Last June, after comforting my family while being sickened with COVID and then locked down for a few months in NYC, my coworker, Ralph, passed away.
For the 20 years I have worked remotely, Ralph laid beneath my desk for almost all of them. When my days started creeping toward the 12-hour mark, Ralph was there, urging me to take a break, forcing me out the door. When his age and increasingly poor health meant Ralph could no longer go for long morning walks in the park, I started spending my morning hours building and maintaining the Webform module for Drupal 8.
My dog time switched to my Drupal time.
For the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of making a significant contribution to Drupal. My work and life aligned to make it feasible for me to have the “free time” to build and maintain the Webform module for Drupal 8/9.
In this context, my “free time” is defined with regard to two significant aspects of my life - my work and my family. Over the years, I’ve budgeted a considerable amount of my free time spent to the Drupal community for no pay/at no cost.
The fact that my work in Drupal is mostly unpaid and consumes my “free time” is one of the biggest challenges for me to continue to sustain my contribution to Drupal.
Significant unpaid contribution by an individual to open source is not sustainable.
The fact that my contribution to open source is unpaid means my family and work should come first and that my open source contributions have to take the back seat. Simply put, family always comes first, and earning money helps my family. In the current pandemic, it’s even more clear that we need to keep our family safe, and with its economic impact, we also need to keep our jobs. In 2021, I am most likely going to have to focus more of my energy on work.
Fortunately, before I started working some long days, my family just adopted Ozzy, the puppy.
Ozzy the puppy
Once I realized that I would have a puppy to take care of, I accepted that I'm no longer going to want to wake up at 6 am to review and respond to tickets in the Webform module’s issue queue. I feel guilty that my commitment to the open source code, which I maintain, needs to reduce and change. At the same time, I realize that I don’t need to feel guilty about pulling back from my free contribution to open source because Ozzy is a member of my family. He’s going to require me to commit a significant amount of my free time to be trained and maintained and sustained. I’m committing to raise and love Ozzy because it’s a worthwhile endeavor, something that adds to my family's quality of life. I feel similarly about my contribution to Drupal that it adds value to people's lives.
Puppies and Open Source require a substantial commitment.
Free like a puppy
We are blessed. This Open Source stuff is free. But it's free like a puppy. It takes years of care and feeding. You don't get to criticise a free puppy that you bring into your home.
This quote has a slightly different meaning to me because I treated the Webform module as my puppy, continually trying to nurture it, make it better, improve it for the users and then let everyone enjoy it. Now, I have an actual puppy to take care of, and I always invite people to pet and enjoy him when we are walking down the street.
Talking about sustainability
And yeah, Ozzy is a cute puppy who I am using to broach a conversation about the sustainability of my contribution to Drupal and its community. I want to assure everyone that I want to keep maintaining the Webform module. I need to reduce my commitment, which will become something I will need to discuss further in 2021. The question is "Can I, as an individual continue to make a substantial unpaid contribution to open source?"
Maybe down the line, someone will adopt and care for my open source puppy, the Webform module. I’d hire a dog walker, but man, Ozzy is pretty damn cute. Besides, I need the exercise, the fresh air, and to keep paying my vet bills right now.