(Content note: I normally try to keep my natural level of profanity slightly under control on this blog. I won’t be doing that in this post)
But that random code you threw together as a hack, stopped when it did what you needed to do, threw it up on pypi and then neglected it?
That’s totally OK. Thanks for writing it. The world is slightly better for your having done so, and there is no burden of expectation on you to “do a better job”. It’s not a job after all, is it? We’re not paying you to do it.
And this is what it ultimately comes down to.
I flatter myself that one of the things that I can legitimately claim about Hypothesis is that it is high quality. So far the worst bug that anyone has reported in the 1.0 release is that when given a wrong argument, Hypothesis throws an exception with the right type from the right place with the wrong error message. Hypothesis works on OSX, Linux, Windows, probably *BSD (I heard about some packaging issues with sqlite, but nothing since, so I think it worked once those were resolved), Python 2.7, 3.2-3.4, CPython, Pypy… It’s got 100% branch coverage, is documented, etc. Basically as far as quality goes Hypothesis does almost everything right.
So I’ve proved it can be done and that you should do it too, right?
Nah, that’s bullshit. I’m here to tell you as someone who has done the work of producing quality software for free, you don’t have to and you shouldn’t feel bad about not doing so.
Want to know how I did everything right in Hypothesis? I mean, obsessive attention to detail and high standards helped, and may even have been essential, but they weren’t even close to sufficient. Really there are two things that were the key ingredients to my making Hypothesis the quality piece of software it is today:
I’ve put somewhere in the region of 800 hours of work into Hypothesis this year, entirely for free. That’s what it took to get to this level of quality.
And I could only do this because I had the time and money to do so. I had the time to do so because I was being obsessive, had no dependents, and didn’t have a job. I could only not have a job because of the money. I only had the money because I spent the latter half of last year with double the salary I was used to, half the living expenses I was used to, and too borderline depressed to spend it on anything interesting.
These are not reasonable requirements.
Could I have done Hypothesis in less than 800 hours? Probably. I doubt I could have done it in less than 400 though, and I would be foolish to expect I could do any project in the smallest amount of time I could feasibly do it in.
Hypothesis is a large and complicated project though (if it doesn’t look like one, that’s because a lot of those 800 hours were spent on making it easy to use). Most projects are probably an order of magnitude simpler.
i.e. only 80 hours.
i.e. only you having to take two weeks off work, working literally for free, in order to produce quality software.
i.e. nearly half your holiday allowance if you live in a civilized country, or possibly more than your holiday allowance if you live in the US.
This is still not a reasonable requirement.
Can you produce quality software in less time than that, working only in your free time? I doubt it. Free time is inherently less productive. You’re tired and it’s fragmented. You spend an hour one evening trying to figure out why your windows builds are now failing because a new version of pip is released and after that I guess you could put another half hour in but your heart isn’t really in it and you’d basically not have the time to get properly stuck into it. The bar for quality is high, and the obstacles to it are higher, and there’s really nothing you can do to fix that other than to put in the time.
Don’t get me wrong. If you can put in the time I will be incredibly grateful to you. I just don’t think you should feel bad if you don’t.
There is no obligation to free labour. Every hour you put in working on your project for free is a gift to the world. If the world comes back to you and says “You are a bad person for not supporting this thing I need you to support” then fuck them. If they want that they should pay you for it, or do it themselves.
(Edit to note: This isn’t of course to say that you shouldn’t ask for features on open source projects. Only that you are not entitled to them. If you politely ask, that’s fine. If the author then says “Sorry, no, I don’t have the time / am not interested / literally any other reason at all”, that’s fine too)
Note: If you liked this piece, there is a follow up you may wish to read.