Episode 77

Jordan Harband: Being a Sustainable Maintainer of Hundreds of Projects


May 14th, 2021

41 mins 11 secs

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About this Episode


Jordan Harband


Eric Berry | Justin Dorfman | Alyssa Wright | Richard Littauer

Show Notes

Hello and welcome to Sustain! We are all very excited to have as our guest today, Jordan Harband, referred to as “Mr. Perfect” by the panelists! He is a longtime open source enthusiast, maintainer, coder, works at Coinbase, a TC39 Delegate, and heavily involved with Node for years. Today, Jordan gives us his perspective of being a maintainer of repositories and code. We find out how he is so successful at being a maintainer of so many open source projects, how he deals with ethics, how to ethically license your stuff, and how he handles hundreds of repos which he helps maintain. Jordan tells us what he’s doing to help other people out and shares some tips to a path if you’re interested in becoming more experienced. Download this episode now to find out much more and to get some fresh inspiration!

[00:01:39] Jordan tells us how he got started with Node.

[00:03:42] Justin wonders how Jordan maintains all of his notifications that he has and how does he deal with it. Also, he tells us if sponsorship plays a part of him having that passion and not getting overwhelmed which is why he’s so successful.

[00:09:23] Jordan explains how he is nowhere close enough in terms of revenue stream from sponsorships to be able to consider quitting a job and working full-time on open source.

[00:11:34] Richard brings up a book called, Drive by Daniel Pink, and wonders how Jordan chooses which open source projects to invest in and how does he feel like they’re actually giving him value because you’re making something that’s meaningful to you.

[00:14:06] Justin asks Jordan if IE6 will ever die.

[00:16:32] Jordan explains how to deal with ethics and open source, and how to ethically license your stuff. Richard wonders what he thinks the ethical obligations are of the maintainer who has a package.

[00:20:29] Richard wonders since Jordan has hundreds of repos which he helps maintain, and how he deals with deciding to take on more work.

[00:21:35] We find out what Jordan’s involvement is with the Airbnb JavaScript Style Guide.

[00:24:08] Jordan shares advice to somebody who is just starting out in open source looking to build in a sustainable way for themselves and for the code they’re making.

[00:27:05] Eric asks Jordan if he ever considered setting up a counselling program for open source maintainers since he seems to have it all figured out. Also, Jordan shares when he had a challenging moment in his life.

[00:32:33] Richard wonders if Jordan is doing anything to systematically change open source to make sure that other people also have the opportunities to work on open source if they want to, he shares what he is doing, and mentions one of the programs he’s involved with called Major League Hacking.

[00:36:37] Find out where you can follow Jordan along with his “perfectness.”


[00:04:05] “I try to treat those notifications in an asynchronous manner so that I’m not, like I don’t have any push notifications set up for those things, so it’s not bothering me when I’m doing something else, whether that’s doing coding or other work, or whether that’s spending time with family or friends.”

[00:06:14] “None of the parts of my career have been specifically for my open source projects.”

[00:07:01] “The rise of sponsorship models, Tidelift, Open Collective, GitHub sponsors, etc.., what that does to me is it’s a demonstration of interest and appreciation in a way that is more concrete than someone clicking a GitHub emoji, giving me kinda invisible internet points. It’s something concrete.”

[00:08:02] “The ability of someone to contribute even a dollar, five dollars a month is a concrete gesture that for the majority of people is actually really significant.”

[00:08:12] “There’s that whole concept of how, when a very wealthy person will donate a large amount of money to a charitable cause and then a number of people point out that in terms of the percentage of their net worth, it’s actually like you giving three dollars, and it’s still meaningful because it’s three hundred million dollars, but it’s much more significant I think when an individual gives sixty dollars a year, which is like my lowest tier on GitHub sponsors is five dollars, so if somebody is paying sixty dollars a year for most people that’s something, that’s significant.”

[00:09:53] “It’s not life changing, as I said, in the sense of paying my bills or not, but it would be life changing in a sense that I would be able to consider, well, I love my job, but do I love my job more than I would love working full-time on open source.”

[00:13:46] “So there is a trade-off there, but the upside is that ninety-eight of those packages need three minutes of maintenance every five years.”

[00:14:30] “But I think there are a lot of engineers that are frustrated supporting old environments, old Node versions, or old browsers, and it sort of violates a sense of aesthetics to have to deal with that messiness.”

[00:14:59] “And whenever people talk about dropping browser support they talk about percentages, but .01% of internet users is like the population of this country or something like that, I don’t know, I haven’t done the math. I’m probably off by a factor of ten or a hundred or something, but it’s still a significant number of human beings.”

[00:24:27] “One is remember that code is not the only important thing. Even just updating docs and READMEs and tutorials and things on projects is immensely valuable, and you don’t have to have any expertise in programming, necessarily, to be able to do that. So, there’s lots of ways you can get familiar with a project without touching any code at all.”

[00:26:50] “And so, in the same way I think that for oneself, knowing your own behavior patterns and what is a good fit for you and what works well for your life and your mental health and so on, is probably the most effective tool to making sure that happens.”


  • [00:37:23] Eric’s spotlight is a GitHub project called the README project.
  • [00:37:59] Justin’ spotlight is a funny woman on Twitter called Alexis Gay, who does hilarious Bay area tweets.
  • [00:38:37] Alyssa’s spotlights are acknowledging one year of COVID lockdown, LISTSERV, and watching Coming 2 America.
  • [00:39:20] Richard’s spotlight is a book by Daniel Pink called Drive.
  • [00:39:38] Jordan’s spotlight is Tidelift.



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