Nurturing new open source contributors

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In a recent non-public thread on Google Plus about what someone saw as too much low-quality code on CPAN, Brian Cassidy gave some great thoughts (quoted with his permission) about how to handle contributions from newcomers:

New authors should not be "beaten" for not following standard practices, rather coached and mentored into becoming productive members of our culture. Disciplining new authors is counter not only to our culture, but it goes against the release early/release often mantra we often hear in the open source ecosystem.

It's very easy to dismiss someone as ignorant and cast them aside (in retrospect, I'm ashamed to say I've done it too). The hard road is to offer them a hand, show them the ropes.

Not everybody has time for that, and we'll never save people from themselves (no matter how hard we try). But before you rush to dismiss someone's effort (that they've submitted for public scrutiny, no less) think about how you would've like to have been treated when you were new.

A kind word of encouragement can go a long way.

Do you have tales to tell of how you helped guide a newcomer, whether in Perl or elsewhere? Please post your stories.

2 Comments

I'm essentially a Perl newbie (though I've been using it for some time, I've mostly worked in Java). If anyone wants to tell me what I'm doing wrong, I'd be happy to hear it. I've got few things on CPAN. My handle there is DFH.

I like programming in Perl but mostly I haven't gotten it to pay the bills.

Years ago someone entered the mod_perl community with all sorts of attitude and general rudeness. I almost instantly gave up on him, but fortunately others persisted in interacting with him in a pleasant and respectful way. Before long he was one of the most productive members of that community (and much more pleasant to work with than he started).

A few days ago someone wrote a (unreasonable) rude review on CPAN Ratings complaining about someones poor choice of namespace for a new module. Thankfully in that case the author took it in the most positive manner and responded with "Thank you for the hint; I've uploaded it again under $better_name!".

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