My guest today is Nadia Eghbal, an independent researcher and the author of Working in Public: The Making and Maintenance of Open Source Software. She currently works on the writer experience team at Substack. She did a lot of her research at Protocol Labs where she studied the production and economics of open source. Before that, she worked on the open source team at GitHub.
One of the core theses of her work is that open source software projects don’t have zero marginal cost. Maintenance can be expensive, even if the code itself is free to distribute. In this episode, we spoke about how sharing ideas on different platforms helps you express different sides of your personality, why GitHub is the center of the open source community, and what she learned running a grant program. Please enjoy my conversation with Nadia Eghbal.
Find Nadia Online:
2:07 – Why the personal projects of a coder can unexpectedly turn into a massive public responsibility.
4:36 – The temporal nature of creating code aside from any other art form.
8:24 – How creators can become enslaved by their own systems.
12:37 – How Github differs from social media platforms, and why it might be that way on purpose.
14:54 – The similarities and differences of open source code and organized religion.
20:48 – How to efficiently externalize information to make more open source type projects possible.
24:29 – Why Nadia feels compelled to write everything down, even though to her it sometimes feels like a problem.
31:00 – How the bystander effect comes into play in the world of open source software development.
35:17 – Why Nadia believes that the way open source was started made it “set up to fail.”
38:46 – The importance of granularity and modularity in maintenance, throughout people’s personal and professional lives.
43:54 – What the consequences are to accepting code that causes problems downstream.
46:22 – Why Nadia chose to write and publish this book instead of going through the process of getting a PhD.
49:05 – What microgrants are, and how their different aspects play into research and development.
54:06 – How creative people can share their knowledge with each other better through story sharing.
57:28 – How Nadia focuses the scope of her projects from being too overly broad.
1:00:40 – The danger of thinking you ever know enough about any field that’s not your own.