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"Teams in Debian: Finding and integrating new members" - summary of the BOF at DebConf9

[mailed to debian-qa (because I think improving the way teams work is
an aspect of QA in Debian), and to debconf-discuss (since it's
debconf related). RT and MFT set to debian-qa]

"Teams in Debian: Finding and integrating new members"

"Trying to find ideas to make the first phase of group membership easier"

[BOF held during DebConf9, 2009-07,25, Cáceres]

1) Background

During DebConf8 two BOFs took place around the topic of team-maintaining
packages. One issue defined as a common challenge for all teams was the
question of how to find and integrate new members. The discussion showed
that none of the present teams was using a structured approach for
recruitment and induction at that time.

The BOF this year was intended to pick up the discussion of finding and
integrating new members into teams where it stopped in Mar del Plata. It
will focussed on collecting models of good practice and developing ideas for

2) Steps

After a short introduction and overview the participants were invited to
join an "imaginary journey", a travel back in memory to the period in time
when they joined a team in Debian. Some of the experiences from this journey
were shared afterwards.

The main part of the BOF was a group discussion about various points around
finding and integrating new members, based on the experiences of the
participants both as "new members" and as "regulars" in teams. Thankfully
the ideas of successful approaches and areas for future improvement were
noted simultanuously at http://whiteboard.debian.net/bof_members.txt
This is the attempt to summarize the output, group by category of issue.

3) Information about team, "advertising"

Question: How can we let potential contributors now about our teams, which
ways of advertisement work?

* People learn about teams by getting replies to bug reports.
* People find links on related webpages or detect team pages directly.
* People actively look for teams when trying to package something or work in
  some area.
* People are pointed to teams when looking for sponsors.
+ Clearly state the benefits of joining.
+ Publish contact info on bug reports.
+ Invite people at real-life meetings.
? One central place instead of n-plicating info for all teams? How about the
  developer's reference? And/or http://www.debian.org/devel/join/ ?

4) Motivations for joining

Question: What reasons do contributors have for joining a group, which
benefits should be stressed?

* "You get free sponsorship."
* "You get advice, help, mentoring, ..."
* "If you already working on stuff related to the team's main goal, we can
  join forces, use synergy."
5) How to get fresh blood

Question: What methods work to attract potential contributors?

* Invite them when they ask for sponsorship on debian-mentors.
* Inquire anyone with a doubt to see if they feel competent to join the group.
	Sometimes showing interest is enough.
* Blog about concrete problems and ways to help.

6) Stepping stones and obstacles

Question: What makes it easier or more difficult to join? How can we make
joining as low-threshold as possible?

* When there's no real team, just a group of people everyone working on
  their own.
* Inertia before de-lurking on IRC/mailing lists. First "announcement" of
  request to join team can be scary! --> Instructions/example helps.
* People working in the team is scarce, so it's difficult getting anyone's
  attention to have directions or advices. --> Don't leave mails
* Understanding the local customs and idioms. There can be plenty of those.
  -- When there is already a team with a specific workflow you need to learn
  first. --> Maybe a special "introductory documentation" could help? Or
  some ways of mentoring?
* Perhaps non-DDs/beginners do not realise that they /can/ join a particular
  team, even if they know of its existence. --> How can we make teams in
  general more visible?
* Language barriers (aka language cabals :).
* Strongly connected "local teams" which do a lot of communication "off list"
  so you don't notice many aspects when trying to join the team.
* Timezones.

* [Often mentioned and stressed:] A friendly "welcome" and gentle support is
* A low threshold for getting commit rights etc. makes it easier to join.
* Send the clear message that it's ok for newcomers to make mistakes.
* Presentation of the group members (e.g. profiles on wiki) so the potential
  contributors don't face an anonymous "group" but individuals.

7) Mutual expectations

Question: Do (potential) new contributors know what they can expect from the group
and what the group expects from them?

* All bugs are small with enough eyes.
* Peer review of your own work (does anyone actually do that? -- yes, all
  the time when I was new I got feedback, specially from the DDs in the
  group. Tincho. -- well, yeah... but, it is usually just a couple of people
  reviewing other's RFS').
* Improving the applications you use.
* If you stop having time for maintaining, others will pick it up (some
  groups, of course).
* Improving delay for sorting out problems, eg: bugs.
* Clearly stated goals limit wrong expectations.
* It's less about lists of requirements, but more about offering benefits.

8) Integration: ways of support

Question: What kind of support can be offered during the first steps in a

* Existing: mailing lists and IRC.
* Presential meetings: BoF, bug squashing parties or specific sessions.
* Documentation: goals, tasks, new contributor tutorial.
* Mentors/community managers, who (1) at the beginning lend a helping hand
  and (2) regularly contact members.

9) Resources

http://wiki.debian.org/Teams/Resources (please add useful links)

http://wiki.skolelinux.de/Mitarbeiten (German)

The videos of the BOF should turn up at


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