Keeping Open Source Software Developers Connected to Users

You might not realize it, but you use open source software, where the source code has been released with a license enabling it to be freely used, changed and distributed. Even if you know about open source, you may not know any of the people who contributed to that software.

Traditionally, a lot of the development that occurs in open source happens in code repositories and bug trackers, and those are not places that the users of the software tend to hang out. With this separation between developers and users, those contributors may not always get their due.

Alessio Fattorini, community manager for NethServer, an open source Linux server distribution, believes in exposing that development process to the users who, even if they may not understand the nuts and bolts of it, will then be in a better position to see the work that goes into the project, and appreciate the people behind it. We also talk about:

  • The state of community management in Italy
  • Create a welcoming environment in technical communities, and why they pose a unique challenge
  • Why developers can be tempted to keep discussions around open source development private

Big Quotes

“Community management in Italy is quite a new topic. There’s no role, there are no jobs about community management – maybe a networking or a social media manager, sometimes. But not strictly about community management. There’s no conference, there’s no events. It’s very different from the U.S. Two years ago, when I started, I needed to learn a lot of things and tried to find content, people, books, and whatever I could about community management. It’s very difficult to be a community manager in Italy. This is why we have created [CLSxItaly], to notice this culture and to try to build awareness about community management.” -@ale_fattorini

“When I built my community, I made a choice. English only. My community is global but I needed to make a choice, because we needed to find a [specific] language. It’s a barrier. … But I needed to choose a [specific] language because I don’t want to frame my community in small subgroups with their [different] languages. My community is not so big, so I needed to keep things simple and have a place where discussions are in English, so [as many people as possible] can understand the discussion.” -@ale_fattorini

“[With NethServer open source development,] everything is public. You don’t know what [non-developers] can see in a discussion. Maybe they can chime in [or] add something. They are not developers but they can give their feedback in the discussion. If you separate [developers from non-developers], you can’t have this kind of contribution. In the same place, I have developers, I have sysadmins, I have just users. I have everyone.” -@ale_fattorini

“How you treat your newcomers says a lot about your community.” -@patrickokeefe

“Writing your rules somewhere is not enough [to create a welcoming culture in a technical community]. You have to live these rules. [We have two big rules]. First rule is: RTFM is banned. ‘Read the F****** Manual’ is not an answer. Because it’s not inclusive. It excludes people, and people don’t feel safe. … The other rule is that stupid questions are allowed. Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions because someone else will learn from every stupid question that you ask. … To create this kind of culture, you have to create a group of people that live this culture.” -@ale_fattorini

About Alessio Fattorini

Alessio Fattorini was a Linux system administrator, or sysadmin, and support specialist for 10 years at Nethesis, until about two years ago when he became the NethServer community manager. NethServer is a Linux server distribution that makes the sysadmin’s life easier. After which, he began to study everything related to communities and has been deeply involved in community manager communities around the world.

Alessio is a Community Leadership Summit and CLSxItaly co-organizer and is mainly focused on product-based communities, working closely with developers and users. He is a public speaker, covering community management and open source, including NethServer, Linux and Nethesis, for which he is a technical trainer.

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