Open Source Recruiting Is Fundamental

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Update Corrected my pop-culture iconography mix up.

Thomas Eyde brings up a great point in the comments section of Scott Hanselman’s post about SandCastle and the death of NDoc.

It’s sad to see good projects die, especially when programmer support is a main reason.

But on the other side, it’s not that easy to join these projects. How many of them advertise? How often do we see “Developers wanted on [your favorite project]”?

I think these projects must advertise what they need. Do they need C++ expertise? Java? C#? UI design? How do we know what to do? Where are the tasks listed? How do we assign to them?

Open Source project that are lacking in developer support probably need to tear off a page from the corporate playbook and be a bit more savvy about recruiting developers. I often hear developers wistfully day dreaming that if they just open source their pet project, legions of developers will take up the banner and join in.

Ha! Hardly! Recruitment is necessary and fundamental to an OS project. So much so that SourceForge has a tab dedicated to the topic in the admin section of a project.

Seeking skilled developers (and people who are interested in the goals of your project) is one of the most important activities performed by project administrators.

Sourceforge also provides a Help Wanted page to recruit volunteers for a project. There is also a discussion forum dedicated to recruitment.

But by no means limit yourself to SourceForge. Consider putting a free ad in CraigsList or in the forums of other developer communities.

The second comment on Scott’s post by Martin Bennedik questions the donation model.

But I don’t understand the donation model. Who is supposed to donate the $5? Say I am an employee working for my company, and I am using NDoc. Should I donate the $5 personally? Or should I ask my company to pay the 5$?

When I wrote my original challenge to donate to Open Source projects, I wanted to avoid a

Suzanne Summers Sally Struthers For just five dollars you can feed the kids of those poor Open Source Developers plea. As Scott points out, monetary contributions are far down on the totem pole of contributions. For the subtext project, I added a Contribution page that discusses several ways in which developers contribute should they feel the desire.

I think it is the project leader’s job to make the barrier to contribution as low as possible.

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7 responses

  1. Avatar for Joe Brinkman
    Joe Brinkman July 30th, 2006

    When DotNetNuke needed additional resources beyond what pure volunteers could offer, we looked at the donation model. Based on our history and the history of every major OS project that published their financials (Firefox, JBOSS, Apache and a few others), we found that the donation model just will not cover expenses. People assume that you can run an Open Source project for free, and you can up to a certain point. But as proven by the NDoc project, if you want the project to be able to continue even in the face of ongoing challenges of life, you have to be able to build a team and ultimately you will need to generate some revenue. DotNetNuke has been fortunate to find some corporate sponsors for bandwidth and hosting and software, but other costs like legal fees have to come out of pocket. If your project needs revenue to deal with dedicated resources (hardware, software, development and/or management), we found that the donation model doesn't always work.

  2. Avatar for Scott
    Scott July 30th, 2006

    Sally Struthers is the one that does the "Please feed the children" commercials while looking like she hasn't missed a meal in quite some time. Sommers hawks the thighmaster. Although, quite a few OSS devs (including myself) could use one of those.
    Please, won't you help the OSS devs by dontaing a thighmaster?
    I think the low participation rate is due to developers egos. You have a TON of article/blogs/forum posters saying "you have to do it THIS way or else your code is crap." So that scares away the newbies because they think "Man, my code isn't good enough to be used in this project.". Then some devs look at the source to the project and think, "god this code is crap. Why would I want to work on this eyesore when I could create my own masterpiece PLUs it'll have x functionality."
    On a side note. It took your JS preview a good 30 seconds to catch up after I finished writing the end of this sentence. Backspaces and all. Firefox 1.5.0.5 under OS X with 7 tabs open.

  3. Avatar for Haacked
    Haacked July 30th, 2006

    @Scott, thanks for the correction! Shame on me for getting my pop-culture all mixed up.
    As for the live preview, I need to optimize that code. It 's woefully inefficient.

  4. Avatar for Carlos Perez
    Carlos Perez July 30th, 2006

    I was going to post a comment along the lines of Scott's comment. I judged myself as a medium-advanced developer, but certainly not a rockstar, and I'm simply too afraid to "look for a job" at a open source project. And I think there are two different factors that add to that reluctance to approach OS projects: first, the "I'm not half as good a programmer as these guys are, I'm going to be scorned" factor and then the "How can I beguin?" factor. Maybe, *maybe*, if some OS projects were advertising for help along the lines: "HELP WANTED - You can also help if you're a newbie" and then reserve somme less complicated programming tasks to the uninitiated, maybe it should be more easier to people to stick to the project and advance with it afterwards.
    Of course, these would require effort (ergo, time) from some of the people already working at the project, and I know that time is always difficult to find, but still... My 2 cents.

  5. Avatar for Daniel
    Daniel July 30th, 2006

    I think the problem is a broader one of overall communication. In NDoc's case, this was certainly a problem- would be donaters of time and money didn't know if the app was under development unless they scoured blogs for a second-hand email from Kevin. But a cursory glance at open source projects shows that the successful ones are good at communicating their status and needs. Even bad news, they report early and often. This seems to go along with the spirit- open source includes open communication.

  6. Avatar for Steve Harman
    Steve Harman July 30th, 2006

    @Carlos: In my experience the best way to get involved with an OS project/community is to find a bug/feature that is close to your heart, and just go after it. As a matter of fact, that is how I first got involved with the dotTEXT (and later subTEXT) community/project(s).
    As for your concern about being scorned by the community... I have found this to be the exception rather than the rule. In general (or at least with the projects with which I've been involoved) the community is all too excited/happy to have others showing interest in and contributing to the project.
    So in the case that your code isn't quite up to snuff, it is typically advice, constructive criticism, and/or an open discussion about other approaches to the solution - rather than scorn - that you'll get. And often times you walk away having learned something.
    To be honest, in looking back at my first public fix for the dotTEXT blogging engine, I realize now that it was REALLY ugly. But it was a fix and a foot in the door none the less.
    So I say, cast those fears aside and get involved my friend! Good Luck!

  7. Avatar for Lukas Chaplin
    Lukas Chaplin November 22nd, 2008

    Hi, I run a Linux Jobboard and want to inform you, that i will put any voluntary open source projects for free up in my board to spread the word as in "But by no means limit yourself to SourceForge. Consider putting a free ad in CraigsList or in the forums of other developer communities." - that's exactly what i'm offering on my open source jobboard for the community.
    Greetings and looking forward to any replies
    Lukas