Community is Everything: Open Source with Henry Zhu (Part 3)
Welcome back to another episode of Enjoy the Vue. This concludes our three-part interview with Babel maintainer, Henry Zhu. Last time, we closed our discussion with what work maintainers of open source projects do that is not straight coding. In this episode, we continue talking with Henry about what do people count as maintenance work versus other tasks that definitely need to get done, but are perhaps less visible to the public eye. Henry also shares his approaches to taking care of himself and the pursuit of serendipity, and we discuss the inclusivity of the open source community, the relationship between in-person communities and open source culture, and we get into our picks of the week, so make sure not to miss this episode!
Key Points From This Episode:
- Henry opens with the dichotomy between freedom and obligation for maintainers.
- Maintainers don’t see certain tasks as maintenance, such as answering user queries.
- What Henry does to take care of himself, like sport or playing music, and his musings on what serendipity looks like in an online setting.
- Spaces that promote serendipity, and why actively pursuing serendipity is not a paradox.
- There are communities like Google Summer of Code that promote open source involvement.
- Preferences are shaped through experiences of the communities, so it is important that they be inclusive, particularly for women.
- The relationship between in-person communities and open source culture.
- Ben’s picks this week include a ukulele, Azul, and Nadia Eghbal’s book, Working in Public.
- Veekas recommends Kim’s Convenience and Race After Technology by Ruha Benjamin.
- Henry’s picks include Tools for Conviviality by Ivan Illich, and a card game called The Mind.
- Tessa suggests Journey, the Reply series, and Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice.
“How do we get people to have a higher sense of ownership so that we can lessen the burden on maintainers?” — @left_pad [0:02:37]
“There's an aspect of serendipity involves risk, and involves trust and faith in something, in the future. Me putting myself out there is going to lead to something good.” — @left_pad [0:05:50]
“I feel being more intentional, specifically reaching out to people, or getting involved in certain communities is probably better. There are formal versions of this, like Google Summer of Code. We've done that and Rails Girls, Summer of Code, stuff like that. Yeah, maybe we need more of that, instead of this blanket like, ‘Hey, anyone can get involved.’” — @left_pad [0:07:48]
“For a tool, we want self-expression from the people that use it and I think coding is – or anything, [Illich] mentions education, and school, and medicine, and coding could be another thing where it's increasingly harder to learn how to code, even though now we have boot camps and stuff.” — @left_pad [0:17:46]
Picks of the week:
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:
Our picks this week
[00:00:10] T: Hi, everyone. Welcome back to Enjoy The Vue with Tessa, Ben Hong, Ari Clark, guest panelist, Veekas Ashoka, and special guest, Babel maintainer, Henry Zhu.
Last time, we closed our discussion on what work maintainers of open source projects do that are not straight coding. This week, we continue talking with Henry about what do people count as maintenance work versus other tasks that definitely need to get done, but are perhaps less visible to the public eye.
[00:00:43] HZ: Maintainers are so free to do whatever they want. In the end, the culture, the environment makes you feel you're not free. You can choose to stop answering people's tweets, or issues, or whatever it is. Just say no, right? Stop working on the weekends, stop working during work.
I think just saying, just saying no as a tweet or something doesn't show that you empathize and understand the actual feeling that you get doing it. I think that's the real struggle of how do we help people, so that they can do that? I think that maybe needs some help from the platform too, like GitHub and stuff like that, but it's a hard problem.
[00:01:20] T: I wonder also how much of that is just tied into, beyond people, just coders probably are interested in code, I guess, but also just how we value the outputs that people give. In your increment piece, you mentioned how you did a lot of work, but you didn't count it as work in the beginning with JSCS, I think, or Babel? I don't remember which one. Now if you look back on it, you probably wouldn't say that just because it wasn't necessarily like PRs.
I thought it was interesting earlier when you were looking back on the work and you were like, “Yeah, I didn't really do anything, but Seb called me out in a blog post or something.” I was like, “Well, according to the increment piece, Henry did it a lot.” I wonder if a lot of the struggle is also just because we don't really see the other maintenance aspects as glorious, or something.
[00:02:05] HZ: We don't see certain tasks as maintenance. Even things that we didn't even know were maintenance. I guess, somebody had to do it. Answering people's questions is maintenance, like making a video about something, maintenance. You don't even have to be the person writing the code for the project. Everyone here, you could be a part of the Vue community just by using Vue. It's a lot more broad. it doesn't mean you have the same type of ownership over a project. If something happens, maybe you don't feel as strong about certain things, but I guess, it's like, how do we get people to have a higher sense of ownership so that we can lessen the burden on maintainers? Also, maybe the idea that maintainers should be able to – I use this a lot, but taking a break, or resting, or just stopping stuff.
It is true that if you leave, yeah, it will be ruined in some sense, because no one has the knowledge that you have, even if you're trying really hard. The world's not crouching down just because you decided to not look at some issues for an hour, or a day, or a week.
Basically, I’m just saying that you should be able to take a vacation and not feel bad about it. That's hard to say, like I’m not really doing that either.
[00:03:15] VA: I guess, on that note, Henry, I know you also from living in New York City and seeing your own stuff, and so I know for a fact that you do do some things to take care of yourself personally and to introduce some joy into your life, just as a human being.
I’m curious, how do you do that? What do you do to make sure that you have that joy that you need?
[00:03:35] HZ: That's a good question. I feel like I relied a lot on the physical aspects of things. Maybe now is almost, I guess a good thing in terms of reminding me how much I rely on it and appreciating it more, people doing sports, or playing music, or meeting people. Like I was writing in that blog post about serendipity. A lot of it in New York has to do with the fact of going outside, not having a car and just meeting people randomly on the street, people you don't know and people you know, and that's not really happening now, because obviously, the quarantine and distancing.
I was still thinking about how does this work online? What does serendipity look like in an online setting? Even if it's not outside, people go to a bar, I guess, to meet people, or a park, or whatever it is, a church, for different reasons and you get to meet people. I think online, supposedly that's Twitter, or something like that, right? You want this open space where some amount of people you can see. It's not everyone and you might make a connection. You make a friend or something like that. I don't know what that looks like now and I don't know how many people are thinking about that.
[00:04:47] VA: Yeah, it's interesting, because we try to make up for it with Zoom happy hours. Thank God, no one has invited me to one of those in the last month or so. I think people gave up. I’m curious, when you think of serendipity, what makes a mindset, or a physical location, or a culture make it something that promotes serendipity? Have you seen any online spaces, or do of any online spaces that mimic that?
[00:05:10] HZ: Yeah, I don't know. When I was thinking about New York, I was thinking about the ethos, or culture of New York. I don't know how to describe what it's like. For those of us that live there, I think there's some reason why we stay, and I guess, even now why we're staying. That's an interesting point too. Now that we can't meet people in person as much, is there still serendipity there as the culture of New York still exists?
I think you definitely have to be able to feel safe and, I guess, be willing to be vulnerable. I guess, what I come back to is this idea of putting yourself out there and being okay with what happens. I think that's really difficult to do, which is why people always go the safe route. There's an aspect of serendipity involves risk, and involves trust and faith in something, in the future. Me putting myself out there is going to lead to something good. I know that in that sense, it sounds too, I guess, optimistic and positive and even maybe a little new agey, or whatever.
If you don't have the opportunity to do that, then I don't see how it's going to happen if you're just going to sit there. I guess, that my opposite would be you're not actively doing anything. Oh, I think I mentioned this too, of it sounds weird to say, but actively seeking serendipity is not a paradox. It's like, somehow you're seeking something that is not, I guess, meant to be seeked out. Maybe the way you're doing it is not literally like, “Oh, I’m trying to do this, so that this thing will happen and guaranteed to happen.” You're okay with the fact that it might not, if that makes sense.
[00:06:43] BH: Yeah. Ari, one of the things I’ve been wondering, as someone who has had involvement with Vue Vixens, and coming into open source from your background, what are some of your thoughts as far as a lot of things we've been talking about, as far as trying to get involved? Is it intimidating? I’d love to hear what you think.
[00:06:59] AC: Yeah. I’ve been largely silent, because I didn't feel I belonged in this conversation if I’m being completely honest, which is exactly how I feel about open source in general. I don't feel like I belong. I don't know how to get in. Yeah, that's my completely candid response.
[00:07:15] HZ: Yeah. I guess, on the inside, you have to remind yourself what it's like if you're not involved in open source, like what it feels. I know it's definitely intimidating and I felt that way when I was getting involved too. It's interesting, because we try to be really open to help people get involved. I think maybe that's the problem of, if you be open in the sense of broadcasting yourself, like the whole one to many, if I say, “Hey, anyone can reach out to me or something,” or you say your DMs are open, stuff like that, that only invites a certain kind of person.
That's where I feel being more intentional, specifically reaching out to people, or getting involved in certain communities is probably better. There are formal versions of this, like Google Summer of Code. We've done that in Rails Girls, Summer of Code, stuff like that. Yeah, maybe we need more of that, instead of this blanket like, “Hey, anyone can get involved.”
Yeah, it makes it difficult to even want to cross that barrier. I think you're absolutely right about outreaching communities. The thought of being vulnerable enough to even submit a PR is just terrifying, even though I understand maybe it shouldn't be, but it just feels very vulnerable.
[00:08:56] HZ: Yeah. No, for sure. It's like, if I’m saying all this stuff about how it sucks, that's not very encouraging to people.
[00:09:01] AC: That too.
[00:09:05] HZ: That's why I have the conflict, where it's like, I want people to get involved, and there are definitely a lot of awesome things about it and I think maybe some of us have experienced that. Again, I don't want to paint a rosy picture, because when they do get involved, they're like, “Wait, this is not what I expected and this sucks.”
[00:09:21] T: Yeah. Last year, I tried to do – was it last year? I don't remember. I finished, but I never signed up to get the t-shirt or whatever. I tried to do Hacktoberfest for the first and only time. That was my first time opening PRs on random open source projects. I updated the docs, which is traditionally not a very glamorous thing to do, I guess. Then they closed it and they said it didn't count, because I was obviously just trying to spam to get my Hacktoberfest points, even though I already had my five PRs.
[00:09:47] AC: What?
[00:09:49] T: Yeah. That didn't feel very good. Whoever the open source maintainer was. I don't remember the project. Yeah, Ari. I feel to Ari's point, a lot of my preferences and the tools I’ve ended up using, or my focus on Vue even, has been shaped primarily by my experiences with the in-person communities around the technologies and how much I was able to feel apart, or impact those communities and be heard. That’s very important.
[00:10:14] VA: Yeah, on that note, I’m curious, this is for Ari, or I guess, for everyone in the group. What is the relationship between these in-person communities, like the meetups and open source culture? Because Ari, especially you and Tessa, I think do a lot of organizing of meetups, whereas Ben, I don't know if you do that as well, actually. I’ve not called out anyone in particular, but whereas Henry and I attend a lot. I’m curious what that relationship feels like on both ends.
[00:10:41] AC: Tessa, do you want to answer that first?
[00:10:42] T: Yeah. There is no more in-person meetups, so the end. I think there's a lot of similar struggles to what Henry said. You feel a lot of pressure to do right by the community, but also, you don't know what's right and also, you're doing it on your own time. There's no money, or glory in it.
Actually, it's very similar. I went to this Google event a couple years ago, where they invited a bunch of meetup organizers and they were like, “What's the hard thing about starting meetups?” It was pretty much exactly what Henry said, where it's like, somebody finds you and they see that you have the passion, or the drive to do the things just for the reason that nobody else is doing them, and you feel it's important to get them done, and then they hook into you and they're like, “Do the things.” Then suddenly, you're trapped there. It's like that.
[00:11:23] BH: I actually love to hear, Ari, from your perspective, of the Vue Vixen workshops and those things granted, I know those things aren't being run right now, but your experience in seeing that interaction and bringing people into a community.
[00:11:35] AC: That was huge for me, honestly. Vue Vixens is the reason I’m on this podcast. They're the reason that I even started to feel a part of the community at all. That was very much because it was a very welcoming environment, very non-judgmental. Also, they provided the introductions into the greater community for me. Yeah, I would say that being very intentional about reaching out can make all the difference, in terms of making someone welcome in any part of a community, especially if you have a gateway to the larger community.
Also, I have never wanted to learn React, for example, because of the culture I see on Twitter. Yeah, I think that how you draw people into your community makes a huge difference in the level of engagement and willingness to put effort in outside of surface effort.
[00:12:29] T: Yeah, and butterfly effect to add on to Ari's story, a couple years ago when I was giving a full conference talk at VueConf, I met Ari at one of the events the night before. She was so excited to see my talk. I was so intimidated, because Ari clearly knew so much more about the topic than I did. It made me feel so great that somebody was excited for specifically my talk and my talk topic. That individual connection, it really makes a difference.
[00:13:01] AC: The funny part about later in that story, as I told Tessa, she would probably never see me again, because I’m terrible at being friends with people.
[00:13:09] T: And I never did. Well, on that note, Henry, if people want to connect with you, where can they find you on the Internet?
[00:13:19] HZ: Actually, I don't even know. They don't need to follow me, but you can listen to the podcast, all of that, hopeinsource.com.
[00:13:27] T: Great. We'll put that in the show notes. With that, it's time for us to move on to this week's picks. Ben, would you like to go first?
[00:13:33] BH: All right. As far as my picks for this week, the first of which, I think a lot of us are in quarantine. I think picking up an instrument is a fun way to disconnect from technology. I grabbed my ukulele from my parents’ house recently and trying for the third time. I failed three times now. Maybe the third time, it will actually stick. Picking that up. As far as board games go, if you haven't tried Azul, that is a great one. It has a lot of replayability and just highly, highly recommend it.
[00:13:59] HZ: Of course, earlier, we talked a bit about Nadia’s book, Working in Public. I would highly recommend it. I’ve only read, I think, the first chapter and already, it just changed the way I’ve thought about open source, because it's one thing to be involved on the Vue core team and a specific scope, but Nadia brings in data and has a breadth of case studies that really just give you an insight into different things that people have tried and really has opened my mind up. Highly, highly recommend it, if you haven't checked it out yet.
[00:14:27] T: Yeah. Ukulele has been one of my, like, “I’ll learn it someday” goals as well that just never happened. Ari, how about you? Do you have any picks for us this week?
[00:14:35] AC: No, because I just watch Grey's Anatomy for the entirety of my spare time. I guess, I could pick that.
[00:14:42] BH: There we go.
[00:14:42] T: Just a constant gut punch.
[00:14:47] HZ: Oh, yikes.
[00:14:48] VA: Yeah. I mean, if we were to talk about the things we actually do all the time, I would probably have some different picks than the one I’m going to say.
[00:14:55] T: We got to do everything in public, right Veekas?
[00:15:00] VA: Okay. All right. I’m tell them myself, when I get to my pick. My partner and I, we at the end of the day with all that's going on, we have gotten really into just wholesome TV shows, just stuff that feels nice. Most recently, we have been watching Kim’s Convenience on Netflix. All the characters have their problems, but they're just a great family, they take care of each other and they just live like good people. It's a Canadian TV show. Some of the cultural things are actually pretty interesting to me, specifically as Canadians, but also, as Koreans living in North America.
My other pick though, which is what I do, for a few months I couldn't read a book to save my life. Recently, I’ve been able to read again and have my mind focus on it. The book I picked up, which I’ve been really loving is called Race After Technology it's by a professor of African American studies, actually at Princeton, but she talks a lot about middle of the Venn diagram between science and tech, and race and society. Her book, she plays with the term The New Jim Crow, which is a Michelle Alexander book that's I think, 10 or 20-years-old. She plays with that and calls a new phenomenon the new Jim code and it's how technology is both reflecting, but also solidifying and reproducing existing inequities and existing biases that are in the wider society.
It's really, really fascinating to read as someone in tech, as an engineer, but also as a person of color. Her first chapter, she talks about names, and my name has meant a lot to me. It's been a very strong anchor in my life, but also something that has caused a lot of angst and conflict as well. That book is really incredible. Race After Technology.
[00:16:47] T: Yeah, that sounds really great, especially because I feel with those kinds of issues as well, that's another area where we hear a lot of, “Just stick to the code,” or, “The algorithm itself isn't inherently biased.” It's like, how do we deal with those issues and understand that code doesn't just come out of nowhere? Henry, would you like to share your picks for us this week?
[00:17:07] HZ: Yeah. I have one, but actually based on Veekas’s book. A book I read a while back is called Tools for Conviviality. That's also a book about technology by Illich. The same thinking and this is a while back, but it talks about how there's a difference between industrialized tools, versus – even this distinction between apps and tools. You would say like, “Oh, you know how everyone's always," in Silicon Valley. We're like, “Oh, we'll have an app for that to fix all of our problems.” Versus a tool that people can learn how to use on their own, versus something that's designed where you have to do it within the boxes of what the designer picked. That's normally a good thing, but for a tool, we want self-expression from the people that use it and I think coding is – or anything, he mentions education, and school, and medicine, and coding could be another thing where it's increasingly, it's harder to learn how to code, even though now we have boot camps and stuff.
The tool I work on doesn't help with that, I guess. I understand that, yeah, we're making it harder for people to understand, because technology is being used even more and more, then yeah, like what you said, there's this inequality there of understanding and stuff like that. Then my other pick, which I guess is interesting, because it's called The Mind. It's a board game. I played at a few conferences with some people. Guess you can't really play it now, because not in person.
I don't know, even if there was a digital version, if it would make sense. We talked about this idea of body language before, but the whole point of the game is it's fun, because in short, you're supposed to play the cards one through a 100 in order. You deal them out. Not all of them at once, but one at a time. You have to play them ascending order. The catch is that you can't talk to each other. You can't say like, “I have a three.” You just have to know when to play the card. The point of the game is basically, who goes next, but you have to know when you're supposed to play, so you have to essentially look at everyone, what's their body language, are they leaning in front, they're probably going to go next. If they're leaning back, they're probably not going. Are they touching their card? They're probably about to play.
It's fun. It sounds really dumb in a way, because you're like, “Wait, it's just sorting some cards.” I don't know, it's just funny things come out and sometimes if you allow people to talk, not like, I have this card, but just saying things. It's cool, where people are like, “Hey, I think I’m going to go next.” You're like, “No, I’m going to go next.” That kind of thing. Yeah.
[00:19:34] BH: Yeah. I could definitely speak to when we played at VueConf. Actually playing with strangers is great, because you just learn about people's random ticks and you're like, “Are you sure?” Like, “I’m really sure.”
[00:19:45] HZ: Yeah, exactly. Just funny serendipitous things happen. Definitely and second that thing.
[00:19:48] T: Yeah. Henry has told me about this game so many times and I still never have gotten to play it. If any of our listeners also feel they're missing out and you also run a podcast, I just played a card, so you try to guess what it is and play the next card in the next episode of your podcast.
[00:20:08] VA: It's interesting, this game is so popular, because the big O on that, it really seems like a really unperformant way to sort.
[00:20:19] T: Nice. It's bringing you back to the code.
[00:20:22] BH: Bringing you back to the code.
[00:20:25] T: All right. Finally, it's time for my pick. I also have a game pick that was inspired by some of the discussion today. It's a relatively old game now called Journey. I feel a bit ambivalent about recommending it, because I have this thing about sand and any media that contains sand and there's vast amounts of sand in this game. You can replace it with any other game with limited communication tools, like Resident Evil 5, or 6, or something.
It's funny, because you can encounter other players online in the game, but they only have three or four different sounds that they can make, or gestures they can make to communicate with you. You would think that that would mean that the things that you can say, and the kinship you feel with other players, who all look exactly like you and you don't know their names or anything, would feel very limited.
It's surprising and weird to me almost how much more connected I feel with random person who I have no way of re-identifying, versus random commenter on GitHub. If you haven't tried that, check it out. It also happens to have won a ton of awards. There's that. My next pick came through Ben, or through Ben through a friend of Ben's, or something. It's I believe, the latest in The Eungdapara series, or in English we call it The Reply series. Right now, I’m watching Reply 1988. It's a story about a community in a small neighborhood in Seoul, and how they just live through their trials and tribulations together, and they work together as a community, and they have their own issues going on as well.
There's also a lot of great old-fashioned Korean music in there, which I’ve always been a fan of. Watching the show with these vintage high school uniforms and old music reminds me of when I was in high school, I had to learn this song called Tsubasa-wo-Kudasai, which means please give me wings. It's a folk song and it's cheesy and it's all in. I remember at the time, all my classmates were like, “Yeah, this is really cheesy.” I was internally really into it, but I couldn't really appreciate it, because I felt all this external pressure. I wish I could go back and just be like, “I know it's cheesy, but I’m going to completely lean into learning that song.”
That brings me to my final pick, which is this book called Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice. Incidentally, it was recommended in another book that I was reading, so that's how I found that. It's a series of chapters. I’ve only read the first one, but it's a series of chapters that explain how we internalize external voices and judgments and ideas of what we should do and what we shouldn't do, and why we're such failures as human beings, whether that's from guardians in childhood, or even as we continue to grow and develop as people. Then there's a series of exercises that you can do to learn to separate those thoughts from your own thoughts and try to identify how you truly view yourself in a fair and compassionate way.
With that, that's all for this week's episode. Don't forget to check out Henry's new merch. Thanks for listening, everyone. Until next time, Enjoy the Vue.