I recently read a blog posting titled, The 8 Essential Traits of a Great Open Source Contributor I am disturbed by this posting. While clearly not the intended effect, I feel the posting just told a huge swath of people that they are neither qualified nor welcome to contribute to Open Source. The intent of the posting was to say that there is a wide range of skills needed in Open Source. Even if a potential contributor feels they lack an essential technical skill, here's an enumeration of other skills that are helpful.
Over the years, I’ve talked to many people who have wanted to contribute to open source projects, but think that they don’t have what it takes to make a contribution. If you’re in that situation, I hope this post helps you get out of that mindset and start contributing to the projects that matter to you.See? The author has completely good intentions. My fear is that the posting has the opposite effect. It raises a bar as if it is an ad for a paid technical position. He uses superlatives that say to me, “we are looking for the top people as contributors, not common people”.
Unfortunately, my interpretation of this blog posting is not the need for a wide range of skills, it communicates that if you contribute, you'd better be great at doing so. In fact, if you do not have all these skills, you cannot be considered great. So where is the incentive to participate? It makes Open Source sound as if it an invitation to be judged as either great or inadequate.
Ok, I know this interpretation is through my own jaundiced eyes. So to see if my interpretation was just a reflection of my own bad day, I shared the blog posting with a couple colleagues. Both colleagues are women that judge their own skills unnecessarily harshly, but, in my judgement are really quite good. I chose these two specifically, because I knew both suffer “imposter syndrome”, a largely unshakable feeling of inadequacy that is quite common among technical people. Both reacted badly to the posting, one saying that it sounded like a job posting for a position for which there would be no hope of ever landing.
I want to turn this around. Let's not judge the contributors, let's judge the projects instead. In fact, we can take these eight traits and boil them down to one: essential trait of a great open source project:
Essential trait of a great open source project:
Leaders & processes that can advance the project while marshalling imperfect contributors gracefully.
If I were paying people to work on my project, I'd have no qualms about judging their performance any where along a continuum of “great” to “inadequate”. Contributors are NOT employees subject to performance review. In my projects, if someone contributes, I consider both the contribution and the contributor to be “great”. The contribution may not make it into the project, but it was given to me for free, so it is naturally great by that aspect alone.
Contribution: Voluntary Gift
Perhaps if the original posting had said, "these are the eight gifts we need" rather than saying the the gifts are traits of people we consider "great", I would not have been so uncomfortable.
A great Open Source project is one that produces a successful product and is inclusive. An Open Source project that produces a successful product, but is not inclusive, is merely successful.