Jul. 25th, 2009

denise: Image: Me, facing away from camera, on top of the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome (Default)
The transcript and video of [personal profile] damned_colonial's OSCON keynote about women in open source are now available! Well worth a read/listen; she provides some really thought-provoking material.

After she presented the lecture, someone sent her an email saying (in summary) that encouraging beginners is all well and good for small projects, but for larger or more complex projects, it's impractical: beginners will make mistakes, the project maintainers will reject their patches, the newcomer will get frustrated and leave, and nothing will get accomplished. There was also a suggestion that in order for open source software to achieve wide adoption, it has to be high quality, with an undercurrent (if not outright statement) that a). newcomers' contributions won't be quality contributions and b). it's all well and good for small projects to encourage newcomers, but "real", serious open source projects should be staffed entirely by experienced developers. His point seemed to imply that the world is divided into programmers and nonprogrammers, and if you aren't born A Programmer, you have no hope of ever achieving that status. I'm not certain that was what he meant to imply, but it's what was there between the lines.

Skud copied me (and Mark) in on her response to him, in the hopes that one or both of us would have something to say, and indeed I did, because that attitude is exactly what drives people away from contributing to projects. Skud suggested I take my response and turn it into a blog post nearly verbatim, but after some consideration, I decided I'd rather rewrite it to be a little less off-the-cuff and a little more well-structured.

It's slightly facile to say that everyone contributing to Open Source was a beginner once, because some people are better at self-education than others, some people had the benefit of a university computer science degree, some people had the benefit of hands-on coaching from a parent or mentor in their teenage years, etc. But 'experience' isn't a binary, all-or-nothing quality.

If a project keeps turning away people who don't have enough experience for them, the end result will not be that project having a large pool of only experienced developers, while interested people who don't quite match the appropriate experience level go off, educate themselves, and return when they're qualified enough to match the project's requirements. The end result will be that project having a small pool of developers who are 'experienced' enough to meet the project's requirements, while interested people who don't match that level of experience go away and never come back. And because nobody stays with a project forever -- burnout, life commitments, and the lure of other shiny projects ensure that there will be perpetual turnover -- the project is likely to see its contributor pool slowly dwindling over time.

To that end, I've put together a list of steps that any project can take to lure in new contributors and ensure that beginners have a successful learning experience with them, without compromising that project's quality and professionalism:
Read more... )
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