by Esther Schindler

The Plone Sprint: Come Over to the Doc Side

Jun 26, 20074 mins

Writers and developers essentially work alone. No matter how much consultation a writer does with other people, at some point it’s just you and a blank screen that needs to be filled.

Working on the plone sprint this week (previous entry here) is an odd experience, so far. I’m not used to working around other people; I’ve been telecommuting for years (see Getting Clueful: Seven Things the CIO Should Know About Telecommuting for some of the wisdom I’ve gained on that subject). My husband, who also works from home, has a separate office, and we’re more likely to send each other email than to brutally disturb the creative process by walking into the other’s office. (Knocking on the door to ask, “Lunch?” is apt to earn a snarl, as Bill loses track of a linked list, or the muse snatches away a particularly brilliant sentence.)

I can, of course, handle myself perfectly well in public (though when I visit the home office in Framingham I worry that they think, “She doesn’t get out much, does she?”). Working with my CIO coworkers is different than the sprint, though, perhaps only because CIO staff know each other’s areas of expertise, personal quirks, sense of humor, and tone of voice (if only from a teleconference). I’m a bit of an outsider at the sprint because I’m such a newbie with plone (my expertise can be summarized as, “Bill, come here and fix this!”), and I haven’t hung out on its IRC channel before. Yet it was jarring to write something funny on an IRC chat and hear laughter around me… with everyone staring at their screens. Laughter with people looking at one another, yes; but when I type into an IM or IRC window I don’t expect aural response. On the #getpaid side of the whiteboard partition, they call Bill by his IRC handle name because that’s how they know him.

None of which appears to get in the way of people operating as an existing team. The first day was (typically, I’m told) a slow ramp-up, as people try to get a new build installed on their laptops, or work out what can be accomplished in the few days available, or decide how the edit process will work. (Nobody uses Word, for example, so I can’t depend on Word’s revision marks.) But by the end of the day, I was busy editing the initial section of the Hungarian guy’s text about KSS (Kinetic Style Sheets, a client side framework for implementing rich user interfaces with AJAX functionality); if that topic excites you, with some luck you’ll have an introductory text to read by the end of the week.

The doc team drew chairs in a circle towards the end of the day and, with Alexander Limi (who is the spiritual leader of plone, and who works at Google), worked out a plan for this morning. There’s a huge amount of documentation on the plone site, but it’s hard to find what you need to read now to get a task done or to learn a new plone skill. Instead of trying to create an arbitrary taxonomy and then force-fit the document into that structure, Limi (see, I refer to him by his IRC handle too) printed all the doc names and grabbed a pile of sticky notes. Someone will tape each title to a Post-It. This morning, they’ll categorize each document by its title and purpose (getting started, using forms, customizing a plone site’s appearance, etc.) by grouping together the stickies, then organizing them to flow by expertise or other criteria. It’ll be fun to watch (as I do my “real work” and also keep editing the KSS documentation).

Another mild (emotional, not logical) surprise is… how shall I put this… a lack of “turf” in building the open source software. As an editor, I try to respect the writer’s ownership of her text; I’ll generally query (“perhaps there’s a better word…?”) rather than change what she wrote. They’re the writer’s words, not mine. But the open source “I’m writing this to share with others” sense here overwhelms the personal ownership I’m used to. It was suggested that I could edit Intro text written by people who weren’t here; “Almost nobody will mind,” they assured me. After working with these folks for a single day, I believe them. There’s a sense of sharing here that I haven’t seen since the early days of the computer user group community… in which people devote their own time and energy to making the world better for others. It’s delightful to see.

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