Getting Mentorship Right in Open Source

Thanks to pdurbin and moongazer in #openhatch for the original discussion, and pdurbin again for some good edits to this post. I was party to a great discussion on IRC today about the disconnects in expectations that can make creating great mentor/mentee relationships difficult. This post is an attempt to capture some of my own thoughts and correct some misconceptions. A Mentor's Perspective I'll begin by explaining what mentoring looks like from the mentor's perspective. This is something most prospective mentees don't usually think much about, because they haven't yet gotten to this stage. Understanding your mentor's needs and concerns can make the process of getting good mentorship make more sense. A good mentor is busy. The people who make the best mentors are people who aren't just competent at what they do, but the combination between a top performer, a good communicator, and the type of personality who is themselves always learning. This is a recipe for being busy, all the time. Good mentorship is labor intensive. Mentoring costs a mentor time and energy. Because good mentors are busy people, these resources are already at a premium. Too often, mentees don't understand that mentorship is, on the part…

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Meritocracy in Open Source

I sat it on a great talk at OSCON today by VM Brasseur about succession planning in Open Source projects and communities. There was a point where she called out the weaknesses in claims of meritocracy in open source projects: At first, I expected the worst: another tirade about putting the goal of selecting contributors who look different from one another ahead of selecting for competence, differences in thinking, or complementary skill sets. What I actually got was something very different: a real assessment of where attempts at meritocracy usually fall apart. Specifically: The "I know it when I see it" failure mode: no one defines what merits a project or role needs, leaving new contributors flailing to figure out how to fit in, and established contributors blind to how to select and encourage others to eventually succeed their roles. (Fun fact: this blindness usually leads to a high attrition rate among new contributors and selection that corresponds more to individual biases than what the project needs.) The "the role is the person" failure mode...succession planning is put off again and again until it never happens, because project leadership never look at what the key…

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Blog Migration

So, I've finally done what a certain loved one calls "taking an engineer pill"[1] and moved another bit of my digital world to a managed service, reducing maintenance overhead so that I can focus on other things. This blog is now hosted courtesy of https://ghost.org, who have kindly offered me a complimentary hacker account to support my work in open source. They've taken over running my blog on the new Ghost blogging platform so that I can focus on content and, of course, my infosec work. I'm still migrating content and chasing down several remaining theme bugs, but thought I'd go ahead and set this live so that I could begin to put more writing out into the world. You'll see new and old content continue to appear here in a trickle over the course of the next few months. Feedback is always welcome. To "take an engineer pill" is to do one of the hardest things an engineer could do: to let go of control of something under one's purview and hand it over to someone else, who may or may not do it exactly as the engineer him/herself would have.…

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Heavy Training

This isn't just a post about training hard in martial arts -- though it is about that -- it's about training hard when one is very overweight. In the past year, I've lost clothing sizes even faster than I've gained belt ranks, and thinking back on the process, much of it was non-obvious. So, tonight I'd like to collect some of my thoughts where they can be seen by other overweight martial artists and their teachers and ukes. If you can stand and walk, you can start training in martial arts. I spoke to my sensei last summer about two martial arts sessions I'd been asked to lead at a local nerdcon. I was having a major case of imposter syndrome, being only an orange belt[1] at the time and overweight to boot. Sensei chuckled and said he couldn't think of anyone better for the job. "As a general rule, the people who most need to study martial arts never will. Nobody in a room full of computer geeks and gamers is going to listen to a word I say, but you speak their language. They might listen to you." Sensei was right on both counts. The…

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The Drupal Support Gap

The Problem We lack a clear and inviting path from discovering Drupal and learning how to use it to becoming an active and productive contributor. As a result, our most active developers are plagued by the support demands of intermediate users who have outgrown the Drupal.org forums and don't know where to go. This effect is compounded both by our failure to attract and assimilate new highly qualified support-givers, and the myriad bad behaviors that newbies are learning in "newbie ghettos" such as the forums -- behaviors that make it difficult-to-impossible to adequately support them and bring them into the wider Drupal community. The Solution Phase out the Drupal.org forums in favor of a more straightforward Q&A format resource. Treat posts that resource as not just the answering of this question here and now, but building a useful searchable reference into the future. Be brutal in eliminating off-topic chatter and duplication (but as kind as possible in explaining why a question was closed) ala StackExchange. Provide easy gateways from that resource to more active participation in the Drupal community: IRC, issue queues, doc team, translation teams, GDO, etc. Improve the consistency of IRC and…

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