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 roles are that they…

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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 Q&…

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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 open source…

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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…

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The Anatomy and Habits Of the Common Support Leech

Support leeches are a fact of life in the open source world. Some people don't understand how to be worth supporting. Others are just so obsessed with their own short-term wants that they are willing to destroy the community they are trying to get support from in the process. Below are my observations, gleaned from years of actual support leech encounters. Anatomy There are two subspecies of support leech, however hybrids are not uncommon: The clueless support leech is uninitiated in the ways of open source support, and possibly in IRC, mailing list, or forum courtesy in general. With proper education, some clueless support leeches can be persuaded to morph into community members -- a completely different, non-parasitic, species. The entitled support leech is hyper-focused on its own needs, and does not care to make the support process go smoothly for support-givers or others in need of support. This subspecies is the more persistent parasite (when compared with the clueless subspecies), as even when educated on "helping us help you" or even general courtesy, it will barrel forward, certain that only its own needs could possibly matter. Habits The examples below center around support leech behavior in IRC support channels,…

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Inside the Drupal toolbox.

Today's BoF for new Drupal contributors went better than I could have hoped. I've seen three of the participants in the issue queue already! One thing that came up at the BoF session was taht new contributors aren't always sure how to set up their dev environment and choose tools that will make playing in the issue queue easier chx* nano, komodo, bzr, kubuntu chx* lots and lots of good music is very important to get you in the groove (see my blog post on flow) wonder95* MAc Book Pro, AMP setup using MacPorts, Komodo IDE with xdebug and FF Xdebug Helper extensions, prefer Git jcfiala* komodo, mercurial. Either wamp or virtualbox to work in ubuntu. sepeck* notepad++ joshuarogers* Geany scyrma* debian, vim (and cgvg package), xdebug .. local lamp stack. merlinofchaos* all my servers are CentOS 5 servers running apache/php etc. I use EditPlus as my editor and samba so that I can use my windows tools on the files. Most other stuff I do via putty to ssh to the linux server. webchick* I use vim for most hacking, then Komodo when I need to deal with, like, Form API or node access. CVS for Drupal.org, Subversion…

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Another sign that the media just don't get it...

The Washington Post reported today that Cisco has purchased Jabber, the open instant messaging protocol used by Google, LiveJournal, MySpace, and many others. Unfortunately, the Washington Post isn't smart enough to discern between the purchase of Jabber.com, a Jabber service company, and Jabber a.k.a. XMPP, the protocol. One company bought another company -- it happens every day, and usually isn't the end of the world. Unfortunately, the story the Post told, that the protocol had been bought, would have spelled disaster for Jabber users and server operators worldwide. Jabber's greatest strength is that it is open to the community -- losing that would mean losing the ability for anyone to make an interoperable server or server software. I don't think anyone from the open source world who read this article believed it. I don't think anyone from the Washington Post intended deception. I think that the author, editor, fact-checker, etc. involved with the publication of this piece are woefully, inexcusably out of touch with a common, everyday technology, not to mention the issues of intellectual property that mark the difference between buying a company that uses a protocol, and buying the protocol. If anyone out there wonders…

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I have minions!

I am almost sorry to see winter break drawing near. For the past two weeks, I've had the privilege of introducing an amazing group of kids to open source software. Inspired by GHOP, Google's pilot Highly Open Participation contest, I've put together an extracurricular computer club for interested students at nearby Sandridge Elementary. We meet twice per week after school for an hour and a half. I came into this with the slim hope that the school's new administration would let me shepard a couple of students through GHOP. Mr. Hollingsworth's (Sandridge's principal) and Dr. Sawyer's (Sandridge's superintendent) enthusiasm took me by surprise, and became a catalyst for the growth of a program that I hope will someday serve as a model for other schools. Of the club's eight active participants (not counting occassional attendees), seven are trying their hands at GHOP projects, alongside high school students from around the world. Most have chosen to work on projects for Drupal, which makes for good crossover activities with our two under-13s who have taken charge of creating the club's web site. So far, the biggest challenge for me is leading a group like this in an essentially unwired community. Students generally…

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OSCMS Summit and Drupalcon -- Day 2

I started the morning with a round of Drupal lightning talks -- eleven topics in sixty minutes. dww even convinced me that if I ever actually have free time, I should pitch in a bit on project module. Dries' "State of Drupal" talk was excellent, though the audience as a whole didn't seem to react well to the bit about eliminating the webmaster, developer, designer, etc. The whispers and whines in the crowd implied that some people found those statements threatening. I'm mentioning this because I didn't feel that way, and I'd like my fellow geeks to know why: web technology is an ever-evolving industry. I've been doing system administration since the early 1990's, working with open source software since 1995, and playing with web technologies on and off since the 1990's as well. NOTHING is like it used to be, and I'm still here. So are a lot of other people. There was a time when the end-all and be-all of being a webmaster was smashing text and some basic HTML into static pages, then updating them by hand any time anyone wanted to make a change. Then came scripting and databases -- suddenly you could code your way…

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OSCMS Summit and Drupalcon -- Day 1

I started OSCMS by making hasty child care arrangements from my cell phone in the airport Wednesday night, due to my mom's flight being canceled in the eleventh hour. Everything worked out, though I also spent a large part of Thursday on the phone, ducking in and out of sessions to coordinate the situation at home. My poor mother finally made it to my place late Thursday night. I'm still glad I went, though I feel pretty bad that my mom went through all of those delays and cancellations. Rasmus Lerdorf's talk alone made the trip worth it. He's an even better public speaker than I'd heard, and I learned some new things about PHP, including the existence of some tools I can't believe I didn't know about. The OpenID talk was well done, but really didn't tell me anything new. I changed my mind about "Theming Drupal" and instead went to chx's talk on the new menu system. I am glad that I did. Not only did I learn quite a bit, but I ran in to webchick, the first of my fellow Drupalers besides chx to whom I could match nick, real name, and face. She is even…

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DrupalCon & Open Source CMS Summit at Yahoo!

Update: I found a roommie, yay! I can't wait to see you all at the summit. I'm trying to figure out how I can attend DrupalCon 2007 at the Open Source CMS Summit sponsored by Yahoo! The summit and related events are free, so it's mostly a matter of child care (got it covered) and affording transportation and the hotel stay. If any non-smokers in Washington would like to carpool to Sunnyvale, or any nonsmoking webmonkeys would like to split a hotel room with an easygoing lady geek, please let me know. I'm a night owl, I don't hog the bathroom, and I'm happy sharing accommodations with geeks of any gender. Please note that I am deathly allergic to cigarette smoke, so not smoking in the car/room isn't good enough -- you really have to be a nonsmoker.…

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