Summer coding FAD

Mel Chua mel at
Thu Feb 11 13:49:41 UTC 2010

On 02/11/2010 07:58 AM, Paul W. Frields wrote:
> I couldn't decide if this was better sent here or to the ambassadors
> list, but didn't want it to start life as a private thread.
> For the Summer Coding FAD, I think it would be good if the planners
> could keep some of the following in mind:
> We should make an effort to attract a diverse group to our summer
> coding efforts -- not with the purpose of setting an arbitrary quota,
> but to make sure that everyone knows how enriching an experience free
> software can provide.

This is often as much about personal outreach as it is about the 
creation of marketing materials and such. Many under-represented 
populations stay under-represented because the people in those groups - 
consciously or subconsciously - think the invitation for "everyone" to 
apply does not apply to them. (This isn't as crazy as it sounds. When 
you see an ad that proclaims "$proprietary_software is for everyone," do 
you automatically include yourself in that group?)

So reach out. Tell individuals that *you* would like *them* to join the 
community. Them. Yes, them. Of course they can contribute. They'd be a 
great contributor. You'd be happy to help them get started. And so on. I 
can't tell you how many people I've talked to (women or not - it doesn't 
matter to me) who believe free software is a wonderful thing, but that 
they're "not good enough coders" to contribute[0]. In the first place, 
you don't have to be a coder to contribute - and besides, it's not so 
much about what you know, it's about what you want to learn, and your 
willingness and ability to do so.

Aside from "hardcore coding focus and a rabid interest in free 
software," consider looking for other indicators as well, and 
*introducing* these people to free software. People with...

* The ability to communicate complex topics - technical details, yes, 
but also trademark law (hey, *I* don't understand it) or the status of 
quickly-moving projects - to a wide range of audiences, and to help 
those audiences relay their feedback to developers/lawyers/etc.
* A knack for listening, and quietly moving between multiple dissenting 
groups and emerging with stable consensus on a formerly touchy topic.
* Fascinating projects that they've started but are no longer leading, 
because they've successfully cultivated a sense of ownership among the 
other contributors involved.
* A habit for documenting everything publicly.
* A sense of openness to learning - someone who's not afraid to expose 
their mistakes, and does so in such a way that they encourage others to 
jump in and learn along with them.
* Etc.

To a large extent, things like coding and packaging are skills that can 
be taught - and for those with the right attitude and some base 
knowledge on making software, a Summer Coding experience is *exactly* 
the place to learn or improve upon those skills (a good reply for folks 
who say "oh but I don't know X" - also that their experience will make 
it easier for future contributors to learn X as well). But they have to 
be told that, and they have to be reached out to - sometimes by multiple 
people, sometimes persistently. The good news is that once you get those 
folks in, they tend to be good at attracting more people like themselves 
to become contributors.

We increase diversity in open source one person at a time. Or rather, 
*you* increase diversity in open source one person at a time - so get to 
it. ;)


[0] I sat firmly in this camp for 6 years. I know people who were stuck 
there for longer. The wasted talent and thought this represents (and joy 
- working on free software with you folks makes me *happy*) is a large 
part of what drives me to do things like open source marketing and 
outreach, and a large motivation behind my abiding interest in 
education; I'm trying to patch the potential futures of as many future 
hackers as possible.

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