Incoherence adapted from an IRC conversation.
I'd almost forgotten how hard it is for an external person to get into the open source dev world. I'm reminded of it daily with my own experiences, but I've apparently come a long way since 18 months ago (and have much farther yet to go).
There's a lot of tacit knowledge about how projects, people, and communities work - I'm trying to come up with the right words to explain it here... it's a different world than the one I grew up in and the one I'm used to, but I still have a hard time articulating the difference.
I'm thinking of some folks I know who did extraordinarily well in school, with projects - but mostly within an academic environment, where teachers or research supervisors assign you work and you go and do it. That's an exaggeration and an oversimplification. I reckon the same things happen when new people hit a research lab as well.
Maybe the problem is being bold enough to wade in. How many people are taught to be bold? To ask questions - in a smart way - and respond well to answers? To have the right balance of being humble but also confident in their skills? I wish I could become esr v2.0 and try to answer some of these questions - I... wow, my research on engineering and hacker learning cultures is way out of date. I need to figure out how to set aside the time to work on that again.
One of the hardest things for me is usually finding all the information sources I should be listening to - you know you should RTFM and search before asking, but if you don't know a manual exists, that's hard.
It's kind of like being plonked into a foreign country after studying, say, textbook French. Theoretically, you can speak French. (Or code. Or machine. Or do math. Or whatever.) But can you navigate the culture embedded in the project that assumes you use these skills in a certain, sometimes unspoken, way?
Even experienced people make mistakes, but for newcomers who haven't built up a reputation, making a misstep as their first step is tough, and the chance of doing that is a little scary. (Little-known fact: One of the communities I tried to join early on but was - in my timidness and lack of knowledge how to navigate within the environment - somewhat scared away from? OLPC. Seriously. It was SJ who sucked me in about a year later; he and others provided the patient guidance I needed to find my feet and feel comfortable in that realm.)
With the help of some wonderful, friendly communities and many kind mentors, I'm continuously learning to navigate my way through this world. I am but an egg, but sometimes I can feel the shell crackling away above me.
Yeah, I know the "I am learning thingz!" is a common feature of this blog. That's fine. it's also a common feature of my brain. I hope I never lose it.