Learn Open Source Skills Without Embarrassing Yourself

Accepted Session
Short Form
Scheduled: Thursday, June 23, 2011 from 1:30 – 2:15pm in B301


New contributors are often intimidated the first time they appear in public to share a tarball, submit a patch, or open an IRC client. What if they could practice within "training levels" for open source contribution? This talk introduces the OpenHatch training missions, an open-source, interactive, entertaining way to learn the tools and culture of our community.


Manuals are boring, but learning is necessary.

New contributors often have to figure out how to operate the tools of a project, like IRC, git, or svn, in a highly social environment: public communication between peers. When, for example, you post your first patch to a mailing list, it’s intimidating to know that your mistakes with the tools might reflect poorly on your programming skill.

Some video games have a “training level” where you can get shot without dying. Open source could have a training level where you can learn the skills you need without getting burned.

Our community built one. The OpenHatch training missions are a group of interactive web pages for learning skills you would use when contributing to free software like using diff, patch, tar, version control, IRC, and so on. A training mission shuns “manuals” and long, boring blobs of text, and it protects its users against learning through trial by fire. We say, “Here’s a short, concrete task to perform. Interact with our web-based robot, and it will tell you if you succeeded.” You can build up your comfort in a space without embarrassment.

Project maintainers often end up teaching basic community skills to new contributors. If you can ask them to complete a relevant training mission, you can save time and have a more knowledgeable contributor base.

In this talk, you will learn about the current training missions and discuss as a group how they can be useful to the attendees. We will highlight the training mission for a version control tool in which you are an agent for Mr. Good trying to gain the trust of Mr. Bad. We will discuss the diversity ramifications of learning community skills in a safe environment. After a tour of the OpenHatch community that built them and the Django-based implementation, we will discuss the attendees’ situations with new contributor skill levels and identify the most useful training missions to build next.

Speaking experience