The Joomla 1.6 Beta has been published, and now it's time for scrubbing and polishing.
I was already involved in the development of Joomla 1.5, but was only responsible for the template and had little influence on the code and the development process itself. This changed for 1.6: I have been far more intensely involved and have learned so much, particularly in the last few months.
The central theme for me within this project was and is communication.
Who's afraid of a foreign language?
Joomla is an international project with active members from many countries. The common language must be English. My English wasn't particularly good when I was in school, and when I began contributing to the project, every sentence took forever. I had to really concentrate on how to phrase things correctly and annoyed many of my English-expert friends with my demands for help. At some point, I could no longer justify that much time and effort. I had to trust in my own abilities and hope I would be understood. In the end, it worked better than I'd thought it would. I learned a lot and can only encourage anyone who wants to participate to get over their fear of the foreign tongue.
Still, discussions of fine points were difficult. In my native language, my arguments are not only convincing, but rhetorically polished. In English? Not quite yet.
I would like to ask native speakers of English to be a bit more considerate in this respect and specifically to reduce their use of rhetorical devices, as we cannot otherwise discuss the issues on an equal footing.
Other countries, other customs
Communication also has a cultural component which must not be underestimated. In Germany, it is quite normal to say to a colleague: "What you're doing is completely wrong."
Nobody takes it personally, and we then work together to solve the problem. My experience has shown, however, that this direct kind of criticism is perceived in some cultures to be rude.
On the other hand, we Germans are amazed at how Americans are constantly praising people. "Well done" and "great work". For us, it's just normal to do our work as well as we can. As soon as everyone is aware of the existence of such differences, then the biggest problems have already been eliminated. The most important thing is that participants be open with each other and try to anticipate where there might be problems.
Communication is individual
Raymond, the developer of fetchmail, wrote that in a 1996 essay about the Open Source movement. This essay is still current in spite of its age. He posits that every good software originates in the desires of its developers. Whenever we deal with desires, we are dealing with emotions.
The driving forces in Open Source development are generally the passion and enthusiasm of the individuals involved. If these emotions are brought into objective discussions, things can get complicated. People can get so caught up with their own desires and goals that it's hard for them to see anyone else's feelings.
In such cases, it sometimes helps to take a step back, and to try to understand the other person's motivation. Perhaps that understanding can help in reaching a solution that is acceptable to all participants.
This of course requires that all parties take each other seriously. It can often be helpful to first be aware of one's own motives and to communicate those clearly to the other partners.
As long as the tone is appropriate, really good arguments will be heard - even if their expression is not quite perfect.