We forgot how to enjoy anonymity

DISCLAIMER: This post has nothing to do with companies, how to run businesses or how to do open source. It is an analysis of how we develop our industry. It is food for thought, not an advice.

I often say that we live in a cool era in the sense that being cool seems to be more important than spending time on the things we really care about or, even worse, doing the right thing. As our industry grows, we seem to be more worried about having more visibility on the things we do, rather than enjoying the sweet freedom that comes with anonymity. The more visible the things we do are, the better it seems to be or the better we feel about them.

I love open source. I’m a strong believer that working in the open helps with the growth of a project but I’m not going to argue this here. What I would like to argue about is: When, in the life of a project or research, is disclosing the work worth it?

There is hidden value in the work we do in our basement, with a limited group of people, that we often forget about. There is an implicit sense of freedom that triggers our curiosity for new things. There is a sense of empowerment that pushes us to explore new areas. There is a sense of control that allows us to drive down a path and come back to try a new one if we hit a dead end.

Public projects have an implicit expectation to satisfy, as much as possible, the comments of those watching. These comments may come in the form of issues, requirements, or even suggestions for improvement. These comments will start coming almost as soon as a project is made public and I can’t but wonder how much this may be hurting our ability to let our own minds go free.

If we take Physics, for example, we will notice that most of the research done in this field is not open from the beginning. Sometimes it even takes years for a research to be shared. Now, let us ignore for a moment why this happens — I’m sure we will find some negative motivations there — and explore what it brings.

Physicists doing research can enjoy the freedom of exploring their minds, elaborate different theories and study the results. There’s no expectation from the market or other groups in the field. There is no need to make anyone but their own curiosity happy. There is no need to provide any conclusion but the soundest given the context.

It may not be entirely fair to compare tech with a field like Physics as the results expected out of each of them are different in form. The former tends to be more opinionated than the latter where opinions are not really an option. They are comparable, however, in how results are achieved and how new things are developed.

On the other hand, there are many differences between building theories and building products. In tech, we tend to always want to do the latter and forget to spend some time doing the former. The fact that I need a disclaimer suggesting this post is only food for thought and not an advice is already a sign of the expectations there is on almost any topic related to tech.

Arguably, there is value in these expectations and there is also value in publishing the work we do as soon as possible. Doing so serves the market and it may serve the project and our need for recognition. Unfortunately, it has a significant cost on how much satisfaction our intellect gets.

I’m not against the attention the tech industry is getting. I think it is a natural evolution of the market and a side-effect of the value it has to the evolution of our economy, our society, and our world. Some days, however, I wish we could all go back to our basements to play with our own implementation of a web framework.

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