How the Pandemic and Work From Home Impacted My Open Source Contributions
By Christopher McArthur, Conan Developer Advocate, @JFrog
June 20, 2022
5 min read
With the announcement of the lockdown, overnight we went from driving to the office to carving out a space to work in a corner of our homes. I was a little more fortunate than some having had an extra bedroom that was my home office when it all started.
Since then I’ve stumbled and tried to find a new balance between my workspace and home space.
My background is as an OpenSource C++ developer but I’ve contributed to other projects like Vuls, ESLint plugins, and GitHub Actions.
My largest contributions have been to the Conan Center Index, which is the central repository for the C++ package manager. I have also made some support tooling to help the community get new packages added, update existing packages, and track the progress on each pull request.
This is my past year of activity.
May 2021 to October 2021 is pretty full, I probably was putting in 3hrs a day. The break between October and November was my move from Montreal to Sunnyvale and it took some time to get settled. January was my return to contributions but starting February there was a big drop in activity… April almost none and you can see the few days in May I tried to get back to the open-source project I love.
Acknowledging the challenge
I recently got an email from a fellow community member asking to take over one of my support tools. I had been so disconnected, the tool was no longer providing accurate or relevant information. The contributor submitted a pull request which I completely missed for over a week.
I did not realize how big of an impact my absence was having.
It took a few weeks of reflection on the last two years, talking with friends and coworkers, to find a thread to pull on.
I was struggling at work, it was difficult to find the motivation and sit in front of my computer let alone sit there longer than I needed to to carve out extra time to make those open source contributions.
This week was the big presentation announcing the new project I have been a part of. With that burden gone, it gave me time to reflect on what’s been unfolding.
With over a year of pandemic life, I had looming deadlines come and go. I’ve been asking myself why was this time different? Why was my open source contribution deeply impacted?
My home office was where I could work on a cold rainy Sunday morning, following up on my GitHub notifications and contribution to Conan, ESLint plugins, or miscellaneous projects I used to make my own projects. There was a little excitement walking into my home office with my first cup of coffee that I lost.
I used to work at a hardware company, we had designated workstations containing new products registered to our names. We were responsible for the equipment. Everyone knew which desk was mine by the perfect cable-managed fiber optics next to the stack of networking switches.
I don’t feel the same attachment of pride as having a desk at the office… It feels like a temporary stop to drop my laptop for a few hours while I attend meetings a few days a week. The on-off pattern of “return to office” has not helped, my pair programming rubber ducky is still on the home desk. Hopefully one day soon he takes the trip to the office.
My home computer has taken on a new role. It’s where I get most of my work done, so when deadlines loom and work gets stressful… home also gets stressful. The corner where my desktop sits becomes a no-go zone that is reserved for work.
My new apartment does not have an extra bedroom, so my desk is in the main living space (what should be the dining room)… there’s very little separation from my workspace. I still need to use my computer for personal matters, (e.g filing taxes) but making open source contributions? That has slipped.
Making the Right Changes
My stress stemmed from the work, there were lots of small changes I made trying to improve the balance but they did not address the problem.
The two action items that had the most impact were creating a separate workspace and switching up my morning routine. My L-shaped desk was pulled apart to make two separate desks, my work laptop has its own spot dedicated for working. You can check out this CNBC article I found really useful, it had some great tips.
What worked best for my situation was being honest and open with my boss. The stigma around mental health has really broken down (which might be the best change from the pandemic), so do not let that stop you. Let them know you are having difficulties and see what changes can be made to your role. There’s usually other work that can be handled or a good time to transition which is worth the wait.
With the passing of the project deadline, I am switching to a completely new role which is really invigorating because it’s directly related to Conan! I am hopeful I can get back to the open source projects I am most passionate about.