No matter how much of a cliché it may be, making New Year's Resolutions is hard to resist. There's something about the calendar flipping to a new year that causes even the most curmudgeonly, set-in-their-ways people to take stock of the year ending and make plans for improvements during the next trip around the sun.
To that end, here are my five resolutions for 2019. Some relate to my job and wider life, others to my place in the community, and I think each one will make the world a better place. Feel free to put any or all of these on your list of plans for 2019.
1. Evangelise password managers
Over a year ago, I moved all my passwords over to a password manager. I use an open source password manager—of course—and I plan to start encouraging everybody to use them. We have so many online accounts these days that you either have to start writing them down (don't do this!) or re-use the same passwords—or variations on them—across accounts (don't do this either!). Password managers are simple to use, will generate strong passwords for a variety of rulesets, can be used across devices, and should make your online life much, much safer. To be clear, using a password manager won't save an account if the service provider leaks or loses your credentials, but it will stop attackers from using those credentials on other accounts.
So the coming year, I want to encourage everybody I know to move over to a password manager—and preferably an open source one.
2. File more bugs
I use lots of open source software, which will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me or reads my blog or articles. These days, I don't write much code, which means one of the most obvious ways of contributing to open source projects isn't really an option. What I can do, however, is file more bugs. Real-use testing of open source applications and libraries is vital to any project, but if users don't file bugs when they find problems, there's little chance for the project to improve.
Filing bugs is typically fairly quick but can sometimes take a little knowledge: knowing what dependency or debug information to include, realising what hardware might be useful to list, and understanding what constitutes a good description of what the bug looks like, for instance. Taking the extra time to write a descriptive explanation that can be read and easily understood by non-native English speakers is also important, as is the discipline of doing a quick search for existing or duplicate bugs before filing a new one.
I've been filing bugs to projects for at least 24 years, and I hope to make 2019 a year when I file even more than before.
3. Encourage more people to volunteer
No—not specifically for open source projects. I'm guessing that many of the people who read this site are already involved with open source. What I'm talking about is volunteering for projects out in the community. I'm involved with several volunteering opportunities, including (but not limited to) being a marshal for my local 5K park run (I tried running it once—but didn't bother to train beforehand and couldn't walk properly for three days), acting as a Community First Responder for my local ambulance trust, and working as a governor for my children's school.
What do I get out of these activities? Well, the question should really be "what do others get out of these activities?" because they're all about supporting the community in different ways. But actually, I find them all immensely fulfilling—even standing around in the cold on a Saturday morning watching people run and walk past me in the rain.
Not everybody has the time or opportunity to volunteer at all points in their life, but if you do, I strongly urge you to try it. Do some research, find out who needs help, and learn what they need done. Get in touch, see what the commitment is, and then give it a go. If it doesn't work for you, try something else until you find something that fits. It might be at a hackerspace, it might be at a local food bank, it might be cutting down undergrowth for a local kindergarten. Doing something different from your day-to-day job, getting out and doing something for other people, can be immensely rewarding.
4. Look after my emotional and mental health
This one is related to the previous resolution. I live a busy life, and sometimes stresses and strains can get to me. There's a growing understanding in most societies and commercial sectors—including IT, where I work—that emotional and mental health can ebb and flow over time, and there is no shame in acknowledging that we all have times when we need help, or at least need to step back and ensure we have some space to look after ourselves, our friends, and our loved ones.
Volunteering is one way I can do that, but it's not the only way. Sometimes, sitting down and listening to some loud—or quiet—music or a podcast is what I need. Going for a walk, doing some online gaming, reading a book, baking (and then eating) a cake: these are all activities that can help me find a little more balance.
There may be times, however, when we need more help than just a little more balance. This is when family and friends can offer us support, or maybe we need to access professional networks. Keeping an eye out for early signs and being ready to step back and say, "I need to look after myself" can be a useful step in the right direction.
5. Point people to Opensource.com
Shocking as it may seem, there are people out there who don't know about Opensource.com. Just recently, I was talking to somebody about their struggles with decision-making and transparency in their organisation. "Oh," I said, "do you know about Opensource.com? You'll find lots of information about open organisations there." He didn't and immediately made a note to follow up.
I try to keep an eye on new articles that appear at Opensource.com and am frequently surprised and the breadth and depth of material—technical, organisational, personal, humorous, and beyond—that you (we!) contribute to the site and the community. It's an amazing resource, and more people deserve to know about it.
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