Earlier tonight, I was commenting on a friend's blog. He was asking about web game programming, and the challenges of Flash vs. Java. For whatever reason, the first thing that came to mind was OpenLaszlo, which some fellow Drupal colleagues have been very big on lately, so I left a quick note to that effect despite, to be honest, not knowing much about the subject.
Wait, colleagues? It took me a moment to realize that I had indeed just written "colleagues", because I've never actually worked with the people in question.
The specific people in question I have met in person perhaps once or twice at DrupalCon. I have exchanged a total of about 10 minutes of in-person conversation with them, and maybe another hour online. We've never worked for the same company, nor have our companies ever partnered on anything. So why do they fell into my mental "colleague bucket"? Well, they're Drupal developers.
It's one of those things that at some level you realize very early, but it may be a while before you are fully conscious of it. When you're working on an open source project, particularly a popular one, you are working with and alongside dozens or hundreds of people. You may be working on different parts of the system, you may or may not talk to each other directly, but you are all working together. In fact, you're arguably "working together" even more than if you were both working for the same company but never saw each other.
In a large company you could be working on a project that never touches some other division. People in that division really have no bearing or relation to you, even though the same company signs your paycheck.
When you're part of an open source community, you may be competing with other members of it in the commercial marketplace but you are still "working together" in a very real sense. I've heard the term "coopetition" used to describe this novel situation. These people are your colleagues and co-workers. And over time, you begin to identify with them as part of that larger whole.
That is both heart-warming and humbling at the same time.