It’s time, once again, for “Jamey takes himself too seriously and gets depressed.” …Oh. “And posts in LiveJournal.” But that went without saying, right?

For most of my life my dad has watched me try to tackle gigantic projects unprepared, fail, and get frustrated. Over and over, he’s told me to find other people who can help me. Eventually I started figuring out that this was good advice, and increasingly I’ve tried to get help with my projects. But I continue getting frustrated.

How many ways does this “getting help” thing fail?

First, sometimes I hear that somebody has skill or interest in some area that I’m interested in, and I assume things about them as a result. I go about talking with them, sharing my ideas and listening to theirs with some degree of hope in my heart, only to discover that (on that subject at least) they’re clueless. Or clueful but entirely incapable of doing anything with their clues, at least from what I can see. So I get frustrated and tend to more or less write them off, which is entirely unfair and I know it. I bungle relationships with these people from the moment I meet them.

Second, sometimes I meet somebody and try to avoid the first failure. So I don’t jump on them with my “here’s the perfect project for you!” speech. And for people whom I don’t try to get help from, and who don’t otherwise annoy me too much, I think I do a pretty OK job of making friends. (“Making”, as if you could, but there’s the idiom and who am I to change it?) But sometimes they come to me, or to a group I’m somehow involved with, and ask: “How can I help? What can I do?” And what do you suppose I say to that? But this turns out as well as in the first group, as far as I can recall. Fortunately by that point we have some sort of friendship established and the relationship isn’t shot as a result, but I’m still left without help.

My best-established projects are all open source, which is the only thing that works out here. Some people find my projects instead of finding me, and pick a problem to solve and start on it before I even notice. These people tend to make great progress, at least for a while. They haven’t yet tended to progress in a direction I actually cared about, but I’ll take the small victories, especially since these people have all produced some really cool stuff.

What conclusion am I supposed to draw? The only way to get good help is to not ask for it or encourage it at all? This conclusion certainly makes a lot of sense to me. I feel each of my projects should be tackled by people who care about it as much as I do, which means they should probably have the gut-level understanding of the problem that comes from a long time banging your head against it, and means that they would work on a solution even if they didn’t come across what I was doing. That rules out the traditional, “throw money at the problem” approach to building a quality team, although I’ve certainly tried that in the past and will probably continue to try it. (Obviously it’s never been my money, but there’s no harm in taking a couple of hours to help somebody build a good grant proposal.)

I can’t start new projects by waiting for people to find the project I haven’t started yet, but I can’t start my projects by myself. I’m tired of my old projects, which are after all the only ones people can find. That leaves me stuck doing nothing I care about.

I think there’s a “special someone” out there for everybody, and I believe I’ve found mine. I also think there must be people who have the same goals I do, even if I’d be a little hard-pressed to say what those goals are. I don’t think I’ve found any of those people yet. Where are they? What am I missing? I keep trying to get my fellow university students to look at the teams and projects I know about, in the hopes that if enough of them make a half-hearted attempt to do something cool that more people with real talent will emerge. Those of my friends in positions similar to mine think I’m crazy for being so not picky, and react strongly negatively any time I try to encourage them to perform the same experiment: they’re too jaded by the same problems of working with clueless and boring people. I just remember spending eight years of my life programming in BASIC, and liking it. How much more could I have accomplished by now if somebody with a clue had given me a chance?

So I refuse to give up on even the lowly unexperienced freshman. I’m excited by the enthusiastic high school student. I make an effort to ignore the occasional missing social skills and pay attention to the person and the potential instead. And I’m left with a bunch of people who are very nice and fun to hang around with (at least in my opinion, which isn’t always broadly shared) and completely unable to help me.

It’s raining here in Portland, and the sky outside my window has gotten quite dark.