I was not ready to become the maintainer of Babel

Henry Zhu on April 10, 2018

When Babel's creator Sebastian McKenzie started distancing himself from the project he gave me and some others access to the repo/publish rights. I... [Read Full]
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I had never published my own npm package before or explored much of the codebase. But slowly (sometimes really slowly) I got used to it. I recall Kent Dodds saying that if you want to be a maintainer of a project, just act and do the things that maintainers do.

This was a really great part of the story for me. Fake it til you make it!


Yeah and you might end up being the "expert" afterwards.

I find myself knowing a lot more about npm/publishing due to the # of packages we have, now switching to scoped packages with @babel/core - switching all user permissions from individual packages to an organization, etc. You deal with a lot of interesting issues as a maintainer (moving issues between repos, deprecation, versioning, etc).

Also important that you remember that when you do learn more since you can emphasize with everyone else and maybe be a guide/help to make things better than when you first started.


I think in that freedom we can try without fear.

Totally; I think we really need to have an environment where we feel okay to be ourselves, and that definitely means having the room to fall and get back up.

Interesting point about saying "I think" too much. I personally do this a lot, too. and I've been leaning toward the opinion that while it may seem like softer language -- and to some, less confident language -- I think it can be seen as an honest statement, too. Saying "I think" for me means that my inkling/hunch/some prior knowledge tells me something probably works like this, but I'm not 100% sure and would be open to seeing other perspectives.

I think (hah) that if we were all more forgiving people would feel okay saying "I think" more often. I'm always floundering back and forth though whether I should curb the habit or not. 😩

Anyway, thanks for this post! Would love to hear more thoughts and read more from you!


Thanks Andy!

Interesting point about saying "I think" too much

Yea, I agree it's nuanced! Haha yeah people can be more forgiving for sure but in my situation the people that told me did it from a good place πŸ™‚.

I don't know if it was just my default to say it. In my view I just don't want to come off as saying this is the way we should do things or my idea is right, but I also use it in a lot of settings where it's something about me or a fact and there really isn't a point to say "I think". Are we just having a lack of commitment or doubt, I guess (that's another one) it depends on the context. All these "I think", maybe, etc is interesting - I find myself saying it throughout this whole conversation like you notice! Is everything just a question or suggestion? Haha it does keep us humble but others might find it off-putting, especially in a leadership position/situation where there are people that are looking to you for a direct answer or response. Actually yeah I think that is the case where that should be looked into the most.


Just followed @ben 's lead Henry and am now a patron of yours as well. Thanks for all the great work you've done. πŸ”₯ πŸ’― πŸ’ͺ


How do you face feedback, public opinion, etc? For me, much of it comes from learning how to be self-forgetful

I've only recently started having a public voice in the developer community and this is the hardest part for me.

There can be a lot of positive feedback but I find there's even more negative. I think I'll try applying your advice and just learn to be self-forgetful.

Thanks for the great insight.


Thanks Colin!

I think it applies whether you are new or not! When you are new you might not care about other people's opinions since you might be just doing stuff for fun or scratching your own itch. Hearing feedback might make you a little self-conscious and then suddenly you don't even want to engage for fear of comments (totally understandable). When you've been doing it for a while, you might start feeling the same way (not caring since you are "one of the old ones") or scared because everyone expects something out of you.

But yeah I think it's a delicate balance of obviously caring about your well-being and mental state but at the same time were here to help people (at least in open source as a maintainer). Not getting bogged down in your own issues and also taking care of yourself is a hard, necessary, important thing to manage.

I really like what is said in The Screwtape Letters: twitter.com/left_pad/status/884239...

"He would rather the man though himself a great architect or a great poet and then forgot about it, than that he should spend much time and pains trying to think himself a bad one."

It's when we feel free to just do the work and stop thinking about how we are seen that we can do the best work? There is time for reflection but worrying keeps us fearful and uninspired. But I think that comes from a solid sense of identity outside of that work and also a healthy community for sure.


I appreciate the thoughtful response. Good luck with babel!


I really enjoyed reading this, thank you.

It brings to mind how guilty I am of holding myself back from something because I am not an "expert" in the subject.

Rather than having "expertise" as our focus, I think we should all aspire to be the person that has an unbending dedication to learn and get better in that subject, and hone our ability to learn.

The person dedicated to and proficient in finding answers is no less valuable than the one who "has all the answers."


Yeah and in something like open source it's something we want to actively push for! It's definitely not as easy as just "everyone should do open source" or "everyone should code" but there is a lot of value in not being an expert. I guess we use the word 'naive', but not having biases can bring you far if you have a vision/excitement that can go beyond what an expert would look into. I think as a maintainer it's basically what we should be doing twitter.com/radiomorillo/status/98.... However, I know it takes a lot of work and mentorship which isn't as easy as making some beginner issues.

When everyone is free to say whatever it may be hard to provide feedback and people may come away feeling left out or unheard. It takes a lot of effort on everyone's part. What's the motivation though


That's a very graceful way to take feedbacks. Nice post Henry!


I bought my first computer only after I got my first job as a programmer.


"Starting from knowing nothing doesn't mean you are unqualified" - This sentence right here touched me deeply


Thank You! πŸ˜‡Henry, for all you do and for the all too familiar background story of maintaining open source projects.


β€œnot having a high view of myself or even a low view of myself but just thinking about myself less”

damn, that captures a great idea.

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