I received a surprising 13 responses to my previous post, which was certainly more than I expected and is one reason it's taken me a few days to follow up on it. (How do you pick someone from a group of 13 people based on just a paragraph or two? Clearly I'd like for someone to help all of these people get involved in Debian, but to do so solely by myself would be making a commitment that I just don't have time to come through on. So, it ends up being quite arbitrary. I pick who I think I'd most like working with and could make the most out of the opportunity, and even that is an arbitrary judgement based on very little.)

One question asked by one of the people who emailed me was, "Why did you ask for someone who isn't involved in Debian already and who doesn't necessarily have the technical skills needed?"

The answer to this question has several facets.

For one, people already involved in a free software project tend to be busy people. The workload in projects tends to be concentrated in few hands, and many of those people who are already involved in a project don't need or want any more work. So, asking for someone not already involved in Debian increases the pool of people who might respond to such a request and actually be able to follow up on it.

While this a valid reason, it still doesn't explain why I didn't just say, "it's okay if you're not already involved in Debian or don't know python" and not state a preference as to the skill level of the person who would respond to such a request.

I did, however, have a specific reason for stating my preference. I asked specifically for someone who wasn't already involved in Debian and who didn't necessarily know python or consider themselves a competent programmer because I wanted to encourage people who don't consider themselves to already know enough to be a useful comaintainer to contact me. I've picked up a lot from following Geek Feminism on what sort of language turns minority groups like women away, and I wanted to ask in such a way that it didn't turn away people who aren't good at self-promotion or who are less sure of their skills, or who don't yet have the skills, men and women alike. Even I still sometimes internally question my own competence as a programmer, and my self-confidence has increased over the past few years.

(For the curious, the responses I received were, at my guess, 85% male, 15% female. Whether that's a success or not depends on the demographics of those who read the post, but it is better than the ~98% male involvement in the FLOSS world altogether.)

And I do think it's more of a contribution to the project to help someone new get involved than to try to convince someone who's already overcome the barrier to entry to take on some more work. We'll see how it turns out in the end. I have high hopes. (No pressure, soon-to-be-selected mentee.)

Choosing people for FOSS projects
Each year, choosing students for our GSoC participation is a grueling two months marathon of reading resumes, code samples, IRC interviews and so on. We trim down 100+ candidates to about 10 and after the fourth participation into the program, we're still reworking the process each time to get it right. Gah. Ever felt like mentoring a student for GSoC ? It's starting soon again :)
Comment by openid [milliways.fr] Sat 23 Jan 2010 11:52:43 PM UTC

My first thought was, as the other comment says, this is like GSoC. But you're more ambitious: GSoC is a scattergun approach (catch lots of candidates, and a few of them will stick with it), while you're trying a single shot. Good luck with that!

Can I assume you'll post occasional updates where I'll see them from a planetdebian feed?

Comment by bahumbug [wordpress.com] Sun 24 Jan 2010 03:23:54 AM UTC
Another project interested in new contributors

You can check http://blogs.gnome.org/metacity/2010/01/18/metacity-journal-2010-01-18/ for at least one project (& mentor) to shunt some excess volunteers to. And of course there's always Dreamwidth.

best, Sumana

Comment by brainwane [dreamwidth.org] Sun 24 Jan 2010 04:30:31 AM UTC
Good idea
While I continue to be sceptical of the geek feminism wiki (mostly due to the unbalanced, unjust level of hostility it exposes), I think your initiative is great! I hope to find the time to do similar. What would be even better is if we could somehow institutionalise this, maybe revitalise the Debian Women Mentors idea!
Comment by madduck.net Sun 24 Jan 2010 11:11:05 PM UTC
comment 5

My flatmate suggested I ought to email you about it. I didn't because I figure others are more in need of the mentorship than I (as I'm already fairly used to packaging debs and rpms and an Ubuntu developer). I very much like the idea though! Every time I'm asked about how to become an Ubuntu developer, I try to point out that programming skills are not necessary, hoping it'll attract more folks. I'm also always hoping that one of the people showing up in #ubuntu-motu asking for mentorship will be a woman. :-/ Not yet, it seems... Please, if you know any women wanting to get involved in Ubuntu development, I am more than willing to help mentor them!

Though I do have a question, something I don't quite understand in Debian processes. If you adopt an orphaned package or submit a new package, are you automatically a DM maintaining that package?

-- Mackenzie

Comment by maco [myopenid.com] Mon 25 Jan 2010 02:45:05 AM UTC
comment 6

Martin: Yeah, getting something like the Debian Women mentorship program back up and running again would be great. Unfortunately I don't think I have the spare cycles right now to push forward something on a broader scope.

Mackenzie: Yes, for example I've heard of you and in my mind you're past the sort of person I was looking for, so you're roommate was probably right! Glad you posted a comment, though.

RE: your question, no, that's not how it works in Debian right now. I'm not sure whether you're confused on the terminology or the rights, though. When you adopt an orphaned package or create a new package, you become the maintainer for that package, yes. However, you have to go through a Debian Developer sponsor in order to actually make uploads to the archive. So you'll prepare an upload for the package and a sponsor will check it, rebuild it, and upload it to ftp-master. A "Debian Maintainer (DM)" is a sort of middle ground between a person who just maintains a package and a full Debian Developer. To become a "DM" you go through a short advocation process and this gives you upload rights on whichever of your packages were requested. It's unfortunately a bit complicated, and reforming the process(es) people go through to become "official" contributors to the Debian project is a source of continuing discussion.

Comment by christine-spang [myopenid.com] Wed 27 Jan 2010 12:35:37 AM UTC
The overloading of the term "maintainer" was confusing me. I've got Mako sponsoring a package for me now... though I should check and see if that has gone through yet...
Comment by maco [myopenid.com] Fri 26 Mar 2010 05:52:20 PM UTC
comment 8
Comment by christine-spang [myopenid.com] Fri 26 Mar 2010 08:06:41 PM UTC