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Free, open source software projects want to attract and retain new contributors — this is a big part of why OpenHatch exists. But there has been little research into exactly what it takes to provide a great newcomer experience. Kevin Carillo’s Ph.D. thesis aims to answer that.

As far as I know, the free software community does not have data we can use to answer the following questions:

  • Do newcomers report that participation in a formal mentorship program helped them on their path to remaining a contributor?
  • To what extent do new contributors identify personally with the project when the project is discussed in the media?
  • How long does it take for people to feel like the project accepts them as an equal member?
  • How do the above change based on the contributor’s gender, age, or years of activity in the project? How do they vary between projects?

Kevin’s research attacks these questions, and others like them, by surveying contributors who became active in the past 3 years in a selection of major projects with active volunteer communities. He’s looking for people who joined Debian, GNOME, Gentoo, KDE, Mozilla, Ubuntu, NetBSD, or OpenSUSE since January 2010.

If that’s you, take his survey!

The survey should take about 20 minutes, and it is anonymous. The data will be released under the Open Database License, the same license that OpenStreetMap uses. As part of an academic project, the survey is approved by the Human Ethics Committee at the School of Information Management at the Victoria University of Wellington, his home institution. As a testament to his free software credentials, he’s performing the research using LimeSurvey, a free and open source survey tool.

Moreover, if you’re a member of any of the above projects, please spread the word! Kevin needs your help reaching out to contributors so that he can gather the best information possible. I’ve spoken with Kevin at length about my own experiences as a once-new contributor, and I conclude he has a passion for understanding and helping free software projects.

In Kevin’s own words, here is how he expects the project to benefit Debian (as one example):

The data will help gain insights about the experience of newcomers within the Debian community. In addition, it will allow to understand how to design effective newcomer initiatives to ensure that Debian will remain a successful and healthy community.

That’s what we all want in all our projects, I believe.

So if you’ve joined Debian, GNOME, Gentoo, KDE, Mozilla, Ubuntu, NetBSD, or OpenSUSE since January 2010, please take his survey.

And if you’re a part of those projects, he needs your help spreading the word by making sure newcomers and their mentors in the project know about the research project.

And if you represent another sizable project and want to help newcomers get in touch with Kevin so your project can benefit from the research, please do so; his email address is on the survey page!

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