November 3rd & 4th, 2023
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Leveraging collaborative mentorship to strengthen your free software community

SeaGL 2017

There has been much discussion over the past several years about improving the quality of free software communities in terms of increasing participation and reducing burnout. Numerous explanations and suggestions have been offered in order to make lasting improvements. Indeed, building and strengthening your community should be recognized as a core mission for all free software project leaders. However, this requires learning a skill set not traditionally associated with technical project management. We will present the successes and failures of one free software community in establishing a collaborative mentorship program as a case study in community improvement and as a springboard for further discussion.

Our efforts in establishing a number of mentor-mentee collaborations between experienced developers and newcomers to free software provides a wealth of hard-won knowledge and experience in free software community building and maintenance. Additionally, as this community is primarily composed of those who are historically under-represented in technology, the successes and failures are likely to be unique and potentially counter-intuitive to those used to engaging with more mainstream free software communities.

We hope sharing these experiences will serve as a source for critical reflection for attendees in gauging the relative effectiveness of their own community building initiatives. Successful free software communities are as varied as their associated projects, and we hope the lessons we share will inspire others to make their communities just that much more successful.


Brian Callahan

Brian Callahan, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Brian is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Science & Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. His dissertation project seeks to refine the definition of collaboration through an ethnographic study of Free Software communities.

Lisa Marie Maginnis

Lisa Marie Maginnis, Hypatia Software Organization

Lisa is the President and Chief Trouble-Maker of Hypatia Software Organization, FSF SysAdmin emeritus, and long time free software hacker. Her current focus has been to leverage the power of free software as a tool to empower and raise up others. She also likes cacti.