Reading the latest Monthly News update from Linux Mint leader Clement Lefebvre is a sobering experience. While users do get updated on the status of Linux Mint 19.2, a considerable portion of the update deals with feelings of defeat, uncertainty and frustration. It’s rare to see distribution leaders openly say they’re not enjoying their work. While some other hot takes around the internet imply that this could lead to the project suffering, or that the team as a whole is depressed, I disagree. There’s an undertone of hope and confidence in Lefebvre’s blog post, and I think the team’s decision to introduce alpha testing is a clear indicator that the Linux Mint team is craving both motivation and a path toward an even better product.
In the April update, Lefebvre confesses he hasn’t enjoyed this development cycle, and elaborates seemingly on behalf of the entire team:
“We can have doubts, we can work really hard on something for a while and then question it so much, we’re not even sure we’ll ship it. We can get demotivated, uncertain, depressed even by negative reactions or interactions, and it can lead to developers stepping away from the project, taking a break or even leaving for good.”
Part of this reaction appears to be fueled by negative feedback that was received in response to the recent logo and website redesign. Lefebvre writes that it caused the team to feel doubtful and uncertain about their direction.
On a deeper level, Lefebvre could be alluding to something many creators wrestle with, whether their medium is music, the written word or code: imposter syndrome. It’s a psychological phenomena (note: not a disease or disorder) experienced by many successful people. Internally they sometimes feel like frauds, unworthy of their success despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Coupled with negative and even hateful feedback from a toxic minority of the community, this can easily lead to the defeated tone so prevalent in Lefebvre’s update.
Deeper Thoughts On Daily Builds
Part of the blog post introduces a new plan for alpha testing Linux Mint, in which Lefebvre offers this thought:
“Feedback is something we should love, not something we should fear. It’s what fuels our project and our development. When developers do things right, the changes they commit result in users being even more happy. When users do things right, the feedback they give results in developers being even more motivated.”
In a post last year, Lefebvre wrote that when they approach the Linux Mint Beta period, the team gets a huge amount of bug reports, and that the quality of the distro ultimately improves as a result. But he also emphasizes that this phase of testing can get “intense.”
Having this glimpse into the team’s state of mind, while hearing about how difficult things can get leading up to a new version release, the introduction of alpha testing makes perfect sense. Linux Mint is opening up a dedicated PPA (Personal Package Archive) for daily builds, and this will hopefully result in a smoother experience for the development team and hopefully an even stronger distro already enjoyed by tons of people.
The new PPA will comprise daily builds of the software being worked on by the Linux Mint team (Mint tools, Cinnamon, etc) as well as updates. Lefebvre says they’ll publish a guide soon that details how to best use the daily build PPA.
But let’s get to the real point.
How The Community Can Turn This Around
Developers — and by extension people who create anything for public consumption — are fueled and influenced by both their fans and their detractors. In a nutshell, there’s one simple thing you can do to bolster the morale of not just the Linux Mint team but any Linux project you’re passionate about: be nice. Offer constructive feedback, not angry criticism. Remember that these folks are pouring all of their energy into a free product, and remember that they’re sensitive to how you perceive it.
Beyond that, keep in mind that while donations keep Linux Mint and other distributions afloat, the occasional message of appreciation can be encouraging, and at times personally invaluable.
On a more technical level, if you’re feeling adventurous, want to help out the Linux Mint developers, and don’t mind the inherent risks associated with using non-final alpha software, consider giving it a spin.
My takeaway is that the team truly needs your help — and encouragement — for reasons that are both professional and deeply personal. Let me close with another impactful quote from Lefebvre on what he feels motivates developers:
“They need feedback and information to understand bugs or feature requests and when they’re done implementing something, they need to feel like heroes, they literally do, that’s part of the reason they’re here really.”
You can read Lefebvre’s entire monthly update here.
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