Putting it all out there

Here are my normal steps for starting a project:

  1. Have idea
  2. Buy Domain Name
  3. Start sketching idea out
  4. write some code, push it to github
  5. stop working on project
  6. goto 1;

Turns out, I’m not alone:

For example, I’ve got 30 domains and I’ve only done something awesome with 3 of them. Sometimes when I log into my DNS manager I just see 27 failures. I think to myself, there’s 27 potential businesses, 27 potential cool open source projects just languishing. If you knew anything you’d have made those happen. What a phony.

To break this cycle, I’m taking a page that’s often repeated in blog posts and on Hacker News (although when I’m looking for the references, I can’t find them). From now on, I’m putting it all out there.

If I’m working on something, it’s going public.  The way I see it, this accomplishes a few things:

1. The shame factor is much higher. When I have a domain name, you probably can’t see it (unless there’s something that let’s you search `whois` records by the name of the person that registered the domain? Is there?), but with my code out on github, you can see whether or not I’ve been working on those projects.

2. Feedback.  Last night I asked on twitter about a problem I’m having:

Almost immediately, Justin Niessner replied with:

I knew about State machines, I’ve even written a patch for Evan Plaice’s JQuery-CSV library that allows it to work on Macs (Todo: put that fix in my branch), currently it’s only in use on The Motley Fool‘s Scorecard (Portfolio) tool to import CSV files that I wrote. But what I didn’t know was that they were applicable to my situation. I’d never thought about them being used in gaming. Because I put my code out there, I was able to get an answer and do some research into how games implement the state pattern.

3. Blog posts. Putting my code out there gives me something to reference when I’m writing a blog post, and it helps me to remember the state that my code was in when I’m writing the blog post. In the old days of Subversion, the ‘end’ product would be all that showed up, not the numerous steps to getting to that end state.

4. Tracking Progress: Fear may be a good motivator, but actual progress is motivating too. It’s easy to forget progress when everything is private. In my own mind, I started programming yesterday, nevermind that it was 14 years ago. It’s easy to forget those little bumps along the way. I must have relearned trivial CSS knowledge half a dozen times over the past 14 years, and without writing it down and documenting it, I’ll probably relearn it half a dozen times more.

As of today, any non work-for-hire code I have on Github, I’ve turned public.

It’s scary, but isn’t that what learning is all about?

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