Mentoring: Your path to immortality

Jonathan MathewsPublic

Mentoring: Your path to immortality

Have you ever wondered why some open source projects have better luck than others when it comes to attracting and retaining enthusiastic contributors? Here are a few ways open source projects can improve their chances of getting—and keeping—the kinds of contributors who help make projects succeed.

1. Give (social) permission

Go out of your way to give people permission to participate. Sure, you might think that because your project is open source, people already have permission. But the fact is that most new contributors don’t know that have permission. In fact, they might think they lack the expertise, experience, or status to contribute.

And it’s this last one—the status—that stops many contributors before they even get started. Surely you have to be an important, hot-shot big name to contribute a change to an important open source project, right? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encouraged someone to contribute a patch, and they’ve responded, “I’m not one of the developers on that project.”

You must go out of your way to give permission. Tell people, explicitly, that they are allowed to fix things, change things, break things, redesign things. Tell them that there’s no “me” and “them;” rather they are part of the project because they choose to be part of the project.

2. Give (technical) permission

Give permission on the technical level, too. Most software projects have a concept of a “commit bit” that is given to people who have somehow earned the right to change things. And most projects are extremely stingy with this.

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