During the last years I started several open source projects. Some turned out to be useful, maybe successful, many were just rubbish. Nothing new until here.

Every time I start a new project, I usually don’t really know where I am headed and what my long-term goals are. My excitement and motivation tipically come from solving simple everyday and personal problems or just addressing {short,mid}-term goals. This is actually enough for me to just hack hack hack all night long. There is no big picture, no pressure from the outside world, no commitment requirements. It’s just me and my compiler/interpreter having fun together. I call this the “initial grace period”.

During this period, I usually never share my idea with other people, ever. I kind of keep my project in a locked pod, away from hostile eyes. Should I share my idea at this time, the project might get seriously injured and my excitement severely affected. People would only see the outcome of my thought, but not the thought process itself nor detailed plans behind it, because I just don’t have them! Besides this might be both considered against any basic Software Engineering rules or against some exotic “free software” principles, it works for me.

I don’t want my idea to be polluted as long as I don’t have something that resembles it in the form of a consistent codebase. And until that time, I don’t want others to see my work and judge its usefulness basing on incomplete or just inconsistent pieces of information.

At the very same time, writing documents about my idea and its goals beforehand is also a no-go, because I have “no clue” myself as mentioned earlier.

This is why revision control systems and the implicit development model they force on individuals are so important, especially for me.
Giving you the ability to code on your stuff, changes, improvements, without caring about the external world until you are really really done with it, is what I ended up needing so so much.
Every time I forgot to follow this “secrecy” strategy, I had to spend more time discussing about my (still confused?) idea on {why,what,how} I am doing than coding itself. Round trips are always expensive, no matter what you’re talking about!

Many internal tools we at Sabayon successfully use have gone through this development process. Other staffers sometimes tell things like “he’s been quiet in the last few days, he must be working on some new features”, and it turns out that most of the times this is true.

This is what I wanted to share with you today though. Don’t wait for your idea to become clearer in your mind, it won’t happen by itself. Just take a piece of paper (or your text editor), start writing your own secret goals (don’t make the mistake of calling them “functional requirements” like I did sometimes), divide them into modest/expected and optimistic/crazy and start coding as soon as possible on your own version/branch of the repo. Then go back to your list of goals, see if they need to be tweaked and go back coding again. Iterate until you’re satisfied of the result, and then, eventually, let your code fly away to some public site.

But, until then, don’t tell anybody what you’re doing! Don’t expect any constructive feedback during the “initial grace period”, it is very likely that it will be just be destructive.

Git, I love ya!

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