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…

Continue Reading

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…

Continue Reading

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…

Continue Reading

Learn this--hacker culture is not optional

In the past couple of weeks, I've become increasingly aware of how much conflict younger open source projects I'm involved in have compared to more mature projects and projects run by folks with an extreme number of years in open source. Then I had to explain to my housemate who Donald Knuth is... ...and tell a fellow Drupalista what the Jargon File is... ...and define "grok" for a colleague from the XMPP community... ...and stifle a laugh while my 7-year-old tried to describe the wumpus to someone who should know better... ...after which I read Eric Raymond's recent post on the social utility of hacker humor. Then I grokked. In the projects that have been around for a dozen or more years, or those run by hackers who have been, there is a common culture and identity shared by all: we're hackers. Whatever else we are -- country bumpkins, urbanites, gay, straight, bi, male, female, transgender, a particular religion or nationality, old or young, single or married, parent or not, rich or poor -- we are hackers, and all we need to know to work together is that we share that cultural bond of hackerdom. In the younger…

Continue Reading

I usually don't write about feminism, but...

I rarely write about feminism. When I have, it has to point out the foolishness of pushing non-tech women into technology in the name of gender equality, and trying to obscure the ability gap by pressuring competent women to spend too much of their time with the incompetent ones. This time I'm writing about a brilliant article I came across on twitter (thanks @crell). The tech industry isn't closed to women, or girls for that matter. I was welcomed from the first day I wandered into the open source world, a self-conscious twelve-year-old farm girl with no feel for tech culture. The problem is that most 12yo girls don't feel like spending their nights in front of a computer screen and line after line of code. Jolie's article talks about what should be obvious, but no one talks about -- you can't raise a little girl with nail polish and baby dolls then expect her to magically become obsessed with tech at university. I'm sure my chemical sensitivities (which caused extreme illness when I was exposed to clothing stores, new clothes, make-up, etc) had something to do with my becoming a geek. Will all girls raised in a more varied…

Continue Reading