The asses of OSS

“My code is so bad it makes people’s eyes bleed”

The developer community has been moved by the story of Heather Arthur, an engineer at Mozilla moved to tears when she discovered her open source code was being publicly mocked on Twitter.

Arthur discovered that her code was being criticised by a number of high-profile developers including prominent members of the Ruby community. Comments included “Ever wanted to make sed or grep worse?” and “I cannot even make this stuff up”.

The repository they were referring to was Replace, a command line utility for performing search-and-replace within files. Most of the JavaScript-based application’s code was written over two years ago.

“I had a lot of fun writing it and have gotten a ton of use out of it, and several people have expressed that they have too,” wrote Arthur. “I’d put it up on Github, so that others could potentially use it or use the code.”

The sudden criticism from several high-profile developers came as a surprise, said Arthur, and they failed to apologise even when she contacted them to ask what was so wrong with her code.

When her blog post was submitted to Hacker News, there was an immediate outcry of support for Arthur and a backlash towards those quoted in her blog post. Even Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator, weighed in on the subject, commenting: “Maybe before we spend a lot of time complaining about how federal prosecutors are unsympathetic assholes, we should start by examining our own community.”

Written apologies were quickly produced by two of the critics, Corey Haines and Steve Klabnik. “There are constructive ways to talk about code, but I did not use them,” wrote Haines. “I will be thinking more strongly about these ways and how to use them in the future.”

However, David Cramer, who has over 25,000 Twitter followers, defended his original tweet, arguing that it was “nothing extremely offensive, but nothing nice”.

Not all outcomes of the episode have been negative. In a ticket requesting a feature, one GitHub user wrote: “Lovely util. Without all the drama I would've never come across it.” The repository has also gained over 200 ‘stars’ from other GitHub users.

At the time of writing, Arthur had yet to comment further on the matter, but she still deserves the final word:

I evangelize open source whenever I meet new coders or go to meetups. I tell them to make something that they would find useful and put it out there. Can you imagine if one of these new open sourcerers took my advice and got this response, without the support I had. Can you imagine?

Teaser picture by Cameron McEfee

Elliot Bentley

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