Last week, I was at YAPC::NA in Chicago. It was a good YAPC, and I’ll probably write a little more about it later, if I can think of anything worth relating. One thing came up, though, that I really wanted to mention.
One of the best reasons to go to a conference is the “hallway track.” That is, it’s to see and interact with other programmers who you often only deal with via bug trackers, mailing lists, and maybe IRC. Establishing a rapport with other members of the programming community, be it “the Perl community” or “the open source community” or just “the confraternity of programmers,” is really important in keeping one’s options open. People go to conferences, in part, to make and maintain a good professional reputation.
It’s also a good reason to publish free software. Even if I had no particular feelings about the right or wrong of free software, I would publish free software. When I make my software available for free, people can use it to save themselves time and money. I can help establish a name for myself as someone who has written code good enough for many people to use and rely on. Someday, when I go looking for a new job, I can say, “many other pieces of software rely on my work” and I can provide evidence.
My professional reputation is what allows me to get a job that I like so that I can avoid misery while still managing to feed my family and pay my mortgage.
This is a fact that people need to keep in mind when speaking in public. Denigrating someone’s professional reputation is a declaration that you want that person to be unable to find a job. You are attacking his means to earn a living and support his family. It is not cute, and it is probably not a good way to solve any real problem.
If you are a contributing member of a project, and it has a project leader who is damaging the project, talk to him. If he fails to respond, communicate with the other project contributors. Try to understand what is going on and why.
Do not, ever, get up in front of a random audience and provide a list of names of people who are damaging the projects that they work on. Doing this is an attack on the ongoing career of the people to whom those names belong. If you are telling the truth, you are still probably doing more harm than good. If you are wrong, you’re not going to be able to re-assemble that random audience to issue a correction.
I’m glad to say that I was not the target of any such attack, that I know of. If I had been, I think I would’ve had to think long and hard about whether open source programming is really a good venue for reputation building. After all, I could just stick to blogging.