How to become a valued OpenStack contributor

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Shipping containers stacked in a yard

Lucarelli via Wikimedia Commons. CC-BY-SA 3.0

Adrian Otto is project team lead for OpenStack Magnum and project Solum in Stackforge. Otto founded the OpenStack Containers team in 2014, and is a Distinguished Architect at Rackspace. He is a serial entrepeneur, with 20 years of experience in technology leadership roles, and gets excited about evolving new technology to shape the future of cloud computing.

We caught up with Adrian to learn more about his talk at the OpenStack Summit Vancouver, 7 Habits of Highly Effective Contributors, where he will share a formula to become a valued contributor to an OpenStack community project. Adrian had the opportunity and freedom to run projects his way, to on-board new contributors, and more. In his session, you can learn all the things you can do, to become a valued and respected member in a community.

What do you think the top challenge is for getting started as a contributor to OpenStack? What is the community doing to address this?

Most developers today understand how to use the GItHub tool suite. OpenStack has its own unique combination of tools that take some getting used to. The voting process is definitely different, particularly the use of -1 and -2 voting on patch sets for the purpose of increasing contribution quality. The community is working on evolving the tools to make them more engaging.

How can open source project team leaders (PTLs) make contributing a rewarding experience for developers?

Most PTL’s are elected because they are the most technical contributor on a particular project. They are rarely elected for leadership skills. Most of our top technical contributors struggle with leadership, and naturally shy away from it. This frequently leads to dysfunction in community dynamics, as the PTL continues to focus on contributing at a very high level, and puts limited effort into leadership work. Doing things like setting project vision, tracking and celebrating milestones, providing team members with actionable feedback, and sharing the project vision with community members outside the project are all good ways of exhibiting leadership. Doing those things as a part time effort can yield limited results in terms of team unity, and effectiveness. My suggestion to open source project leaders is to earmark considerable time for leadership work, and scale back direct contribution work. A well empowered, motivated, and effective team can produce much more velocity than a PTL individually focused on strong contribution, and ignoring leadership responsibilities in order to do it.

You've served as PTL of both the Solum and Magnum projects. What lessons have you learned as a PTL? How do you get people working at different companies all on the same page about project objectives?

Refine a crisp and concise vision. Document and share that vision, repeatedly. Help contributors see how their individual work will advance us toward that vision. Take time to understand what each company is interested in. Why are they working on this project? How can you organize efforts to help make them successful? Arrange blueprints and Wishlist bugs to allow a backlog of actionable (bite sized) work items that the community can claim and work on. Visit key work items in your weekly IRC meetings so they can be discussed in real-time. Take time to ask for alternative points of view, and listen carefully to those responses. Don’t hesitate to break ties when needed, once enough consideration is given to viable options.

Hold mid-cycle meetups. These can be even more effective than our time at the OpenStack Design Summits. Crowd source the agenda on etherpads. Supply everyone with plenty of good food and caffeinated beverages. Encourage discussion.

What are you most excited about at the upcoming Summit, and for the work being done on the Liberty release?

I’m looking forward to Mark Collier’s keynote on May 19th. You are going to hear all about how our community has evolved in 2015, and what’s new and shiny with emerging technology.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

My “7 Habits of Highly Effective Contributors” talk lays out a set of behaviors that you can use in the projects you contribute to. These are specific to OpenStack, but most of them work for just about any open source project that takes an open development approach. By observing and guiding contributors from the projects I lead, I have reached a level of confidence in this approach that I will personally guarantee that it works. If you can’t join me in Vancouver, be sure to get the slides to learn and apply this winning formula.

OpenStack Summit
Speaker Interview

This article is part of the Speaker Interview Series for OpenStack Summit Vancouver, a five-day conference for developers, users, and administrators of OpenStack Cloud Software.

Former and Open Organization moderator/ambassador.

1 Comment

OpenStack by far has some of the best new contributor onboarding documentation of any project I have been involved with. It is really a great project to cut your teeth on.

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