Avoiding hero work pays off in the long run

A do not enter sign on metal posts at the edge of a cliff overlooking an evergreen forest.

I’ve seen a tendency in projects for people to go into hero mode when faced with a looming deadline or major task. Heck, I’ve done it myself. For example, if a release deadline is coming up, some contributors might pull an all-nighter to find and fix release-blocking bugs. The release ships on time and they’re a hero!

Of course, most people don’t think of it in exactly those terms. They’re not trying to be a hero, they’re just trying to do what they can for the team. Cultures around the world value self-sacrifice for the collective good, so why wouldn’t open source projects?

Because it can burn people out, that’s why. I wrote a note to myself on this topic shortly after the Fedora Linux 35 release, which shipped a week late and broke my on-time release streak. “Don’t think of it as delaying the current release,” I told Future Ben. “Think of it as an investment in future releases. You’re avoiding burnout and maintaining a culture that people want to be a part of.”

The culture part is important. We too often focus on the effects that hero work has on burning out individuals. But what about the people who see what others are subjected to and decide this isn’t the place to be? It doesn’t even matter if the person doing hero work subjects themselves to it. The example new people see is what they’ll understand the expectations to be.

Avoiding hero work not only helps keep your current contributors healthier, but it makes your community a more welcoming place for new contributors.

This post’s featured photo by Dim Hou on Unsplash

Ben formerly led open source messaging at Docker and was the Fedora Program Manager. He is the author of Program Management for Open Source Projects. Ben is an Open Organization Ambassador and frequent conference speaker. His personal website is Funnel Fiasco.


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