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Writing computer software is an iterative process. You write some code, test it, deploy it and then realize there are a host of new features and bug fixes you need to address. You write more code, fix problems, test it again and repeat the cycle over and over. If you're lucky, you find others along the way willing to join with you and increase your ability to tackle bigger projects.
In much that same way, building open source communities is an iterative process as well. Most open source software development communities start out with a handful of enthusiastic developers, and if they're lucky they're able to attract additional help from programmers and other contributors too. As contributors often have real life challenges to contend with outside of their open source community work, their participation may ebb and flow. One struggle that open source communities often face is how to continue to attract more developers over time. That's why I was so encouraged by the contribution sprint following the DrupalCon conference in late May.
The Drupal contributor sprint was organized with just that in mind — helping to train and motivate the next generation of Drupal developers. The idea was to devote an entire day to helping conference attendees who were interested in becoming more involved with contributing to the core of Drupal.
The day started with a community tools workshop, focused around helping contributors set up the proper tools and development environment on their laptops. A group of around 15 volunteers in bright green shirts went around the room, helping to answer questions and solve problems as the contributors learned the basic tools needed to communicate and contribute. (I was one of the volunteers, and was thrilled to see the level of enthusiasm among the people as they started to learn the tools and start working on real issues.) As contributors got their laptops set up, they then moved on to other rooms where they were able to help test fixes, write documentation, fix bugs, add features and do other meaningful work on the upcoming Drupal 8 release. In those rooms, there were the ever-present volunteers in green shirts to help mentor the contributors along the path to more active participation.
In all, there were over 700 people who participated in the contributor sprint (of the roughly 3200 attendees at DrupalCon), and even the organizers were amazed at the level of participation in the event, and at how many of those contributors have continued to participate after the event. Outcomes like this help highlight the bright future of active open source projects like Drupal, and I hope other open source projects will make similar efforts to help mentor the rising generation of collaborators.
Jared Smith, Open Source Advocate