Harnessing the Good Intentions of Others for your OSS Project

Location: D138 Level: Intermediate
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“The single biggest pool of untapped natural resource in this world is human good intentions that never translate into action.” – Cindy Gallop.

Unfortunately many people’s good intentions to help to improve your OSS project don’t result in any action because there are many hurdles to them making a meaningful contribution. The list below shows what we have seen to be the steps that potential contributors often go through. Most well-intentioned potential contributors just don’t seem make it to the end of this list.

  1. Wish – I wish this OSS did x, y or z.
  2. Explore – Let’s see what how this code actually works.
  3. Hack – If I change this, this feature should work.
  4. Share – This Patch adds my new feature.
  5. Acceptance – My patch was accepted!
  6. Insight – Because of my patch, they started doing feature a, b or c.

This talk will be a collection of real-world stories of how we have lowered the bar for contributors to our OSS projects. As a result, we’ve collaborated from programmers from the US, Europe, Africa, India and Australia. Our talk will include stories about our successes in side-stepping the typically longer process. It will also cover an examination of the specific hurdles and an explanation of the techniques and practices we have used to harness the good intentions of others.

Specifically, we will share real world stories from our own OSS projects (ApprovalTests and TeachingKidsProgramming) where specific problems or needs were addressed and improved or fixed due to contributions of other programmers. We will talk about techniques to make working with contributors world-wide possible. These will include specifics about remote pair programming, use of other OSS tools, and setting up environments, creating videos and other artifacts. Also we will share information about the human side of harnessing volunteer goodwill, including lessons we learned about response time, work time, cultural differences and more.

If you have your own OSS project you will learn the following:

  • How to monitor social media for interest in your project
  • How and when to reach out and connect to interested technical people
  • How to do remote pair programming (5 different methods)
  • How to coordinate a remote, distributed all volunteer team
  • How to have happy volunteers
  • How to improve your project, i.e. learn from your volunteers

If you contribute to OSS projects, you will learn the following:

  • How to get patches approved
  • How to work with the OSS leads to get your feature ideas coded and checked in
  • How to turn your own wishful thinking (for an OSS project to add features) into reality

The open source community has grown strong and productive by harnessing the goodwill around the globe. We would like to turn even more of that goodwill into code.

Photo of Llewellyn Falco

Llewellyn Falco

Spun Labs

Llewellyn learned to jump horses in the 7th grade while living in France. Back in states, while studying drafting in high school, he started fire eating, sleight of hand magic, and once rode a unicycle 6 miles. After learning to juggle torches, he joined a acrobatics group in college where he specialized on the trampoline and walking a slack rope. He can calculate the cube root of any perfect cube under 1,000,000 in his head, as well as pick a standard lock. He can rollerblade down a flight of stairs, backwards. Later, he has learned to play the doumbek (a type of drum), to accompaniment a belly dancing
girlfriend. Llewellyn studied Tai Chi for 2 years, can throw a knife at 20 feet, and a playing card at 50. He has taught swing dancing, and loves to salsa. He is also an accomplished speed chess player. In the last year, he has been scuba diving over 20 times, become a guitar
hero, and broke his personal record of paddle balling over 200 times. Llewellyn attributes his success to the large amount of caffeine he has consumed, and enjoys computer programming in his spare time.

Speaking Engagements:
Agile 2011 – Teaching Kids Programming w/ Agile Techniques
Computer Science Teachers of America 2011 Nation Conference
Tech Ed South Africa
Agile 2010 – The Worst of Legacy Code: Forensic Development
Developmentor author/instructor TDD class
.Net Rocks 2010 – Teaching Kids Programming
Agile 2009 – A pictures worth a 1000 Tests
MSDN Channel 9 GeekSpeak – Refactoring Tips & Tricks
Code Camps : San Diego (2006,2007,2008,2009,2010)

Photo of Lynn Langit

Lynn Langit


Lynn is linguist who has been working with data for 10 years. She’s published 3 books on SQL Server Business Intelligence and has most recently worked with the SQL Azure team at Microsoft.

In Oct 2011, Lynn left Microsoft to work as a voice in the Big Data frontier. She plans to analyze and write about the state of data in the cloud in her new blog www.lynnlangit.com, to teach and to build big data solutions.

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Picture of Shane Curcuru
Shane Curcuru
07/20/2012 10:09am PDT

Any plans to coordinate with other folks working on specific bits of education or studies or community guides on how to effectively bring newcomers into your community? A slightly different but highly useful mashup would be a simple Learning Map (from the keynote) that pointed to things like OpenHatch’s Training Missions – especially if they had advanced training missions (i.e. premade courseware) that you could pair up with a newbie to guide them through. I.e. they try the training mission themselves (while you do other work), but any time they have an issue, you can step in immediately to coach them on the learning.

Picture of Shane Curcuru
Shane Curcuru
07/17/2012 3:33pm PDT

How do you draw in responsible community members into your project’s governance?

Many many open source projects can benefit from the lessons here of lowering barriers for newcomers – not just people who you already know use the product, but true newcomers (to you, at least). The larger and next step is drawing the repeat patch submitters into project governance. Not only does having a patch submitted make someone feel great aboute feature X, but if they’re a regular user, finding ways to let them contribute long-term – not just in patches, but project decisions – can result in new blood helping to drive the project on a larger scale.


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