17–19 October 2016: Conference & Tutorials
19–20 October 2016: Training
London, UK

The bait and switch of open source

Katrina Owen (GitHub)
14:25–15:05 Monday, 17/10/2016
Location: Park Suite (Sponsored)
Average rating: *****
(5.00, 5 ratings)

What you'll learn

  • Learn what you’re in for when runnning a open source project for the first time
  • Discover how to avoid some of the pain and pitfalls


The story of Exercism is one of chaos, confusion, and surprising successes. The site started out as a workflow optimization tool intended to be used by 25 people, but within a short amount of time, thousands of people were using the site, and hundreds of people were contributing to it. This sounds wonderful, except that it wasn’t really clear who all of these people were, why they were there, or what they needed or wanted.

Katrina Owen thought she was solving technical problems, but the truly difficult problems weren’t about automated tests, continuous deployment, or architecture but rather inherently squishy questions about mentorship, motivation, and communication. Katrina illustrates the many ways in which things went wrong for Exercism because she didn’t treat people problems as first-class citizens and attempts to answer some, if not all, of the following questions:

  • How do you provide a user experience that fosters friendly and thoughtful conversations?
  • How do you model effective code reviews when the recipients have wildly differing skill levels (and need wildly different types of feedback)?
  • How do you encourage desired behaviors without killing intrinsic motivation?
  • How do you reject pull requests and feature suggestions without hurting people’s feelings?
  • How do you onboard new contributors, many of whom have never contributed to open source (and are completely overwhelmed and intimidated by the process)?

This session is sponsored by GitHub.

Photo of Katrina Owen

Katrina Owen


Katrina Owen is an ecosystem engineer at GitHub. She accidentally became a developer while pursuing a degree in molecular biology. Katrina focuses on automation, workflow optimization, and refactoring, working primarily in Go and Ruby. She contributes to several open source projects and is the creator of exercism.io, a platform for code practice and programming mentorship.