From Monty Python references to Git to mailing lists, Sumana Harihareswara discusses the barriers that often slow down new users and contributors during outreach efforts and explores what’s crucial and what to toss. Sumana explains the phrase “inessential weirdness” (courtesy of Betsy Leondar-Wright) with examples describing what other groups routinely say or do that accidentally alienates new people.
In getting rid of unnecessary barriers, we need to watch out for disrespectful oversimplification; it can be condescending, presumptuous, and paternalistic to reflexively avoid complex topics and nuance. Sumana outlines ways you can know if one of your “weirdnesses” is necessary and illustrates how your project can support both experts-only spaces (where jargon and in-group values are welcome) and mixed-experience spaces (where hospitality is emphasized and legitimate peripheral participation opportunities are available for learning). Sumana then explains how to mitigate the effects of an inessential weirdness in your outreach efforts. We need to build safe spaces with agreed-upon rules to help everyone feel comfortable saying “I don’t understand,” and we must regularly revisit and revise those rules. While teaching new learners, we should call things by their proper names while also collaborating among people with different perspectives to build a common language—and a common movement.
Sumana Harihareswara is an open source software contributor and project manager with over a decade of experience in the software industry. She lives in New York City, where she heads Changeset Consulting, which provides short-term, targeted release management for open source projects and the companies that depend on them. Sumana was most recently senior technical writer and engineering community manager at the Wikimedia Foundation. She has also managed projects at Collabora, GNOME, QuestionCopyright.org, Fog Creek Software, Behavior, and Salon.com. Sumana frequently speaks and writes about open source and management; she was keynote speaker at Open Source Bridge in 2012, code4lib in 2014, and Wiki Conference USA in 2014. From mid-2014 to early 2015, she served as a member of the board of directors of the Ada Initiative. Her past leadership in nonprofit, academia, industry, and volunteer organizations earned her an Open Source Citizen Award in 2011. Sumana holds an MS in technology management from Columbia University and a BA in political science from the University of California, Berkeley. She participated in the Recurse Center in 2013 and 2014.
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