middle ground (updated!)
I've had my head firmly buried in Drupal for nearly two years now, and it's starting to show. I've come a long way. My starting point was "I have seen mentions of this software, I do not know what it does, but it might suit our needs." Since then I've progressed to having built a multi-site install, managed by CVS—entirely on my own. The development of my knowledge can be traced on my user account on drupal.org; my questions have slowly become more knowledgeable as I've fought my way—solo—through two very difficult conversions/migrations and a few others that were significantly easier.
The question: what now?
I've been considering becoming more involved in Drupal's community, but I find myself incredibly hesitant to do so because I've been at this juncture before. Drupal's user/developer community has a great deal in common with every volunteer / nonprofit / open source community I've ever been involved in. I pop into #drupal on IRC occasionally, and pick up a couple of softball questions here and there on the forums, but I find myself hesitant to dive further in for reasons that are blatantly obvious to anyone who has known me for the past decade.
I'm concerned about getting burned, and I recognize the concern isn't just worrywart. It's legitimate. I've been here before—and very recently, too.
The culture of non-profit, open-source, or volunteer projects is an intense one. The projects always have needs—always, always, always—and every major project needs organized, practical, sharp-eyed shepherds. The problem? Those same projects are damned good at burning those oh-so-essential people out. I watched it happen with friends of mine who were heavy contributors at linux.com. I watched it happen with people before me on dragon*con tech staff and fought for years before I acknowledged it was happening in myself as well. I watch it happen on a daily basis at the non-profit (library) that is my workplace.
I like Drupal. It's been a godsend for me at work, and it's allowed me to do some spiffy new things here at domesticat.net, but it's not perfect. I recognize that the people contributing code to the project are doing so at a level that I cannot hope to match given my current levels of availability and coding skill, and that perhaps I'm better off being a helper, an organizer, a bug tester, a documenter.
There are needs. (Remember, I said there are always needs.)
I have skills. (Woo mad skillz.)
...and then I think of tech staff. I think of the near-decade of my life I gave it—willingly, I might add. I was the gently boiled frog: the water was fine when I got in, but over time the temperature rose slowly, continually, imperceptibly. I boiled before I even realized the water was hot, and that experience makes me say, "Kid, what the hell are you even doing thinking about stepping into another project?"
It's a seductive, simple siren song. There are needs. There are things I could do that would make this software better. Through twitter and random readings I've begun to find interesting, thought-provoking, funny people involved with the project. There's probably a home for me there, if I'm willing to step into it.
But I keep thinking about that IRC channel, and the day not so long ago when I kept an IRC window open from the start of my workday (7:30 a.m.) to close to my bedtime (around 10 p.m.). Some of the contributors I saw at 7:30 a.m. were still going by the middle of the evening, over 12 hours later.
I thought of the webgeeks for tech staff—of Danielle, of Chris, of Patrick, and previously of me—and I thought about how we all contributed year-round. I thought about the frustration I heard from them recently when one of them said, "It's only January. dragon*con is eight months away and we're already working on this again?!" and I thought ... be careful, Amy. This new project looks tasty, but this could be a repeat of past experiences if you're not careful.
I think about how stepping away from the year-round slog of tech staff allowed me to find time for myself. I took up quilting. I'm planning on taking classes on blowing glass. I've had more time for Jeff. I miss the camaraderie of being The Staffer Who Knew Everyone And Who Wrote The Entire Damn System on tech staff, but I don't miss the stress and the frustration—and my friends are loving the quilts.
I wonder if it's possible to find middle ground.
(Brian is siliconchef.com, a director at dragon*con, and one my linux.com refugee friends.)
Amy: suspect you'd have a lot to say about what I just posted
Brian: but you already know all of that, so it would just be blog dressing :)
Amy: well, insightful "don't be a dumbass" commentary always welcome
Brian: NO DUMBASSERY!
Amy: are you the pot or the kettle in this scenario?
Brian: I'm the entire clearance table at the Lodge Cast Iron Outlet in Commerce, GA
Amy: was my basic assumption right -- that every open-source project is like this?
Brian: Linus Torvalds was a bored teenager
Brian: so unless you have a lot of free time or a strong hatred of Microsoft bred by years of socialist ideology, stick with quilting :)
* Amy laughs
Amy: the quilting will, indeed, keep me warm at night
Amy: (I should probably repost the relevant part of this chatlog as a comment)