I also blog frequently on the Yesod Web Framework blog, as well as the FP Complete blog.

The Spiderman Principle

July 5, 2017

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With great power comes great responsibility

I was recently reminded of a bit of a mantra that I had at LambdaConf this year in discussions, and I decided to share it here. I received a bunch of questions like these (I'd share the originals, but I have a terrible memory):

  • Why is there no tutorial for doing X?
  • Why doesn't a library like Y exist?
  • Why has no one created a mailing list/discussion forum/etc for topic Z?

The answer to all of these is the same: because you haven't done it! And I don't mean that in the plural "you" or figuratively. The one and only reason why things don't get done is because you, personally, individually, have not done them.

This of course isn't literally true. There's a possibility that someone else will step up to the plate first. And there are limited numbers of hours in the day, and no one person can accomplish everything. But this mindset is, in my opinion, the only correct one to adopt if you want things to happen. It's your responsibility to do it; don't wait for others to do it.

You may have some legitimate objections to this philosophy:

  • How can I write a tutorial, I don't understand how to accomplish this?

    • Go ahead and write it as best you can, and ask people to review it. People are usually quite happy to provide corrections and advice.
    • A streamlined way of doing this is to send a pull request to an existing repo holding documentation (e.g., haskell-lang).
    • Worst case scenario: ask questions. Encourage people to write up answers. Volunteer to compose the answers into a coherent document at the end. Even people not willing to participate in writing a full tutorial themselves may be quite happy to answer direct questions, especially knowing their work will be preserved for others.
  • How can I write such a library, it's beyond my capabilities?

    • You'd be surprised about that. Give it a shot. Worst case scenario: it'll be a learning experience and otherwise an epic failure. Best case scenario: you succeed. Either way, it's a win-win situation.
    • Maybe your desired functionality fits into an existing library. Library authors tend to be quite happy to review and accept pull requests, and contributing an extra function can be less intimidating than writing a new library. (But please consider opening an issue first.)
    • And if you're certain you're not up to the task: try to encourage others. You may not succeed. But try to make the case for why this project is useful, interesting, necessary, or whatever other adjectives you believe apply. Motivate people.
  • I'm not a community leader, how can I encourage discussions?

    • There's no such thing as an "official" community leader. There are people with moderator access on some forums or control over certain websites. But that's not what makes someone a leader. If people want to hear what you have to say and join the conversation, you're leading a conversation.
    • Besides, you don't need to be a leader to start a discussion.
    • A slight retraction to all of this: if a topic has already been beaten to death, it's almost certainly not worth rehashing it. Reraising controversial points constantly doesn't help anyone.
  • It doesn't seem like the community agrees on this point, how can I advocate it?

    • Just because many people seem to be advocating X does not mean that it is universally held. There are many reasons why X seems to be the dominant viewpoint:

      • People may be legitimately unaware of alternatives
      • The people who disagree with X all think it's not worth speaking against the "dominant" opinion
      • The people who believe X are simply more passionate about it than those that don't.
    • So what if people disagree? Having healthy technical debate is a good thing. There are at least three outcomes I can see from such a debate:

      • You realize you were wrong
      • People disagreeing with you realize they were wrong
      • Both sides continue with their beliefs, but have a deeper understanding of both their positions and the alternatives
    • But again, try to avoid beating a topic to death

I don't know if people outside the Haskell world experience this as much as we do. But I've certainly seen a strong sentiment of "not being worthy" or some other such idea. It's rubbish. Join the conversation, lead the way, make things happen. The world will be better for it.

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