The post I never published

Looking back, the file was created on my 29th birthday:

Jul  9  2016 read-the-docs-sucession-planning.rst

I had failed. I burned out. (I’m fine now, don’t worry!)

I started writing a blog post that you’ve seen around the internet time and time again. Another creator of another open source project steps down, offers the project to anyone who will actually help maintain the thing. Maybe someone steps up, maybe not..

  • Is this the only way to get people to actually contribute to my project?

  • Is it blackmail?

  • How does using the nuclear option affect my career?

  • What will people think?

  • Am I really a failure?

  • I could have done more

The post

I actually forgot that I had written it, until looking back in my drafts for ideas of new posts to write.

This post is a first draft, written in July 2016, and was never finished.

I’m sharing it because I think it’s important to talk about these things, and mental health is not something we talk about enough. I’m doing well now, which makes it easier to talk about.

Read the Docs Succession Planning

I've been working on Read the Docs for almost 6 years now.
It's a large part of my professional identity,
the thing that I'm the most known for.
I've always thought I would be happy to work on it forever.
the leaves change color,
the world spins,
and I get older.

At this point,
I have started to feel jaded and less inspired.
I see the problems easier than new solutions,
and don't have the vigor of youth and possibility.
I still firmly believe that the project can do more good in the world,
but I become less convinced that I'm the one to do it over the long term.

I've been failing at growing a community of contributors around the project.
I don't fully understand why that is,
but it's something that I've become more worried about over time.
I don't necessarily have the energy to onboard new people like I used to,
and I want to make sure the project is in good hands for the long term.

this letter is a public recognition of this failing,
and hopefully will also spur action on the part of some kind soul.

Read the Docs needs more people who are willing to work on it.
We need people to do just about everything in the project:

* Translation management
* Operations and Infrastructure work
* Documentation updates and improvements
* Support and GitHub ticket triage
* Design and UX updates and improvements
* Development of new features and new ideas
* Promotion of the project with blogging and social media

Just about anything that someone could be needed is needed.
We've had a lack of interest in development on the project for a long time,
and as such things have languished.

Get Involved

We have a well-documented process for getting involved in the tickets:


We also have hundreds of possible projects that can be done from the operations and development side.

That’s all that I managed to write.


Things are better now. I don’t recognize the person who wrote that post. They seem distant, a faint memory.

Read the Docs is sustainable. As of January 2018, we have a team of four people paid to work on the project. It feels like we might still nudge the world. I feel like I could keep working on this project for a long time.

I got really close to quitting the project though. It was really hard. I struggled for a long time. For every person who goes nuclear, there are 10 who have gotten close. I’m glad that things worked out okay for me, but not everyone is so lucky.

I hope we can take some lessons from Read the Docs and apply them more broadly. I hope the work others are doing in this area makes it better. There are a lot of problems that I still don’t know the answer to.

There’s still a lot more work to do.

Hey there! I'm Eric and I work on communities in the world of software documentation. Feel free to email me if you have comments on this post!