In an entertaining afternoon talk at LinuxCon North America, titled “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Rock Star Developers,” Rikki Endsley (Community Evangelist, Red Hat) discussed why the “rock star developer” label has outlived its usefulness and how Willie Nelson can be seen as a model for open source development.
Endsley cited a keynote presentation given at PyCon 2015 by Jacob Kaplan-Moss. In that talk, Kaplan-Moss drew parallels between his coding skills and his running skills. He described himself as performing in the middle of the pack as a marathon runner, which made him pretty average -- like most people. And, he claimed to be an average programmer as well -- not a rock star -- although people sometimes assume otherwise because of his association with the Django project.
Inspired by Kaplan-Moss’s talk, Endsley said using the term “rock star” when recruiting developers is unfortunate because it’s hard to define and means very different things to different people. The definition depends, for one thing, on your generation: It could mean anyone from Elvis Presley to Joan Jett to Justin Bieber. For another thing, the term narrows your audience and won’t even appeal to someone who prefers another style of music. And, the rock star label may not always be seen in a positive light -- it may instead invoke images of biting the head off a bat or trashing hotel rooms.
In fact, Endsley said, if you’re using the term rock star in recruiting, it might be time to rethink your hiring requirements.
Endsley suggested that it’s time to change the standard and instead encourage developers to be more like Willie Nelson, whose career has spanned decades. Nelson, in true open source fashion, is known for helping others succeed, for moving in and out of roles, and for learning new skills.
Other characteristics that make the Willie Nelson (open source) model of development preferable to the rock star model are:
Being accessible and contributing at a local level
Leading and inspiring others
Collaborating with diverse people and groups
Never giving up
In response to a follow-up question, Endsley explained that team leaders and project managers could encourage developers to follow the Willie Nelson model of open source development by recognizing the achievements and contributions of all team members and by finding new ways to measure those contributions based on something other than popularity or media attention.