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2011/Notes/Mentoring Programs

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Attendee Roll Call: please add your name and/or contact details if you'd like to be listed as an attendee of this session

Leslie Hawthorn - Russell Senior -

Mix of technology and non-technology projects represented at this session. Mentoring and onboarding new contributors is common to any volunteer project.

Dave wrote recent article on mentoring and many consider their mentoring programs "failures" because the amount of time required by existing contributors to mentor is typically not off-set by the amount of time that the new contributors spend working on the project.

Valorie notes that mentoring is like motherhood - teaching a child a task always takes longer than doing it yourself and you don't see pay off for years. Mentees may contribute far later on or bring others in, etc. These results are hard to quantify.

Dave: how do we decrease the amount of time spent on mentoring and/or ensuring that those who are mentored continue contributing.

Gerv: is this candidate selection process?

Dave: it can be low hanging fruit, a list of tasks that are up front "vetting" - e.g. non-profit that asks applicants to spend 2 hrs doing data entry and if they don't get through that won't be long-term volunteers

Gerv: since we can't look into the future, what are the signs that a would-be volunteer will be a long-term contributor

Jono: in Ubuntu community, developer figures started to flatten about 8 months ago; lots of people all over the world are interested in Ubuntu; graphed out contributions of community over 2 years, spikes of contribution around events; found several contributors doing substantial work that were 'off the radar'; passed these names along to core developers for mentoring

Rebecca: works with a youth mentoring program in technology space (Rural Design Collective). Presentation with additional information is on Slideshare . Focus on involving students in real development projects. Making a difference in local community.

Valorie: what are the incentives for involvement in the project?

Rebecca: scholarships for participants, raising funds for scholarships via Kickstarter

Gerv: what is the one thing you would change about the program for the better, what would it be?

Rebecca: more funds, but that's always the answer - more scholarships could be provided, "earn as you learn," attribution provided on every project, also need more mentors

Mary Anne: Recognition is important, but not just mug/shirt, etc. Opportunity to learn things - volunteer at conferences to attend, volunteer teach to learn from participants

Dave: what is the goal of Rebecca's mentoring program? and how many kids stay involved once the scholarship is finished? criticism of financial incentive based programs - once the financial incentive disappears, contributors disappear or more financial incentives need to be distributed, what about tracking follow on contributions from Summer of Code?

Cat: value of Summer of Code to all the projects involved?

Gerv: for Mozila 1/6 SoC students stay around

Jon: drive by contributions are encouraged in Inkscape, low barrier to entry, very inclusive, try to bring students up into the project before the money comes into play, better pay off of students sticking around

Ian: student life in general is siloed - focus on a class, then done - software development is not taught along principles of community participation

Valorie: KDE worked with other new organizations for SoC and has had to deemphasize "money for code" - focus on community not on financial incentives, select other orgs to work with based on focus on community, "what do you do two weeks after your paycheck" is part of student application process

Jim: it's not that money disincentivizes, maybe it's just SoC's structure - prestigious employment opportunity

Cat: majority of people in program are undergraduates, focus changes very rapidly during this stage of life

Ryan: official mentoring programs are useful but insufficient, started at 16 and benefited tremendously from unofficial mentorship, importance of someone taking a personal interest in guiding someone toward useful work they can do

Leslie: difference between volunteers who come in due to just interest and because of other incentives

Maryam: importance of follow up and personal investment in mentee

Dave: how people are welcomed? do you have a "welcome wagon"? core contributors mentoring? Federico Mena Quintero recommends 1 hour per day on mentoring for productive mentoring?

Gerv: most mentoring through SoC, Moz contributors have volunteered to mentor for particular projects, mentor closely associated with task

Valorie: mentor burnout can be a huge problem

Jane: used to have lead team be mentors for SoC and this had mixed results - broadened the scope, don't need to be an expert in Wordpress Core - mentor the mentors and create mentorship teams so someone from core team always involved but responsibility is spread through wider community

Ryan: non-leader mentors do important work transmitting culture and doing air traffic control - when to approach a core developer, etc.

Dave: if you can get people from student to mentor quickly it works incredibly well - never a better time for people to get folks through newbie hurdles than when they were recently a newbie

Jon: if mentor leaves a mentee stranded, that's one of the worst things. have back up mentors and make sure mentee always has someone to work with. always have mentor/student communications cc'ed to SoC org admin.

Gerv: hypothesis: mentorship is 80% effect on community and 20% about effect on code base. investing in person being part of your community in long term. 20% is teaching them how to do task focused on and 80% teaching them how to do it in the context of your community so they feel invested to remain in the community.

Ian: how much do we want mentoring to happen in a public way / save effort into best practices / capture individual effort so it can be reused and have that investment have a wider effect?

Rebecca: it's stressful to make mistakes in public

Ian: need a channel where it is ok to ask "stupid" questions

Dawn: at Oregon State there's a private community for students to get involved in open source (see Beaversource ; OSUOSL )

Dave: forums where people are beginners and then you move on once you've progressed, JavaRanch

Eric: online community for community managers called Community Back Channel

Jon: get people used to using a wiki and using it extensively, answers are preserved for the future and don't have to answer questions over and over

Valorie: importance of blog, put link directly to blog post on the wiki

Leslie: you will always have to answer the same questions over and over - train community of mentors to avoid burnout, recognize that this "hand holding" shows contributors you value them

Lars: deliberately reduce the number of students you choose to mentor, make sure ideas mentors propose are significantly important to them so they are more invested, make students blog

Dave: blogging can be new to students and intimidating, source of stress

Cat: stress isn't always a bad thing; asking for more from students creates better results than no demand

Rebecca: community dynamic: mentor / mentee / client - keeps mentee invested; ultimate goal of project is being proud of what they've created, also connects graduates with employment opportunities, etc.

Dave: what do you do when you have very limited resources? how much time would you expect a typical FOSS developer to put into mentoring?

Eric: capture best practices on the wiki that we can all refer to re: blogging, etc.

Valorie: also have Season of KDE, which is an "echo" of SoC and always point students who did not get selected for SoC can contribute here; create really neat t-shirts & certificates for the program

Ian: getting back to blogging/best practices - it's hard to know where to start and that's why people can be stresed by blogging; don't make blog entry the whole of the assignment - have a "show your work" assignment - pull together links from research and what you learned, etc.

Dawn: offer to do reviews of blog posts to reduce stress level and incentivize people to blog

Cat: test market a question to group - do you think you would get more long term contributors from SoC if the students were not paid?

Gerv: you would get smaller number of student applicants, some countries where 5000 USD is a huge amount of money and the cash is the real incentive

Jim: only focusing on volunteers eliminates an entire social class - many people need to work to pay for college, etc.

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Later in the day, another session on mentoring took place with the following notes.

Hard to find a mentor. People may join a board of an organization for the prestige but not really have ongoing engagement, which is necessary for leadership and mentorship. Advisory boards don't work, because the advisors don't seem to take it seriously--works only a little better when you find a particular issue that the advisor cares about, and requires a lot of attention from a manager.

Mentoring requires chemistry. If two people don't click, it won't work. And if they do, they can make progress without a lot of management. May require trying one person after another. An organization could appoint a backup mentor.

One mentoring program posts weekly progress reports that other potential mentors can read and learn from.

Angel funds have mentors. They require regular rendezvous, would be useful for free software projects as well.

Full-time, paid workers should devote their time to facilitating the work of volunteers, not doing the work that volunteers should do. For instance, a paid employee should not write code if it's expected for volunteers to write code; he should organize them to do so.

It's also up to the mentee to ask for mentorship and keep requesting help. Can ask the whole community.

Many localities have organizations to help non-profits.

A young organization has to decide what kind of organization it is, what kinds of roles it has, what culture it wants to convey. Many organizations have a charismatic founder who helps to set this culture. Different if an organization spins out a project and is trying to create a new organization to manage it; might not have such a founder.


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