How not to get help in open source

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A bunch of question marks

Open source communities can be very friendly places, but there are right and wrong ways to ask for help.

In her lightning talk at Great Wide Open 2016, Emily Dunham shares the most common ways people shoot themselves in the foot while looking for help with an open source project:

  • Ask for experts
  • Leave IRC after asking your question
  • Withholding information
  • Asking permission to ask a question
  • Going where the experts aren't
  • Being offensive

When it comes to getting bugs fixed, Dunham shared a few other mistakes users make when reaching out:

  • Reporting bugs in the wrong place
  • Limited instructions for reproducing the bug
  • Being too vague

To wrap up her talk, Dunham gave examples of mistakes people make at in-person open source events:

  • Not attending
  • Not being approachable
  • Letting shyness win
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Didn't everyone's Mother teach them how to be polite and how to play well with others? I appreciate what has been said here, but it is pretty damning that it needs to be said.

You forgot being non-conforming to the "linux way of life".... it's as much of a cult as apple sometimes just cheaper

On the bug reporting items, the open source developers - really developers in general - need to expect this because different users come in with different levels of experience and expertise. Most users reporting bugs, especially their first bug, will know just enough to report that something in the project isn't working right. The developers or whoever is triaging the bug report may be able to discern what the user is talking about in order to determine on which side of the computer screen the problem is and what can/should be done to help the user, but most of the time they should expect to elicit feedback on all new cases.

Which leads to a variant the point about not leaving the IRC channel after asking your question: Whenever you file a bug report, keep up with the conversation that ensues and be ready to provide feedback and additional requested details.

Most bugs that come in require some amount of conversation in order to fully understand the problem and identify what needs to change. That's all part of the process of triaging bug reports and gathering requirements. The beauty of Open Source is that these conversations are out in the open and anyone can participate, helping to either direct the bug reporter in what additional feedback is needed or in how to fix the problem themselves if possible, or the assist the developers by helping reproduce the bug and provide additional details or even making the change and submitting pull requests.

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