Few people take that step to get there heads around some large and complex project and help contribute to projects that are much more valuable to the community, [..] I really wish we each had a mechanism where other Advogato users could reply to our diary entries and have them show up.
Your path is clear. :-)
I agree with that feature wish though. I don't think diaries and articles are fundamentally different. I think it would be nice if I could see everything written by a certain person, regardless of the forum, and for each message, see the context and surf the threads. But I'm too busy to do anything about it right now.
In regards to your larger point, I think there are reasons to work on small independent projects that few people will use.
- It's easier to work on tiny projects. There's no paradigm to inherit, no code to read, and no maintainer to convince.
- Bad code doesn't affect anyone else.
- It's fun to own a project.
There are points in favor of working on more popular packages too.
- More people will benefit from your work.
- More people will discuss your ideas with you.
- More people will discuss your code with you.
- More people will contribute to the software you use.
- More poeple will have heard of you and might certify you on Advogato. ;-)
- You'll get more teamwork experience.
- Working in a team is fun.
- You might learn from the code you have to read.
- You might learn from the architecture you have to conform to.
In the past, I've done lots of my own independent projects, mostly because I haven't been aware of existing things that were close enough to what I wanted. I often submit small patches to other people's projects, but doing something major on someone else's project has a political overhead and I don't usually take the time to deal with it. It would probably be good for me though. Maybe I'll make time once I'm working again. (Being a grad student is far more time consuming than being an employee.)