Are we taking care of our own?

Ryan Ozimek at the J and Beyond 2013 therapy session. Ryan Ozimek at the J and Beyond 2013 therapy session.

Joomla is a project that relies on volunteers. All the work being done on a daily basis in the project is based on the fact that thousands of people around the globe spends their time on Joomla. They code, test patches, report bugs, write documentation, market and promote Joomla to new and existing users, translate, plan and conduct events. These are only some of the many things that benefit us as a community and Joomla as a project. This is, in fact, the premise of an open-source community-driven project. Without the volunteers, Joomla would die. Simple as that.

Invisible volunteers

Most of the people who contribute are invisible. Perhaps they’re mentioned in a release of Joomla, along with 50 other names on a list. Or they have their name on a page at describing their team. For most people, that’s fine. Most people are not volunteering in Joomla to be famous. They’re there to help build one of the finest open source communities there is. They also recognize the fact that Joomla is what provides the roof over their head and the food on their table. The joint effort of many empower the individual to do more and better things than he’s able to manage alone.

Better to burn out, than to fade away?

Some people spend an insane amount of time on Joomla. In fact, some individuals spend so much time on Joomla that they neglect other aspects of their life. Joomla starts to become such a big part of their life that it negatively impacts the relationship with their family, their friends and sometimes also their business. Some people I’ve talked to have taken on too many responsibilities in the community. They are bug squashing, leading a working group, participating in online (raging) discussions on forums and numerous Skype groups, and generally spend way too much time on Joomla. After a while, that leads to individuals burning out and leaving the project altogether.

Ability, time and desire

In another organization I’m in, they have three simple questions designed to decide if a person is right one for a certain task or office:

  1. Does the person have the ability to perform the task?
    Sometimes, the person’s desire to do something is not synonymous with his ability to perform it. To take on a certain task, the person should have the skills needed to perform them, or at least some relevant experience. In the professional world, this is obvious, but it’s too often over-looked in projects based on voluntary work. We are so happy that someone wants to take on an office, that we neglect their lacking ability to perform it. This can lead to a lot of headache - particularly for the person in question.
  2. Does the person have time to do this?
    Many people are «yes» people. I guess you’ve seen the movie «Yes Man» with Jim Carrey? Saying yes can be a good thing, but saying yes too often can lead to over-whelm and burn-out. The person in question might have time to do a certain task. But does she have the time to lead a group? Or to plan a Joomla Day? The person herself is ultimately responsible for how she wants to prioritize. Still, it’s important to make sure that she in fact has the time to perform the task at hand in the time and to the standards expected.
  3. Does the person have a desire to do this?
    Sometimes, people take on a particular task because they feel they have to do it. A sense of obligation. A sense of guilt for not giving back enough. Or perhaps a sense of no-one else stepping up. «OK, I’ll do it», is something often heard when parents gather at school and try to delegate tasks for a trip with the children, a school fair or something. No-one else steps up, and so I’ll do it. Not because I really want to, but because someone has to do it. It would surprise me if that didn’t happen in Joomla.

Asking these three questions about ability, time and desire, can help the individual assess if he or she is in fact ready to step up.

Family - Job - Joomla

Another thing they say to new people, is that they have a clear list of priorities: Your family, your job, and THEN, the organization.

This is directly transferrable to our project. Family first, job second, and then spend your time on contributing to Joomla. Just a few weeks ago, I saw a person in a Skype chat tell the group that his family went to a family gathering without him. He stayed behind, eating his TV dinner in front of his computer. That’s just sad, and that’s not how it should be.

For most people, I guess one responsibility or a limited number of tasks are manageable. In many cases, people can handle quite a lot of tasks. However, I’ve seen too many cases of people taking on too many projects in Joomla. They are in a whole lot of Skype groups chats, which sometimes have a 24/7 stream of new messages because of the international aspect of Joomla. They are in various working groups and leadership groups, and they participate in forums, Facebook commenting, Twitter rages and a whole lot of other activities related to Joomla.

Are we losing good people?

Now, don’t take me the wrong way. I LOVE the fact that people spend their time working for a common good. It’s among the best there is in this world. People coming together, creating something bigger than themselves. However, we need to take a good look at how volunteers are treated and how they are spending their time. Too many people in Joomla are burning out and are getting frustrated. And we risk losing great people.

A Joomla therapy session

During J and Beyond 2013, Ryan Ozimek had what he called An important therapy session for Joomla addicts. Ryan is the former President of Open Source Matters.

In the introductory notes for the session, Ryan shared:

For nearly 6 years, I played a significant role in the Joomla leadership. Two of those years as President of OSM. I gave everything I had to Joomla, and in the process neglected the people that truly mattered to me outside of Joomla. This presentation provides a therapy session for fellow Joomla addicts, against the backdrop of my own life, with the hope that others can learn from my personal and professional challenges and ensure that your life outside of Joomla doesn't suffer. You'll walk away understanding the warning signs, and immediate actions you can take to avoid a crash.

At the start of the session, Ryan asked everyone to turn off their cell phones and their cameras, and there was no filming of the session. Then, he started by telling his own story. He told a story of how he during his involvement with Joomla and Open Source Matters, experienced stress symptoms, sleep deprivation, chronic fatigue and a lack of connection with his family. He worked so much that he wasn’t able to enjoy even the time he spent with his family, as his mind was so preoccupied with everything going on.

After telling his story, he invited people from the group to his sofa. We were all gathered in a circle around the room. The whole thing was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it had a definite serious undertone. One after another, people came forth and told about their involvement in Joomla and how it affected their life. Several people talked about stress, fatigue and overwhelm.

Ryan wanted to have this conversation and session to highlight that we need to take care of each other and ourselves more. We should be aware that the flip side of volunteering is that people may become dead tired and quit. People with big hearts contribute a lot, and they also have a hard time saying no. This leads them to take on more tasks and eventually burn out.

After the session, Ryan and I had a good talk and I know that this is something close to his heart. I noticed that he had changed during the last year and that he wanted to share his story so others could avoid the pitfalls of overworking themselves.

Online ranting

During the last couple of years, I’ve seen more and more ranting going on in the various forums that Joomla people populate. Most of the conversation is civil and good, but there are some who are clearly over-worked, frustrated and angry. In my opinion, a lot of this comes from over-working themselves in their professional life as well as in Joomla.

The joy of being a contributor

As I stated earlier, I believe that our volunteers are in Joomla to give back in a sincere way. There are many reasons for contributing to any cause as a volunteer: Feeling better about yourself for doing so. Challenging yourself. A feeling of doing something worthwhile and significant. Recognizing that the project would die if people don’t step up. And many more.


Looking at the reasons why people contribute, I don’t think they are in Joomla to get praise. They are not in Joomla to become «rock stars» - well, some are ;) - or to get an award. Still, there is something in all of us that needs recognition. No-one likes to be ignored. There have been cases where people have spent a lot of time working on a patch, a specific project or task, and where the thing they’ve worked on was never a reality. It’s extremely disappointing to work on something in Joomla for a long time, only to experience that the project was cancelled, or the patch was not included in Joomla at all. This type of thing is frustrating, to say the least, and have lead people to leave the community for good.

That said, there are many reasons things like this happen. We need to make sure that our people are brought on board to do real work, that the tasks we give them are going to result in something tangible and that they are recognized for their contribution. It takes so little effort to recognize the efforts of a person. It costs nothing and it counts a lot for the individual.

A volunteer manager

Perhaps Joomla should have a person or group dedicated to taking care of our volunteers? This person could keep an eye on the community. He or she could make sure that people who are involved in more than one aspect of Joomla get some follow-up and perhaps relief / help with their tasks. I think we can benefit as a community by seeing how our people work and take measures before it gets out of hand.

We could also provide documentation or a «Volunteer’s Handbook» to inform about different aspects of the Joomla community and how people can help. This handbook could also include some of the insights that people like Ryan have had. Informing new volunteers about the importance of taking care of their life outside Joomla and not take on too many things at the same time. In the long run, I believe we can only win by talking and being open about these things.

Take care

As an end note from me, to you as a volunteer in Joomla: I recognize your work, I appreciate your work, I want you to continue volunteering. Take care of yourself, your family and your job. Learn to say ‘Yes’ to the right things for you and ‘No’ to most things that come your way. Focus. You’ll be a better volunteer for it.

Read 11236 times Originally published on Friday, 09 August 2013 09:17
Last modified on Saturday, 10 August 2013 01:39
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