It’s scary to join an open source project

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It’s scary to join an open source project

Think of the last time you walked up to a complete stranger, stuck out your hand and said, “Hi, my name is …” Depending on how often you do that, it was probably a scary moment. Before you walked up to the person, you had to steel your nerves, decide what you were going to say, and then approach them.

Joining an open source software project is a bit like that. You have to send a mail to a huge list of random people. Or file a bugzilla bug that goes to a ton of random people.

And then imagine the immediate response is "WONTFIX" with no comments. That’s like if the person you got up the nerve to introduce yourself to said, "Not interested."

I once spent weeks convincing a friend she should help out on an open source software project. She did. And she sent in her work to the mailing list and the first response was full of harsh critique. None of the follow up messages made up for that first message. I never did convince her to push her work forward. Nor to participate in open source again. (She does know exactly what she’d say to that first critic if she ever met him in person!)

What can we do to make sure people trying to shake our hands get a better reception?

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Stormy Peters leads the Community Leads team at Red Hat. Stormy is passionate about open source software and educates companies and communities on how open source software is changing the software industry. She is a compelling speaker who engages her audiences during and after her presentations.


Most people involved in OSS projects are developers and they probably don't think at the problems a newcomer is facing because they are focused on the code.
Maybe some flag in Bugzilla showing that the person is a newbie (is filing their first bug, is sending in their first patch) could help the developers to focus a bit away from the code and more towards the person submitting their contribution. Forums do that by showing how many posts one wrote and how "proficient" one is in that specific forum, wikipedia does it by personally welcoming new contributors on their own discussion page, etc...

You hear articles often refer to OSS and Linux communities as being "welcoming" and friendly. People who write this sort of thing have either been lucky, or not recently found themselves to be "new" to something.

Anyone new to technology "A" and wants support will simply get told to go read up on this or that. The interest is great for providing a "collarge" of information, but it is mostly poorly constructed, badly presented and much of it is out of date.

If you come up with an idea and share it with others, they will slaughter you, because they can not understand your vision or concept. But learn from history, the most creative people in this world are introverts, Jobs, steve wozniak, Gates, the creators of any filesharing and social media tool you use today are mostly done by bedroom programmers.

Stick to your guns, but try to keep it to a close circle rather than involve a bunch of unknowns over the web.

Original appearance on Stormy's Corner and re-posted with permission.