I’m currently struggling with an open source project, working to make the UI look like the one the designer showed the client. It’s a bit frustrating, because it’s sleuth work, and the clues are all in the code. Code I’ve not worked with, but with which I am rapidly gaining familiarity.

I cannot imagine how frustrating this would be if it were a closed source tool. Check that, I can. I worked on a project a few years ago with a closed source portal product, and it simply wouldn’t do what we asked it to do. Well, when you’re a small company, you do what you need to do in order to get the job done. This included some decompilation I’m sure voided our warranty, but delivered the client what was promised. It’s awful when you’re put in that position.

Regardless, I’ve been able to tweak this open source project to make it do what I need. When I find myself facing an issue that is not covered in the on line documentation, I’ve found that the best way to solve the problem is to start writing an email to the user list.

Now, because it’s written communication to a group of peers, some of whom are quite knowledgeable about the subject, I’m fairly careful about the content. I outline the problem carefully, explain the searches of the mailing list and web that I’ve already undertaken, and detail any avenues of solution that I’ve already explored. This rather rigorous analysis of the problem often leads to other glimmers of solutions, log files I have forgotten to check, and more hypotheses to prove or disprove. As I build the email, the problem becomes more and more manageable.

In my efforts to not appear a fool to peers, I reckon I have not sent about seventy percent of the emails I’ve composed–either I found another solution, I missed some crucial bit when before I started the email, or after doing due diligence on the problem I discovered the answer on the mailing list. It’s a bit weird, but crafting an excellent ‘can you help me’ email to a user list helps me even if the email isn’t sent.

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