Generational Relay: Passing the Open Source Torch

Accepted Session
Short Form
Scheduled: Thursday, June 26, 2014 from 11:00 – 11:45am in B201


People leave Open Source projects, and that's ok. Failing to plan for it isn't. How one community is recovering from the loss of its first generation and preparing for the rise of its third.


Contributors move on. Worrying about or trying to win those people back is a waste of time and effort. This sort of turnover, or “generational relay”, is nothing new to OSS projects. For example, the estimated “half-life” of a Debian developer is shown to be about 7.5 years.

Plone, a Python-based content management system launched in 2001, recently underwent a several-year period during which many of its early members moved on to other jobs or other projects. After coasting for years on the idea of a tightly-knit, dedicated community, the remaining members found themselves faced with the reality that they’d overlooked the sort of nurturing that a community truly needs. How does a self-organizing community effectively regenerate in order to survive?

I’ll discuss the existing research on generational change, what Plone’s been doing to recover, what’s worked and what hasn’t.

Topics will include:

  • Helping contributors to establish their identity
  • What happens when developers run things?
  • Strategic use of precision trolling
  • When the BDFL isn’t so FL
  • Passing down knowledge and culture
  • Planning for succession
  • The diminishing returns on PTFU-STFU

Speaking experience

As the release manager for Plone, I regularly speak at Plone events on topics covering both technology and community management issues. I've also been a recurring speaker at Penn State University's annual Web Conference. I'm known for entertaining talks, reveling in tech failures, and using keyboards as pointing devices. I once had to try to explain the phrase "eating our own dog food" to a Brazilian translator.