hand, you also wanna have it, like you said … I mean, i- it will just become paralyzing if you think about it too much. And finding that in-between is really hard, um-

17:41 Henry: Right.

17:42 Nadia: I was thinking about this with writing recently just ‘cause like now that I’m working in research, it’s like what is my output and my output is probably just like documenting and publishing a lot of knowledge and, um, it led me to surveys and in some of the tools I’ve been using, in the past couple years when I wasn’t working in research. And like Medium and Twitter are like two things that sometimes, when I use them, I feel really good, and sometimes I just feel like stressed out about it because it needs me to tailor like to an audience.

18:14 Nadia: And when I think about doing research in particular, it’s about like doing things that aren’t well understood in that people might not understand at first, and the thought of publishing that where I’m like worried about how many people are responding to it is just like a very stressful non-productive environment for me and makes me like not wanna write at all. And I feel like I’ve only, I … just in like the last week or so, figured out how to resolve that for myself by, um …

18:42 Nadia: Like ideally, I feel like I’m just gonna not publish on Medium at all and like I start publishing like my private notes just on my own website so that it’s not like on Twitter. It’s just if you wanna read it, it’s out there, but it’s not, um, something that I need like validation for. And yeah, just finding a, a place where I can say like, “I’m doing my work over here and you can watch if you want.” But like, “I’m not doing this in order to get your approval.” It’s like, yeah, working in a semi-public context, I guess, um, yeah, being able to just like tune out what other people are saying.

19:21 Henry: Yeah, I mean, I, I guess that’s the issue with doing anything in public, which all of open source is. And then, i- it comes about thinking about what people think versus even doing it in the first place. And then, yeah, like you said, I don’t even wanna do it anymore (laughs).

19:34 Nadia: Right. I was talking to a friend about this, who’s also an open source developer. And he was saying like, “I don’t understand why, uh, companies are so protective about wanting to build everything privately before they open source it.” And, um … and he, he challenged me to … I was like I kind of get it because like sometimes you just … you wanna do … if you have a strong visionary DF or something, you kind of just wanna like develop it and … because you need to get this thing out that’s inside of you, before you start, you know, having other people kind of poking around and looking at it.

20:07 Nadia: And he had challenged me to, to think of like, had, had there been any like super negative examples of someone like uh, uh, open source project that was open sourced too early and turned into some sort of like PR disaster. And I said, “Yeah, I can’t … I can’t really think of one,” and like it’s true, like, it is sort of considered to be this worst-case scenario if you open source too soon. But like has it actually like hurt anyone? But I don’t think it’s necessarily about that, like worst-case scenario of something is shared that’s too private or whatever. But it’s more just about like … The reason why I’m more in favor of doing some things privately or just, at least, not advertising them at first is because like, I feel like you need that quiet space in order to do something really creative.

20:53 Henry: No, I hear you. Um, it’s … yeah. I don’t think there are any … there’s no disasters because that … I don’t even think there, there can really be a disaster if you do it. It’s just that what happens is, is you’re inviting other people to get involved. And so, that won’t change like how sort of, you know, the eventual … how the project’s gonna move going forward.

21:14 Henry: And so, if you have that vision, you’re kind of like … not that you don’t want people’s opinions, but it’s like you wanna figure out what the core is yourself, and you haven’t even found that. And so, someone’s gonna take in, move in a different direction.

21:25 Henry: Or you’re going to have to spend more of your time just doing open source, which is like maybe everyone just keeps forgetting how much work it takes to maintain a project, especially in the beginning, because you’re going to find that like once you do your tweet or blog post, that like, you know, 20,000 people star in your repo, and, and now you’re going to have all these people like, “Hey, I wanna contribute here and here” and then you don’t even do the work anymore.

21:50 Henry: So maybe …it’s not that it … it’s like a worst-case scenario where it makes it worse, but it’s more like it just delays the release actually.

21:59 Nadia: Yeah. Like it’s, it’s, it’s almost like what’s the uncaptured potential that got derailed. Plus, it’s less about something super negative happened or more that maybe you didn’t get to do all the things you would have been able to do if tons of people weren’t paying attention, um-

22:14 Henry: Right. So I guess it’s like at what point do you do the release? It’s like if you’re still trying to figure out what the point of this project is then I (laughs) don’t think you should do it, that … unless you just … you want like certain people to be involved.

22:27 Nadia: I mean, the reason why he brought up was he was saying the, the flip side of taking too long to release … and I definitely think there are … I mean, there are … there is a, a flip side where like, you know, there is some projects that should have been released earlier that weren’t.

22:41 Nadia: He said, the flip side is that like people’s enthusiasm might wane and, um, like you’re, you’re, you’re not capturing the potential of this group that could have been your evangelist, but instead they got kind of bored because you took too long to release something and they kind of like walked away disappointed. And so, his approach was sort of saying like, “Can, can you engage those people as early as possible and have them contribute?”

23:05 Nadia: But I think, like, even by that same reasoning, it’s another reason not to open source too early because if you have someone come in super early and like you said, you, you have to figure out the core of the thing you’re trying to do yet. And they’re excited to contribute, but like you don’t … you’re not even sure how to direct them, then they’ll still be I think disappointed and walk away. So, like, I don’t think bringing them earlier necessarily even gives them an opportunity to participate, um-

23:34 Henry: That’s interesting ‘cause you’re like kind of inviting in like the floodgates of peo-

23:38 Nadia: Yeah.

23:39 Henry: That kind of like makes me think like how is that different from after it’s released because whereas the floodgates are still open and so … and we’re still trying to figure out what we’re doing later. And there’s still, you know, all these people that can come in, uh, 24/7 at any point in time from anywhere around the world, which is really great, but that is like a recipe for disaster, I guess-

24:02 Nadia: Yeah, it sounds (laughs)-

24:02 Henry: … right?

24:02 Nadia: It sounds horrifying to me (laughs).

24:06 Henry: And then I think about it, that’s exactly what we did (laughs). We allow-

24:09 Nadia: Yeah. That is what open source actually is.

24:11 Henry: Um, and so I’m not opposed to, you know, put … “putting barriers” um, not because I don’t want people to be in, but it’s like the fact that we allow everyone just means everyone has a bad experience. And so-

24:26 Nadia: Right.

24:26 Henry: … for our own sake and for new people’s sakes, so that they don’t leave, we should figure out a way … like kind of like maybe what we said last episode about like finding committed people that wanna be a part of this project in depth versus like some surface-level thing.

24:44 Nadia: Right. Right, which is like a … actually, I, I just had a conversation with someone else about that. I was like how … like what are your heuristics for being able to tell when someone is not just in it … they’re not just gonna like peace out for the project, but they’re actually like a little bit more interested in sticking around.

25:02 Nadia: Like I’m curious for you, like how do … how do you know that, um … either in a faith or open source context, for like how do you know when someone isn’t just sort of there to like, do their thing and leave.

25:13 Henry: Yeah, I … I don’t even know if there’s a, a way to really know, um, whether it’s open source, faith. And even my friend (laughs) that was just asking me today, um, how … what’s the best way for me to like start learning how to code? And I’m like, “Wow, that’s a really simple question, but I feel like I don’t have an answer.” (laughs)

25:31 Henry: And, and then I was like, oh, maybe you guys should start up like a fun little like, you know, group of people that I can teach them and stuff. But then, I’m doing the same thing again. Like I can invite anyone. I don’t know if they’re committed. I don’t know if they’re gonna stay. And so, obviously, the first suggestion he has like, “Oh, then we can pay you for it.” And so, maybe that’s how some people think about it. It’s like, “Oh, there’s a barrier franchising cost. Like, the fact that there’s a cost at all means that certain people won’t wanna do it.”

25:58 Henry: But it doesn’t have to be a monetary cost. I think, yeah. I think that it made sense to me that they have to provide some level of something that says that they’re willing to sacrifice, um, to be a part of this thing versus kind of like, I mean, they can leave whenever they want, but then it’s like we wanna know like that we’re … they’re able to invest … ‘cause I wanna spend all this time to help you, then I wanna know that you’re in it.

26:27 Nadia: It’s really interesting. I think … that’s a … I think a- an interesting example because, yeah, I think we’ve like historically used money to help commit people. Like there’s studies about how if … even you pay one dollar for an event-

26:41 Henry: Right.

26:41 Nadia: It’s like, you know, we’re likely to show up than if you, if you had zero dollars. And that’s like I guess one way of motivating people through like an extrinsic reward, but, um, learn to code in particular is interesting just because there are so many public resources at this stage for someone who’s learning to code. And I think the like … the tension I struggle with at least is like there’s a part of me that wants to say, “Well, how about you go learn on your own for a bit, and then like if you’re still interested, then, cool, we’ll go deeper.”

27:11 Nadia: But like the trade-off with that is like, well, it’s, you know, you don’t wanna … you don’t wanna make the barrier to entry so high up that it’s like your people aren’t learning who otherwise would have like … maybe some people would learn better in a setting that’s super structured with like a teacher, um, who’s like kinda walking them through something and then for other people they can just like kinda read through things and like figure out their own, but like, I don’t know, unless, unless you’re doing it as your job or because you just love the act of teaching someone how to code.

27:45 Nadia: Like, I would think about it as like, well, I wanna know that you care. And the best way for me to know whether you actually care is if you’ve done a little bit of the work yourself before bringing me in, um-

27:58 Henry: Yeah. That was my thinking, but, uh … it’s hard ‘cause I … it’d be funny if … so, thinking about it in terms of faith context, it’s like, “Hey, I wanna, like, learn about what does … what does it mean to be a Christian or come to your church and then you tell them, “Oh, you should do it by yourself” (laughs)

28:13 Nadia: (laughs)

28:15 Henry: That sounds crazy. Um-

28:16 Nadia: Yeah.

28:17 Henry: So, but then with coding, it’s same. I don’t, I don’t … like it … so with open source too, like, so many people are like, “Oh, check out the issues.” I’ve … I never thought that was a good idea because I just, I just don’t see how they’re really gonna get it. I happened to learn it that way, but I don’t know. I just happen to like be super motivated to, to do it anyway. And like go through all that pain or struggle or whatever it is. But I don’t see that being like a normal way of doing it.

28:47 Nadia: I think this is why it is sort of different from a faith example, in that like there’s some … I think it’s, it’s more … there’s a more obvious, um, mutuality to that relationship if someone comes to church and says they wanna be part of it because like you worshipping and learning alongside another person kind of strengthens your own practice. Um, there’s … and I think that’s similar to with … like learn the code where if you just love teaching someone how to code, then you’ll just happily teach them regardless of whatever they’ve been doing because it just feels good to you to teach someone and then they’re learning. And like there is again that mutuality.

29:28 Nadia: If you’re not super excited about spending your time teaching someone how to code, but you would be if they were like really, really psyched about it, then I do think it makes sense to like have a little bit more friction there. So, yeah, I mean, it just like it’s … I guess it really just depends on the particular person and, and like what’s incentivizing them to be there.

29:47 Nadia: I think about this with, like, uh … like I get a lot of inbound around people asking about how to structure the community around a project they wanna open source, which is always kind of funny because I’m like, I don’t know. I don’t know. Sometimes it’s actually like I’m like, “I’m not the person you should ask about that,” (laughs), um, because I’m not a maintainer. I don’t know. Like, uh, it’s always like a little bit bizarre for me. Um, but I get a lot of inbound right there and at some point, for me to … like it’s not that fun for me to sit and regurgitate like, “Here are all the things you should think about,” because like it’s, it’s public and like you should …

30:27 Nadia: Like I don’t, I don’t wanna … it’s not … I’m only gonna engage in those conversations if I feel like it will be fun for me too. And that’s not me being selfish, but it’s like … I just like … I only have so much time in my life (laughs), like I’m not gonna spend it just like repeating mindlessly something that you can find out on your own.

30:44 Nadia: But if I do feel like there’s some other reason why I would wanna talk to that person or I’m … that I’m capable of learning something too, then like I might be more likely to talk to them.

30:54 Henry: Yeah. And maybe I, I think about it now it’s a lot of it’s just like kind of the environment in which they’re asking it. Like if it’s like an email or open source, I feel less inclined to wanna help even though I’m doing it now. But maybe that’s just ‘cause I’m used to it. I feel like now I don’t really wanna do as much because it’s digital.

31:15 Henry: When you’re … when someone’s asking you for help, like my friend, like they’re my friend. So like maybe I’ll just do it anyway or … and I’m doing it in person. And then, when … and someone comes around church, it’s like I’m … well, I’m already like committed to being there anyway. And then, they went out of their way to like come here on a certain day at a certain time at this place. And so, I already … there’s almost like a level of commitment that I can see-

31:40 Nadia: Right.

31:40 Henry: … just for them asking. But when it’s online, like they could have just, you know, did this randomly. So I don’t … I can’t know from that.

31:48 Nadia: Right. Yeah. It’s like it doesn’t really actually cost you anything if someone just wants to come and worship with you in the same place. Um, it’s all … it’s only really additive I think as long as we’re not like, I don’t know-

32:01 Henry: Weird, yeah.

32:01 Nadia: Yeah, weird (laughs).

32:01 Henry: Yeah. Yeah.

32:01 Nadia: Um-

32:01 Henry: Whatever that is.

32:06 Nadia: Yeah, it’s like I don’t know what that would mean (laughs). Um, but yeah. I mean, I guess, like, I think a more equivalent analogy would be if you were, um, yeah, if you just had like tons and tons of people coming into the church all the time, that were asking about the same thing and that required your personal touch. Then, at, at some point, you’ll probably start to filter … and I think you’re right, like, yeah, taking the time to come all the way to church is like … or just, yeah, showing up to a physical setting is like such a higher level of commitment than firing off an email.

32:38 Henry: Right. And like, it’s almost so much that we’re like, “Wow, like someone actually came.” And it’s like, okay, were really gonna help you (laughs).

32:43 Henry: And so another thing we do is like, uh, if they are new and, and they, they said … like in the announcements, we’ll be like, “Hey, if you’re new, then you can come to like this interview,” where there are people that their role is to be there for people that are new and give them more information about what the church is about or whatever.

33:04 Henry: And then, usually, there’re people that stay back, they’re like, “Oh, we’ll get lunch with you and we’ll talk about XYZ with you.” So it’s not just like … because otherwise it’s kind of like, uh, you go there and you leave, like it’s almost like a weird like it’s like a mall where you’re shopping or something like, “Hey, I went to the store. I got something out of it. Now I’m leaving.” And then I’m just … I don’t need me to come here when I happen to stop by or whenever. It’s like, no, we wanna be like, you know, intentional.

33:29 Henry: And then we’ll try to follow up like either through the email or, or, you know, doing like a lunch thing one-on-one later. And that’s like so different from like open source space. It’s just like, “Oh yeah, they showed up and then maybe they’ll have another PR, right. It’s like (laughs) so different.

33:45 Nadia: Well, I think that’s where I’m wondering like what are your … can you tell from … and the first like … the first contact like whether someone is more intrinsically motivated? And, like, how would … how would you be able to like feel that out, just to know like … ‘cause I, I do think it … there are some people in church or at open source who are just gonna … I think we had talked about this last time too, like, I think it is okay if you wanna just kind of show up, enjoy it once and leave. But then, you, you also wouldn’t wanna like spend too much time on someone like that. You wanna just let them have their experience and then you’re not gonna like follow up a ton.

34:23 Nadia: So like how do you … like are there, are there ways to sort of just like know through your experience of like this person might care a little bit more than the average?

34:35 Henry: Yeah. I think maybe then it’s … yeah, we’re … so we’re not like preventing people from going or for whatever they wanna do. But it’s like, “Can we provide an option or opportunities for people to like commit more, you know, like, oh, I … and even, even just be like, “Oh, I’m gonna … am I gonna see you next week? Or like, “Do you wanna get involved in this a- activity?” Or whatever that is. And that was another level of, “Okay, I need to be there,” kind of thing. I don’t …

35:04 Henry: And maybe that’s part of the fact that like with … in a church setting, there is a consistency and a schedule to things. Um, and that is … it’s good. They’re having a structure or at least even like … actually, it’s fine. Even coming to church, it’s like they know there’s a time … well, like assuming they found at the website or they just happened to pass by, like there’s a time and place for it. Whereas in open source, unless we have like some kind of office hours type thing, um, people are just asking at random times and they’re expecting an answer.

35:34 Nadia: Right.

35:34 Henry: Or not, and then they don’t do it. And so maybe it’s about be … making open source maintainers more available at specific times consistently. We’re trying to … I know of certain projects do that. Uh, and-

35:50 Nadia: Yeah, they’ll do like an office hours kind of thing.

35:53 Henry: Yeah. Maybe that … maybe that’s helpful. And this is kind of like why I want to do like a in-person office hours kind of thing, uh, to like people that are in New York, whatever. That would be … that would be more fun for me because then, like, I don’t know, it just feels more real versus just like doing it online or something.

36:13 Henry: But um … Yeah. But then, it’s like if it hasn’t started figuring out logistics and all that stuff, it might be difficult. Um, yeah. But yeah, I don’t, I don’t know. It’s uh (laughs) … it’s, it’s almost like I, I need … and for me, personally, I need to like … I need to talk to them, like, um, just like the question of, like, how do I learn programming? Like, oh, I wanna be involved in the open source, like I don’t even … the fact that I, I feel like open source is so big and maybe they think it’s like specific thing, I wanna know what they think it is and what they wanna be involved in.

36:53 Henry: And they don’t really know, then I have to like basically provide them with all these different opportunities and find … figure out for … help them figure out which one they’re most interested in.

37:04 Nadia: Do you think that’s a … I guess, a worthy investment of time? It’s … because that’s the same question of like, well, how much should you expect them to just come to sense it on their own versus you telling them?

37:21 Henry: Yeah (laughs).

37:22 Nadia: That’s not a leading question.

37:23 Henry: Like, uh-

37:24 Nadia: I’m like actually curious (laughs).

37:25 Henry: No, I, I think that’s the trade-off ‘cause like I don’t want this, uh, this … like, as a, you know, programmer, whatever, we all want like this automated solution. And so maybe it’s like, “Oh, we have like these forms that you fill out,” or whatever. It’s like, do you really wanna do it that way just because we think we need a scale or something? But no, I think maybe in the end, having like a short conversation that … maybe we need to figure out what to ask for, um, whether it’s like five minutes or 10 minutes. And then, from that, we’ll learn what it is. And, and maybe it has to be what … in that way, versus just like forms.

38:01 Henry: Like, I don’t know, ‘cause then it’s just automating, and is inviting more people that you can handle, then maybe purposely limiting it in terms of just speaking one-on-one is better ‘cause then it’s a different context.

38:15 Nadia: I think there was like an in-between too. I was just thinking like you can say … this is something I, I realize that I actually do quite a bit, um, with inbound is like, “Here are a bunch of resources, and like I think they’re good resources, like I actually highly recommend these, um, if you wanna dig through them and then let me know if you have questions.” Is like a pretty good filter because then it’s like if you care, if you actually cared about learning more, you’ll be excited to dig through the resources. And if you don’t care, then like, I don’t waste my time like trying to dive into your needs.

38:49 Nadia: It’s hard though. Like the, the, the other part I struggle with is like sometimes it’s like having a conversation with someone that just like sparks something in you. And like I wanna like, like moreso than just like reading a thing about the topic, like sometimes it’s like just a good conversation, and it’s like perfect. Then just you synthesize something in a certain way that you wouldn’t have otherwise, um … but yeah. I think it’s also just not realistic to … for me to have to do that for everyone else because then I don’t get to do the things that I wanna do with my life (laughs) if I’m constantly doing it for everyone else.

39:25 Henry: Right. Yeah, because I … people ask all the time in that, yeah, I’ll be like, “You should read our contributing guide,” which is like a pretty standard thing, but most people don’t. So, it kind of does remind me of even at work when I (laughs) … I remember thinking about like how I would ask my boss or other coworkers for help and the way they talk, talk to me about that was like they would know whether I looked at … like looked into the problem or not, like he could tell, based on the questions I asked him.

39:55 Nadia: (laughs)

39:56 Henry: Um, and I was like, oh, okay (laughs). So then later I learned like how to … what, what are the kind of questions that are helpful versus just like, “I don’t get it, help me,” kind of thing. And so … ‘cause that, that tells him that like, you know, I didn’t actually … I just am frustrated and I don’t know how to do it. Um, and it’s not really based on time, right? It’s just like, “Did you actually look into it?”

40:17 Nadia: Yep.

40:18 Henry: And so, maybe it’s kind of a similar thing, like the fact that they’re asking something so vague, you know, means that they didn’t really look into it. And maybe all we have to do is give them those resources and then they’ll come back and be like, “Oh, actually, I saw that you had this and I wanna work on this specific thing.”

40:35 Henry: I think a lot of people do that, right? It’s like when people ask them for questions, they want a specific concise thing versus like, “Help me.”

40:43 Nadia: Yeah. That’s also a filter I use for email also, if like … if it’s clear to me you haven’t done any … if someone’s sort of like, “Hey, what are you up to,” or something, it’s like, “My life is pretty much on the internet,” like you can tell where I work or like (laughs) what I do or, or the last thing that I wrote, and like if you haven’t taken the time to … or another one is if people on Twitter ask like for my email address, I’m like, “I make my email address really public and if you can’t figure out wherever that is, then like that’s a filter for me of like, “You did … you didn’t put in a little bit of effort, so why would I put in more effort on you?” So, yeah, there’s like little, little things like that where you could just sort of be like, “Okay, like this is a basic level.”

41:23 Henry: Yeah. That makes sense. I was gonna say that … you know, we were talking about like fear and stuff, right? And like how having, you know … you’d say like having a healthy amount of fears or I guess that’s, that’s it like you can have a healthy amount of fears. But I was thinking, like … or, uh, more on the faith side where there’s a … there’s a quote by um, what was the name? Marilyn Robinson. She was saying that, uh, yeah, fear is not a Christian type of a mind, um, which is really interesting quote ‘cause she … it’s not just that fear is not like Christian. It’s like that it’s a habit, like being in fear is like a continual thing, and it’s not Christian.

42:04 Henry: And so, I would say that like in terms of like work and fear, it’s not really like that we have a little bit of fear and that could make us move forward. It’s like then we should turn that around basically in the opposite. It’s like we have … where does our hope come from? And that, because of that hope, we continue to move forward, versus like being scared a little bit of like, oh, I need to continue to do more, right? It’s like if we actually have that vision of whatever it is and usually it’ll be, you know, to make a difference, right?

42:40 Nadia: I really like that. It’s like fear and hope are both really strong motivators, and they’re sort of like, I guess, two sides of, of the same coin but it’s, it’s, it seems a lot healthier and happier to think about how to … how do I take fear and turn it into like hope and excitement for the future?

42:59 Henry: Yeah. It’s weird ‘cause um, in the Bible, it does use fear, but it doesn’t use it in the way that people usually think about. Like it says you should fear God. But it doesn’t mean like be scared (laughs) of God. It’s more of a like, uh, like respect or honor or worship God, and that … and also worship itself is like a positive thing. It’s something that’s not just what we’re called to do, but something that we enjoy. It’s like if you treasure and cherish who God is, then you’re gonna wanna worship Him.

43:34 Henry: And some people think that the way that we are most satisfied in who God is, is by worship.

43:43 Nadia: Thanks for listening. If you’d like to continue the conversation, you can find us on Twitter at @left_pad or @nayafia or on our website hopeinsource.com.


Hosted by Nadia Eghbal and Henry Zhu.
Edited by Henry Zhu.
Cover art by Jessica Han.
Music by Ken Wheeler.

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