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Encouragement

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Aug. 8th, 2011 | 06:35 pm

By way of perlbuzz, here's a quote from Brian Cassidy about how to handle contributions from newcomers to FOSS:

New authors should not be "beaten" for not following standard practices, rather coached and mentored into becoming productive members of our culture. Disciplining new authors is counter not only to our culture, but it goes against the release early/release often mantra we often hear in the open source ecosystem.

It's very easy to dismiss someone as ignorant and cast them aside (in retrospect, I'm ashamed to say I've done it too). The hard road is to offer them a hand, show them the ropes.

Not everybody has time for that, and we'll never save people from themselves (no matter how hard we try). But before you rush to dismiss someone's effort (that they've submitted for public scrutiny, no less) think about how you would've like to have been treated when you were new.

A kind word of encouragement can go a long way.

This is very true; it's not just code contributions, either, it's also things like reporting bugs, suggesting improvements and so on. But it also applies in a much wider context: for instance, I often tend to think of Wikipedia when I hear this sort of thing. Wikipedia does have a "don't bite the newcomers" policy, of course, but in reality, it unfortunately often doesn't work that way.

In fact, the fact that there is an explicit policy to that effect is telling. If it was really deeply ingrained into Wikipedia-the-project's culture that newcomers should be treated with kindness and encouraged, why would this have to be written down, and in a fairly lengthy and exhaustive essay to boot? Granted, the Wikipedia community is good at documenting everything and writing up policies, but some things should go without saying; when they don't, that fact itself says something.

It's important to keep in mind that whenever a newcomer contributes something, they are making an effort. They are investing their own time; they are trying to understand how things work. Why is that? The reason is that they care enough about something to want to give back a little. If somebody reaches out and offers you their hand to shake, then getting annoyed because they didn't do so quite the right way is absolutely the wrong thing to do, and a surefire way of turning someone off and driving them away from your project.

Anyhow, going back to the original quote, the lesson drawn applies to more than just the proper way of treating newcomers, too. Whenever someone does or says something, keep in mind that they put in time and effort, especially if they did it on their own time. Encourage people! Give them some feedback, let them know that their efforts are appreciated, that everybody isn't just looking at what they're offering, wrinkling their nose, and moving on without comment.

Whether it's software bug reports, pictures of someone's new fursuit, a stand-up comedy routine you're watching, an event that somebody organized, a cake that somebody brought for a meet, or whatever — a kind word of encouragement can go a long way, indeed.

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Schneelocke

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from: schnee
date: Aug. 8th, 2011 08:51 pm (UTC)
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*nods* There is that, but what may be sense to a veteran may not be common sense to a newcomer; and even if something SHOULD be obvious, it doesn't help to criticize someone harshly when they're just trying to help out. You catch more flies with honey (well, fat, actually) than vinegar and all that. :)

But the broader issue is that being nice to people (or not) is a mindset, too, and that it's a good thing to adopt a supportive mindset. For example, take someone who's doing stand-up comedy at an open mic night and who's obviously nervous. I think that someone like that, if anything, deserves MORE applause than a veteran comedian; and if someone like that gets encouragement and positive feedback from people, he may well decide to continue, and eventually become a more seasoned comedian himself.

Of course all this assumes that the person in question is actually making an effort.

Anyhow, I think it also applies to personal relationships. Encourage and support your friends — offer helpful criticism, of course, but don't belittle their efforts, even when they really are newcomers and even when it shows.

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Schneelocke

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from: schnee
date: Aug. 9th, 2011 06:54 pm (UTC)
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That's true, but it's a rather different issue.

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Schneelocke

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from: schnee
date: Aug. 10th, 2011 05:45 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, that's part of it. :) Appreciate what people are contributing, and also the fact THAT they are contributing, and act in such a way that encourages them to contribute more, rather than driving them away.

And again, it really applies in a very general context. For instance, when you see somebody who's new to stand-up comedy, give him a big hand even if he wasn't perfect. When somebody shows off their first fursuit they made, don't criticize it because it doesn't compare to what the veteran builders can do. And so on.

Just in general, be nice to people, and try to encourage them, and create a positive atmosphere around yourself.

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moonhare

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from: mondhasen
date: Aug. 8th, 2011 08:52 pm (UTC)
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...a kind word of encouragement can go a long way, indeed.

This was a reason I found alt.lifestyle.furry a hard place to hang out because some of the regulars delighted in trolling on new entries.

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Schneelocke

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from: schnee
date: Aug. 8th, 2011 08:59 pm (UTC)
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Lots of communities are like that, alas — which is why I think it's important to consciously think about these things and try to adopt a different mindset.

Make no mistake, I don't think it usually is malevolent, but people may not even realize how they're coming across. For instance, I've had wikis (non-WMF wikis) where, as a new editor, I was greeted warmly, but I've also had ones where the first reaction I got after making a few edits was an admonishment. Not even a "hi, nice to have you aboard" — "you did X, that's against the rules, read the rules".

Guess which ones I stayed with.

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