Every year in May, OSCON happens! Organized by O'Reilly, OSCON is one of the largest conferences in the world relating to open source software. It is a huge event dominated by some of the best known players in Open Source such as the Apache Foundation, Red Hat, and Debian Linux. It also attracts the emerging software projects that are just beginning to find their market and form communities.
This year, the 2017 Community Leadership Summit (search #CLS17) was no exception. Structured as a two day "unconference" for community managers, CLS17 is a conclave of "birds of a feather." Community Managers from all types of open source software, both paid and free, gather at this event to compare ideas about the challenges that every community seems to have in common. That wild cats (volunteer developers) seem to need to be herded! Community Managers are the focal point for attracting and retaining volunteer talent for an open source project, whether they are solely code contributors and participants in the release cycle of the software or, as is the case for Joomla, managing every aspect of a project including marketing, events, governance, documentation and support.
This CLS was an opportunity for several of our newly-elected members of Joomla's leadership to meet their counterparts in other major projects, some CMS-related but most not CMS related. From Joomla we had Mike "Demo" Demopolous, Joomla's Treasurer; Yves Hoppe, Department Coordinator for Programs; Rowan Hoskyns-Abrahall, Department Coordinator for Events; and Robert Jacobi as our President. Since this group was recently elected, it also presented valuable time in the evening and following the conference to get to know each other and discuss the important priorities for their departments.
The main take-aways from this event included ideas for maintaining the health of communities formed of contributors that put in just a couple hours a week. The unconference format allows those attending the event to propose topics that are of common concern. A room and time is assigned and any attendees that have similar concerns or solutions to suggest meet and share those ideas. The topics attracting the most attention and attendance included:
- how to "onboard" our newest contributors to make sure their first attempts to contribute to documentation or user support are a success and that first attempts to submit a Pull Request to improve the software are properly mentored and result in a successful and positive experience;
- how to communicate effectively to a diverse community that is spread across continents, time zones and languages;
- how to prevent burn-out of volunteers that have moved into critical leadership roles, especially release managers;
- how to create a culture that teachs new contributors the "right way" to contribute in a way that does not embarass or discourage them; and
- how to build succession into the responsibilities of each leader so that fresh enthusiastic faces can rise quickly in an organization and not be discouraged by long-term leaders that have lost some of their energy.
With several Joomla-related attendees, our group was able to "divide and conquor," to both share the wisdoms we have gathered as the largest all-volunteer-managed open source project on the planet and to learn from other inspiring projects their secrets for successfully nurturing their communities. My suggestion to our leadership is to have all Department Coordinators and Officers attend CLS each year as a leadership team retreat to help focus on the year ahead aimed in part at implementing the best practices and great solutions for community empowerment they learn about at CLS.