The monthly Open-Source night experiment continues. On Wednesday, June 19th we had the June edition of Open-Source Night. Rory gave us a slightly-longer-than-15-minutes talk on OpenStreetMap, and the kind of contributions the project welcomes (data data data, really!). I was the only one to volunteer for a lightning talk, in stark contrast with the last event where we had multiple ones both by people attending open-source night and network people who happened to be visiting the hackerspace at the time.
Rather than doing an on-topic talk about an open-source project, I did a meta-talk about Open-Source Night itself and different ways in which it could evolve.
I make no secret that I don't think open-source night works very well in its current format. My goal (and measure for success) is to help people actually get started contributing.
Note: if you were at my deep dive on contributing to open-source and planning on attending the next open-source night, please do come!! This all just means that I think there are things that can be improved :)
Reminder: The current format
We're currently meeting on the 3rd Wednesday of the month. The event usually starts with two 15 minutes talk, ideally one on the life of open-source (e.g. licences, version control, IRC, using the command-line...) and one on how to contribute to a specific project. Then there's a number of 5-minutes-long-or-less lightning talks where people can introduce the project they will be working on during the evening. Then people break into groups or independently work on an open-source project of their choice.
Or that's the idea anyway. The talks usually work well and are inspiring, though they tend to run overtime and then people have trouble sitting at a table and doing things.
These are my thoughts and ideas as to where open-source night might go in the future. These are not plans. I would like to hear feedback from interested people - attendees, would-be attendees, other organisers and thoughtful passerbys.
Topics: General open-source vs Project-specific
I see value in both topics, but perhaps attendees and would-be attendees favour one or the other, both, or neither? I haven't really heard much on this, what people find most useful. I think the project specific talks at least are interesting for both newcomers and established contributors, to see how other projects do things.
I believe 15 minutes is a good amount of time to get an overview, get inspired and get ideas. And not get too bored if already familiar with the topic.
I could see the value and how efficient it would be to focus on one project for a full session and guide people through contributing to it. However I can also see how it could be offputting to people not particularly interested in the project (e.g. "I don't use that distro, why should I bother attending?"). Perhaps as separate, off-shoot events if people are interested in leading that kind of session (get in touch!).
Topics: All kind of contributions vs Focusing on code
At the moment, I try really hard to emphasise (and encourage speakers to do the same) all the kinds of contributions that can be made - and are well needed! - even though my own experience lies in code-based contributions. Maybe I should give up on being inclusive and focus on what I know best, rather than try to be all things to all people? Code-focused open-source events could go from learning to program to fixing a bug.
Initially I was hoping people would step up to talk and encourage people to join their area of interest (I think we have e.g. experienced open-source translators around...) but that hasn't happened.
This is actually a point where someone came up to me after the talk and said straight off they really liked the breadth of contributions demoed during the talks, in particular mentioning last month's talk by Guilherme on OpenMandriva that did a great job showing how someone can help, in a multitude of ways, even if they're not all that confident in their coding skills.
Format: More course-like?
A couple of days before the June OSS Night I was pointed to this article on a really, really interesting summer course on learning to program the open-source way. That's a really cool concept. Should we entertain the thought of doing something similar during open-source night? e.g. A session on learning how to use version control with exercises, very workshop like, one month, some other topic the next one, etc.?
Probably not, but something to consider as a separate course with a shorter timeline. A course with one session a month will lose people and have little momentum. Is this the kind of things people have an interest in learning?
Format: Doing vs Listening/Talking
My goal with this event is still to get people started contributing. I'm not interested in organising a monthly night of talks. Finding speakers is stressful. If the talks aren't followed by some contributing action, to me the event is failing and I'm not interested in continuing to organise it. There are plenty of events around Dublin already where people can meet, talk tech and shoot the breeze.
With regard to open-source related talks, I think that's already handled well by the ILUG folks, who are now keen to set them up regularly again under the new chairmanship :) And we can join forces if that's the most attractive part of the event to folks. If your main interest is in having a regular night of open-source talks, get in touch and I'll be happy to help you have this in Tog. I'd attend with pleasure anyway, I'm just not interested in organising it and go speaker-hunting every 3 weeks.
I still believe we can make something really cool happen by putting in the same room people experienced in open-source together with newcomers interested in contributing. So I'm not giving up yet!
There's of course also the timeframe issue: with or without talks, an evening of maybe 3 hours is not a lot of time to accomplish something. Maybe we could (also/instead?) have events on Saturdays? And/or week-end workshops, Friday eve to Sunday?
HOWEVER, in any case an evening is still enough time to accomplish something, get started, get the momentum going, get unblocked and finish your contribution later at the week-end, in your own time.
You: Why are you here anyway*? ;)
* Or why weren't you? :) I'm just as interested in the answer to that!
Are you interested in learning how to contribute? Interested in helping and mentoring newcomers? What were you hoping this evening would be about?
I then invited people to have a productive discussion with me about this should they wish to, somewhat contradicting my own doing vs talking rant :-)
Please feel free and welcome to continue the discussion in the comments or by email, I would love to pick more brains and exchange ideas about this.
To avoid the talk being entirely meta (and in case people didn't care that much about all the blah blah blah and more about the doing!), I issued a challenge to attendees as well: this evening, run the Django unit tests suite. If that's something you're set up for, it'll take 2 minutes. If you're familiar with the concept but don't have all the dependencies set up yet it'll take 20 minutes. If this is all new to you it might take 2 hours, but what you learn you'll be able to reuse when you start working on a project you care about in the future, and it means it'll take less long then.
One person took me up on it and it took them 10 minutes. This shows how possible it is to actually get the ball rolling during open-source night, get people to realise they're not that far away from a first contribution.
I feel I should give the disclaimer that since the last time I talked about how to contribute to Django, the Django folks added to their docs a tutorial on how to make your first contribution, which just makes the project that little bit more awesome (and this challenge, easier to solve!)
Next Open-Source Night: July
So next month. That'll be on the 17th of July. Are you interested in giving a talk? :)
If no one volunteers we'll have a session similar to the first event except with more lightning talks. Lightning talks don't have to be prepared, there's no need for slides or anything you don't fancy. It's as simple as chatting about what you plan on doing or would like to do during the evening, inviting others to join you if they'd like.
It can be like:
"Hello, I'm Chris, a contributor to AwesomeProject which is a project that does this and that and also that thing. At the moment we're looking for help in $area1, $area2, $area41, if you think that's cool and you'd like to help, I'll be sitting at that table over here, come and chat with me. Maybe I can help you find a good first task. Otherwise I'll be working on the defroglirnator for the project -- er if you have any experience in that area I'd love to chat to you too."
"Hey, I'm J. Bloggs, I've been using Wordpress for a few years, I think it's an awesome project and I'd like to start giving back. Tonight my plan is to figure out the new contributor process - if you're interested too, we can do this together. Come and chat with me."
It doesn't matter if there is no existing contributor to the specific project in the room. Since there are people familiar with the way open-source projects and communities usually tick, they will be able to help you if you get stuck.
Ok, that's it! I'm hoping to also have the time to find a few good first tasks in a new project, maybe LibreOffice. If not, then we can figure it out together on the day :)
I'm very much looking forward to hearing your thoughts, suggestions and ideas about all this, and perhaps also see you on the 17th.