Some days ago, I have had the opportunity to hang out with Kevin Carrillo, and talk with him about his extraordinary work on newcomers.
His work touched about 12 different FLOSS volunteers, who are involved from less then 3 years in a community and answered about their step-in.
Complete result of his survey is not published yet – it will be available under a ‘share-alike’ Open Data Commons Open Database License (ODbL) – , therefore the data he reported to me are to be considered as a general overview, but they show nevertheless some interesting reflections.
The final step to define an outreach successful is when newcomers begin acting themselves as a good community citizen: to reach this goal they need to proceed an identification with the community.
When they start referring to the community as “we” this goal is got.
Data which Kevin collected show that there are both human and technical needs to give a volunteer a welcoming feeling in a new community.
The interaction with the rest of the community is one of the most relevant issue for a successful outreach.
It’s up to community manager/leader to offer to newcomers a right, comfortable, human environment, which immediately makes them feel part of the community and accepted by other members.
Mentorship is very important, representing the human connection with community, but, unfortunately, despite of its importance, is probably less present than it should be.
Instant messaging and IRC Channel cover a key role in direct interacting with other community members.
Daily interaction is very useful to improve newcomer’s tasks and help them meet community’s standard and guideline.
The most a job will be close to community’s standard, the most newcomer will be considered as a good contributor by the rest of community, and mutual respect will grow easier.
A strong, structured community is the ground floor to offer the best approach to a volunteer.
In such a community, tasks should be organized in a progressive way, from easier to harder to let the volunteers improving their knowledge and avoiding the risk of fast-rising boredom.
Generally a good choice is to reserve some easy and short tasks to newcomers, task fit to learn community workflow and feel immediately involved.
The same kind of progression could be spent in bug reporting/ticketing system.
Most projects are used to organize tasks’ management though bug reporting/ticketing systems, but differences among all bug reporting/ticketing systems used by FLOSS projects could represent a bemusement issue for newcomers.
Organizing bug reporting/ticketing system progressively, and clearly explain bug reporting/ticketing system criteria, surely helps in make newcomers more comfortable in triage/bug triage/bug reporting process.
The Women factor
The Women-in-FLOSS issue is always an open question.
There’s no denying that the FLOSS community has many virtues, but gender equality doesn’t seem to be one of them.
The lack of female participation is a plague that hits about every FLOSS community.
Female participation in FLOSS is not so easily measurable, but generally it has considered in an average between 1% and 5%.
Well, the birth and the rapid grown of mentoring programs for women really demonstrated to be the leading way to increase women involvement.
All the communities involved in GNOME’s Outreach Program for Women have seen an effective, increasing participation of women and GUADEC 2012 has reached the awesome goal of 17% women attendees.
What happens in GNOME?
We could figure volunteers that wishes become GNOME contributors, access to gnome.org website and from there to Get involved page.
Then they have the opportunity to get in touch with team members via mailing list or IRC chat o start contributing by choosing a Bugzilla task.
In GNOME tasks reserved for newcomers are marked as gnome-love bug.
The heart of welcoming process in GNOME is represented by GNOME-love initiative.
GNOME love initiative offers, among others, a selected task list for coding and not coding contributors, a list of members willing to give advice to newcomers and serve as Mentors, and a dedicated IRC channel, #gnome-love.
During last days I’ve tried to figure what could have happened to me if I had decided to start contributing in GNOME by myself.
I found gnome-love bugs too technical for me, but I’ve been lucky in #gnome-love IRC channel where André Klapper has been so kind to explain how I could give my contribute in translation team (the team which I pretended to want join in).
My outreach in GNOME definitely could not be done without human factor.
The following are only my suggestions to improve newcomers outreach.
Enhance GNOME love initiative.
I firmly believe GNOME love initiative is excellent, but, maybe it is not very advertised.
I suggest to slightly redesign the “Get involved” web page to focus the presence of a dedicated path for newcomers. A good project to lurk could be Wikipedia.
Moreover a stronger visibility of available tutorials for newcoming developers – http://developer.gnome.org/gnome-devel-demos/ – could be helpful to offer a nice, quick and effective overview of GNOME development kit.
Design Development & Documentation.
I know that designers and developers are something that could be reasonably compared with artists, and artists are generally driven by inspiration. But offer to a contributors, an exhaustive guideline and a rich documentation could be very useful to let them get the right perspective. A wiki page as Nautilus for instance, is not very supportive for a new arrived volunteer.
Maybe Documentation team could support designers and developers in providing accurate documentation.
Therefore I strongly suggest to increase the visibility of aforementioned gnome-devel-demos, which could be expanded with more tutorials and demos. Or, more generally, I suggest any initiative that could feature in a structured manner focused articles, short guides, and getting started content covering the core of GNOME development.
A good reference for an accurate and structured documentation for developers could be found at https://developer.apple.com/devcenter/mac/index.action (articles, getting started, guides, references, featured content…).
Could be interesting to explore the possibility to gather the mid-long term planned tasks in order to integrate the effort of new contributors.
Wiki pages of single projects could list those info and help people (new and old too) to understand the direction a project is going to take and what will be needed of useful or important to do.
GNOME Open Day
Human touch is the key for success.
Sometimes newcomers find difficult to step-in the circle of trust of people that everyday work together and have the same vision of a project.
I believe a huge help could be offered by regular IRC open meetings, in which new contributors could run into developers/designers to debate projects which are interested in.
Keep an eye out other communities
FLOSS world is populated by many communities related to many different projects.
I don’t believe there is a standard way to welcome wannabe-volunteers – it depends on the basin in which each project draws, from technical and not-technical volunteers – but keep an eye out other communities could be always inspiring.
I do remember that data Kevin collected, regard only volunteers that are now structured contributors of each project, but don’t forget that there is a large amount of people who approaches a community or the FLOSS world and then leaves it.
We’re not able to measure the average of people who remains and who leaves, but every contributor, every contribute matters, and work to improve outreach process means work to avoid precious efforts be lost.