Every year I participate in a number of initiatives introducing people to free software and helping them make a first contribution. After all, making the first contribution to free software is a very significant milestone on the way to becoming a leader in the world of software engineering. Anything we can do to improve this experience and make it accessible to more people would appear to be vital to the continuation of our communities and the solutions we produce.
During the time I’ve been involved in mentoring, I’ve observed that there are many technical steps in helping people make their first contribution that could be automated. While it may seem like creating SSH and PGP keys is not that hard to explain, wouldn’t it be nice if we could whisk new contributors through this process in much the same way that we help people become users with the Debian Installer and Synaptic?
Paving the path to a first contribution
Imagine the following series of steps:
- Install Debian
- apt install new-contributor-wizard
- Run the new-contributor-wizard (sets up domain name, SSH, PGP, calls apt to install necessary tools, procmail or similar filters, join IRC channels, creates static blog with Jekyll, …)
- write a patch, git push
- write a blog about the patch, git push
Steps 2 and 3 can eliminate a lot of “where do I start?” head-scratching for new contributors and it can eliminate a lot of repetitive communication for mentors. In programs like GSoC and Outreachy, where there is a huge burst of enthusiasm during the application process (February/March), will a tool like this help a higher percentage of the applicants make a first contribution to free software? For example, if 50% of applicants made a contribution last March, could this tool raise that to 70% in March 2019? Is it likely more will become repeat contributors if their first contribution is achieved more quickly after using a tool like this? Is this an important pattern for the success of our communities? Could this also be a useful stepping stone in the progression from being a user to making a first upload to mentors.debian.net?
Could this wizard be generic enough to help multiple communities, helping people share a plugin for Mozilla, contribute their first theme for Drupal or a package for Fedora?
Not just for developers
Notice I’ve deliberately used the word contributor and not developer. It takes many different people with different skills to build a successful community and this wizard will also be useful for people who are not writing code.
What would you include in this wizard?
Please feel free to add ideas to the wiki page.
All projects really need a couple of mentors to support them through the summer and if you are able to be a co-mentor for this or any of the other projects (or even proposing your own topic) now is a great time to join the debian-outreach list and contact us. You don’t need to be a Debian Developer either and several of these projects are widely useful outside Debian.