Esther Schindler wrote a piece on mentoring in open source communities. There's a lot of good stuff in it - Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier's description of how openSUSE packagers progress from question-askers to independent maintainers (and presumably mentors of future packagers in turn), Jim Keenan's story of his local CPAN testing group. Leslie Hawthorne, the woman behind Google's Summer of Code program (and many others with similar models), puts forth some quick useful tactics:
Her advice is for participants to decide how much time should be spent trying to figure out the answer: an "n hour" or "n minute" rule. That is, "If you get stuck and can't figure it out in an hour, e-mail me." As Hawthorn explains, "You don't want to train them to be so independent that they don't ask for help when they need it."
I'm also hearing a lot about how Dreamwidth is an awesome, friendly place for cultivating new contributors - and Denise Paolucci's section makes me think I really should head over some weekend and check the project out.
"Create a project culture where trying new things -- and failing at them on the first try -- is not only culturally acceptable, but viewed as a good thing." In many open source projects, she explains, imperfect or unfinished patches are viewed as a time-wasting liability, even if it's only in the minds of the people who are doing code review. "Even if you never say something like that where anyone can see it, the attitude is still going to creep into the subtext of every interaction, and newcomers will be able to sense it," says Paolucci. To attract new contributors, she says, it's critical to "create a culture where a partway-there patch isn't viewed as ‘Great, now we're going to have to spend the time to clean that up' but as 'Great! Someone else did the first 70% of this, which is going to save me a lot of time and effort!'"
There's also a bit (two, really) wherein I get Really Excited About Stuff,
but I'd feel embarrassed about what the heck am I talking about? This blog is for my future self; I should not feel embarrassed about saying "look, it is a cool article, and I took the initiative to write to Esther and offer to help with a subject I'm intensely keen on, and my material was useful, and I'm proud of that!" (Why am I so uncomfortable calling any sort of positive attention to myself? I'd rather this way than the opposite, but... seriously, this is silly; there's no good reason for it.)
Er. That is to say, I'm in the article as well. Whee! Most of the email I sent Esther (that the quotes were pulled from) was a litany of thanks to everyone who's helped me find my footing in the open source world - and in life, in general. I have been blessed.