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Mentoring and Open Source

Sep - 10 - 2009
Nicole C. Engard

There is a great post over on Perlbuzz that talks about the importance of mentoring in open source communities. As I work on compiling open source stories and experiences I find that what Esther says is right on point.

Open source offers amazing opportunities. There are almost no barriers to entry. If you want to try creating a new-to-you kind of application, or to learn how to write bright-shiny documentation, or to use the latest technology that your Day Job doesn’t give you access to — you can just barrel right in with an open source project and get involved. Once you become proficient (or demonstrate that you already are), you can apply those skills in the next phase of your career. Even better, you can choose which community you want to be a part of, and find a comfortable culture where your contributions matter.

However, because open source is so personally driven and self-motivated, there aren’t always a lot of opportunities to consciously improve your skills — except on your own. While that’s certainly valuable, it relies on you recognizing what needs improvement and then knowing what to do about it.

One of the biggest concerns I hear from librarians when I talk to them about open source is their lack of technology skills. While there are ways around this (support companies, freelancers, and even local students), I try to encourage people to let go of their fear and just jump in. I spent a year simply answering questions as I could on the Koha mailing list and then at KohaCon I decided to stay for the Developer’s Post Conference and I am so excited that I did!! I learned so much and that made it so that I was able to submit my first series of patches.

My point is that most open source communities are about … well … community :) People will help you out – they want you to succeed and they want you to help them succeed so just jump right in and ask for help – you never know you might end up adding a tiny enhancement that people have been asking for for ages :)

Also – make sure you read Esther’s entire post.

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