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What are you avoiding working on?

by Asheesh March 5th, 2010

I remember working on my first big group programming project back in college. The project involved some web scraping work; I enthusiastically took charge of that part. But a few weeks in, my code just wasn’t working. I felt frustrated and helpless — I’m supposed to be the scraping expert, so why couldn’t I fix the problems? I retreated into hiding and didn’t want to think about the group of people or the project.

A week later, I feebly ran svn update to see how the project had progressed. “Oh!” I exclaimed to myself. “Someone made the data importer work!” I felt a rush of relief. (While writing this paragraph, I sighed again remembering it.)

When I talked to my teammate George, he mentioned off-handedly that he had fixed it. He didn’t feel any of the anguish I felt or assign me the blame I thought I deserved. I guess if I had just asked for help earlier, I could have skipped the feelings of inadequacy entirely and George would have just fixed the bug.

Half a decade later, I feel the same dread about the lack of Maildir support in Alpine. The bug is three years old! Ugh.

This time, I’m going to ask for help. So I listed the issue on the Alpine project page on OpenHatch. To do the same thing, here’s how:

  • Go to the OpenHatch projects list and enter your project’s name. That will take to your project page.
  • Answer the last question, “What is a bug or issue that you’ve been putting off, neglecting, or just plain avoiding?”
  • Hit submit! We’ll help you sign in with your Google account or other OpenID.

For those of you who work on Free Software projects, what are the issues that drain you the same way?

No bug tracker I’ve seen has a field that says, “I’m avoiding working on this, and that sucks.” To say that, list the issue on your project’s OpenHatch page.

So join in! What are the issues you don’t want to think about? Once you share them, maybe a fellow developer or a new contributor will come by and help you out.

Head to OpenHatch and let the world know.

P.S. Do you have any ideas about how we can make these project pages more useful? Let us know!

P.P.S. Dear Joey Hess and everyone else, sorry that Alpine still doesn’t have Maildir support.

(Cross-posted to


  1. Adam says:

    Please come across to Reddit. Your openhatch project was mentioned there, but any requests for help/ideas are met with mumble-mumble-apathy.

    By the way, I dread packaging (even for Debian). I just can’t seem to get my head around it!

  2. M says:

    I think the problem for us is that we so fear intellectual embarrassment; we personally identify with the code we write and the kind of problems we can solve. It’s too bad that programmers aren’t more nurturing to each other.

  3. Tim Post says:

    I was really amused to see “Bugs Matching Unicode (30)” on the top of the list when checking out Openhatch, considering that anything to do with Unicode is on my ‘oh dear god no, not me … please don’t assign that to me …. ‘ list.

    The other thing I avoid is anything to do with lexical parsers. I _can_ make them, I just find the entire process scary, taxing and always worry that I’m doing it completely wrong. I’m not really worried about what other people think of my first few attempts, I just worry that I can keep them to ‘just a few’ before getting it right 🙂

    I will say this, every developer’s worst nightmare is seeing a patch they wrote featured on Slashdot as the cause of thousands of systems being compromised. As a maintainer, you have to be able to say “I have no #*&#(*& clue what that code actually does, I’m not touching it until I do.” That sometimes applies to code that you wrote yourself 🙂

    For the most part, however, peer review is often helpful and constructive.

  4. Sofox says:

    Wow, I thought I was unusual in this regard, having fear approaching something by all rights I should be fine at. Nice to know that other programmers have these sort of block too, and it’s not just something about experience or such.

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