Schnee (schnee) wrote,


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.

Tags: encouragement, foss, life lessons, quote of the day, social interaction, thoughts, wikipedia
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