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Re: to DPL candidates: getting new people to Debian


Instead of answering Timo's question directly, I'll answer to Gunnar
instead, in the hopes that I can answer both of them in a satisfactory

Gunnar Wolf <gwolf@gwolf.org> writes:

> Timo Juhani Lindfors dijo [Sun, Mar 10, 2013 at 05:34:58PM +0200]:
>> Hi,
>> I'd like to have each DPL candidate briefly discuss the challenges of
>> getting new people to Debian.
> Riding on Timo Juhani's question (and not yet having read the two
> answers that it has already): There was an interesting discussion
> (sadly, in a private forum I cannot quote here, but the fact of having
> had the discussion does not disclose private information, yada
> yada...) that had as one of its interesting points the current age
> distribution, based on the entered data in Debian's LDAP entries. It
> shows the project as a whole is aging, and not only in the sense that
> Moray describes in his platform, but in the sense that we developers
> are getting older — When I joined the project I remember being happy
> and proud to be slightly under the (perceived) average age (among
> DebConf attendees). Today, I am 36 years old, and my age is... I don't
> remember whether the mode or the average.
> At the same time, now that I have started teaching at a university, we
> have a once very active LUG (complete with a meeting laboratory and
> all!), and it has gone almost deserted. My friends at the Faculty told
> me we need a way to attract younger people into Free Software
> development - It's not as easy to do it as it was ~10 years ago.

There is another additional fact that makes this all the more worrysome:
we have far more technically apt young people now, than we had ten years

I see people around me teach their children to use and control
computers, to build things with them, even before they learn to
write. They have their toys, they build stuff, sometimes they
unknowingly write programs - before the age of eight. I find that
astounding (I used to be so proud at writing my first program before I
could write - now it isn't all that rare, and that's a good thing, that
people have the opportunity to do that).

The thing is, Debian is often not available on the devices younger
people start off with - and even if it is, not by default. Someone who
just began to experiment, to play, will not install a whole new world
onto his/her device. That's advanced stuff.

Debian is also not impressively different, so to say. We have a distinct
culture, we have great technical solutions, but those are hardly enough
to impress someone who just casually looks. We need to reach out and
show them that there is much more under the hood than they may imagine,
that we can, and we do provide something unique.

And we need to impress them. That's a very, very hard thing to do, and
something that we'll need lots of help to accomplish, and not
necessarily from technical folk. (Which is why one of my primary aims is
to reach and and recruit non-technical contributors to Debian.)

> So, do you think this demographic shift towards older developers is
> harmful to the project, or that it is just a fact and we should not
> worry?

Harmful? No, not necessarily. We should be aware of it, nevertheless.

> How would you intend to attract more young, interested, talented
> people?

This is briefly mentioned in my platform, but, see below too.

> What do you think we, DDs spread all over the world, mostly working on
> a professional setting (and not anymore mostly students enjoying heaps
> of free time) should do to bring in more, younger contributors?

Share the knowledge, share the culture, the stories. I've attended a
couple of code retreats recently (they seem to be quite popular, and for
a good reason), and found that they're a great forum not only to meet
others, learn and teach, but to spread the word too, to evangelise, so
to say. Much like DebConf, but for the not yet initiated.

What I think would help, are more local events - not always strictly
Debian related, as you'll only reach a tiny fraction of people with
that. But things where the attendance can be impressed, to bring them
closer to our culture, to our ideas. Once interested is sparked, we can
proceed further, but it is a gradual process: we won't win anyone for
the project overnight.

We need to impress the young. We won't be able to do that with technical
feats alone (though those do help, and are required, and we have much to
improve there too, at least in the being readily available for all kinds
of fun devices department).

Most of the younger people I talked about Debian with in recent years
were in their early 20s, and what they seemed most impressed about is
not our technical feats, not our quality, not anything like that. But
the culture.


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