Growing up I was never a sports person, so I didn’t spend a lot of time on what you’d call “typical” teams. But I was heavily into the performing arts all throughout my youth. This included different organized groups such as choirs, theater performances, and both competitive and non-competitive bands of all kinds, including the stereotypical high school garage band. This continued on even after high school, where I took part in a couple competitive Drum & Bugle corps. I remember real gratification being a part of something special with people who are on the same page as you, working on a common goal.
But as everyone does, I grew up, took part in fewer activities, and focused on work.
I think most people understand what work is and how it takes place. You show up at an office, and you get assigned coworkers. These coworkers are called your team. Maybe you’re on the engineering team, or the marketing team, or a leadership team of some sort. I never really though much of it. “These are my teammates!” I thought as I move through my career, one company after another, doing different things at different places.
I never took a step back to really analyze what being a part of these teams looked like. But the pandemic changed things. So let me share it with you. As I have background in engineering teams, let’s use that as an example of what that looks like:
- A group of engineers are split into “cross-functional” groups of people to work on things.
- You show up to meetings consisting of “stakeholders” of this group, with people like a designer, a product manager, and a project manager.
- The product manager tells you how something is supposed to work.
- The designer tells you how it’s supposed to look.
- The project manager tells you the scheduling around the work.
- You go do the work, giving periodic updates, eventually letting them know when it’s done.
The reality of the situation was far easier to mask before the pandemic. I would show up every day and and be around people. I’d be in the kitchen chatting while making coffee, we’d go to lunch. I’d do my work sitting next to these people. I’d look over and make a comment about something I just did. Being around people makes you, in some way, feel like you’re part of a team. The reality is actually quite different.
- The closest thing you have to a real “team”, your engineering peers, are immediately split up to make sure as much parallel work is happening at once.
- You never work “with” them.
- You never actually work “with” anybody.
- You’re on a team of one.
It’s like if an NBA team split up to compete in 1-1 games of horse or something. Sure, you can get together and discuss strategy in your daily standup, but you’re alone.
As I moved through my adult, career-driven journey I always looked at open source projects with a sense of awe. There were these people, working together because they had a passion for it, not for the money like at a day job. I had this vision in my mind of wise cabals that work together to make a real difference for their users and combine to be greater than the sum of their parts.
I’ve dreamt for years what it would be like to be a part of an open source community that operated this way. In my head it was a lot like that high school garage band. You are working together because you love it.
I’ve had some misses in the past where things didn’t click, and while that was disappointing, I never let the dream die.
Owncast changed things. I made friends, and we worked together on a common goal, and I was so happy. I saw this as a real team. And better yet, I had made real friends, something that that becomes more difficult, especially for men, as they get older.
But it was short lived. Maybe I’m a bad project maintainer, or maybe I’m a bad person. Maybe people don’t like being around me, but those who I thought I was in that team with disappeared. I saw myself as the drummer in a kick ass band, but what I didn’t realize was I was an artist playing a drum solo hoping other people would eventually get on stage so we could start the song.
Realistically, I’m not alone here. If you look at any open source project you’re probably going to see one person working on it, with a few contributors here and there. But for me I mistook casual contributors as friends, and that’s heartbreaking when you realize you were wrong.
I can’t help but think at this point: As an adult, have I ever been on a team? Maybe you haven’t been either.
I might be slightly different, as the stereotype of the introverted software engineer is a real thing. They’re not driven by the energy in the room or the relationship of the person next to them, they just want to be left alone to get their work done.
But I never cared about any of these stupid companies I worked for, I cared about the room of people. Once there was no room of people, and all that was left was the divide and conquer approach of corporate management I realized I couldn’t rely on work for a sense of connection.
But at least I had my Owncast crew. Until they were gone too.