[UbuntuWomen] Mentoring in Open Source Communities: What Works? What Doesn't?

Esther Schindler esther at bitranch.com
Mon Sep 21 23:26:46 UTC 2009

Thanks to those who contributed; they know who they are. :-)

Mentoring in Open Source Communities: What Works? What Doesn't?
Open source projects that want to attract new contributors can make  
significant headway by encouraging new, less experienced people in  
ongoing, personal relationships. The business-sounding word for this  
is "mentoring." The real-world term is "wonderful." Find out what it  
takes for mentoring to work in your project -- and the benefits your  
free and open source software (FOSS) project can hope to gain.

On Sep 8, 2009, at 11:50 AM, Esther Schindler wrote:

> This note, written by Helen a few weeks ago, made me smile. It's
> EXACTLY what I want to get at in a feature article I'm writing -- and
> in which I think Ubuntu women could help.
> On Aug 15, 2009, at 7:28 AM, Helen McCall wrote:
>> I'm looking for a mentor to help me with producing fully compliant
>> Gnome
>> Help files and integrate them with python applications, and mentor
>> me on
>> producing fully compliant Ubuntu .deb packages.
>> Ultimately mentoring me to become a MOTU hopefully.
>> I am preparing the Help Manual for OpenShot, and I also want to
>> produce
>> a Ubuntu .deb package for ccPublisher (the Creative Commons
>> publisher),
>> and get these accepted into Ubuntu.
>> Can anyone offer to mentor me?
> Open source offers amazing opportunities. There are almost no barriers
> to entry. If you want to try creating a new-to-you kind of
> application, or to learn how to write bright-shiny documentation, or
> to use the latest technology that your Day Job doesn't give you access
> to -- you can just barrel right in with an open source project and get
> involved. Once you become proficient (or demonstrate that you already
> are), you can apply those skills in the next phase of your career.
> Even better, you can choose which community you want to be a part of,
> and find a comfortable culture where your contributions matter.
> However, because open source is so personally driven and self-
> motivated, there aren't always a lot of opportunities to consciously
> improve your skills -- except on your own. While that's certainly
> valuable, it relies on you recognizing what needs improvement and then
> knowing what to do about it. In a regular office, you might be lucky
> enough to work with someone who'll take you under her wing, and give
> you specific advice about how to improve your code. Or someone senior
> to you will let you talk his ear off about the hard choices you have
> to make, and suggest solutions you didn't think of. The distinction
> I'm making here is between "learn on your own" (such as examining the
> changes others make to the code you contributed) and somebody offering
> specific, individual advice (e.g. "It might run faster if you did
> THIS..."), particularly in an ongoing personal relationship.
> Many open source communities do actual mentoring (even if they don't
> think of it with that label); others don't. Some make a concerted
> effort to connect newbies with more experienced people. They provide
> opportunities for people to work together in smaller teams (not just a
> gang hanging out in an IRC channel, however useful that is), such as
> in sprints and code-a-thons. (Tops on the list of "encourage
> mentorship" is, of course, the Google Summer of Code. But I know there
> are other less-public endeavors; the existence of ubuntu-women
> probably fills that role, too.)
> For a feature article at ITWorld.com, I want to interview people from
> several open source communities about the mentoring experiences. I
> want to hear see what they do right, and how they go about encouraging
> mentoring relationships. I'd also like to hear from open source
> participants who have yearned for a bit more one-on-one attention...
> and what (if anything) they've done about it.
> My goal here is to explore what's involved in a successful mentoring
> effort, and also find out what _doesn't_ work. I like to think that
> this can help all sorts of open source communities that want to
> attract more participants.
> Think you can help? Here's some of the questions you could address
> (ideally by e-mail):
> * What have been your mentoring experiences in open source
> communities? How well or how poorly have they worked? Why do you have
> that opinion?
> * If you developed mentoring relationships in an open source
> community, how did they come about? Was there a deliberate effort to
> connect people (how did that work?) or did it evolve on its own (how
> did it happen?)?
> * What did you learn? What did you hope to learn?
> * Knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?
> * What advice would you give to open source communities in regard to
> mentoring?
> * I'm also particularly interested in hearing from people in
> communities where mentoring doesn't exist or where it doesn't come as
> naturally -- opportunities may exist, but they're harder to find.
> Be sure to identify:
> * the project(s) you're involved in. Include the URL for the project
> if you like, as well as how you contribute (I write code, or I've led
> locally-run code-a-thons, etc.)
> * your name, role/title, and company in the way you prefer me to refer
> to you ("Esther Schindler, a programmer at the Groovy Corporation, and
> also a frequent contributor to the Blahblah open source project").
> I'll accept input on this topic until Monday, September 14th. After
> that I have to write the article. :-)
> Esther Schindler
> freelance writer (currently on assignment for ITWorld.com -- where I
> also have an open source blog called Great Wide Open http:// 
> www.itworld.com/blog/4264
>   )
> -- 
> Ubuntu-Women mailing list
> Ubuntu-Women at lists.ubuntu.com
> https://lists.ubuntu.com/mailman/listinfo/ubuntu-women

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