Survey: How Important is Newcomer Experience in Free, Open Source Software Projects?


Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Kevin Carillo, a PhD student at the School of Information Management of Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. 

Kevin CarilloFree, open source software projects have relied on a wide array of strategies and procedures to attract new contributors. Retaining newcomers and having them become valued sustainable contributors is a much more delicate challenge. What a person experiences when he or she is a project newcomer seems to have an important impact on the kind of contributor this person will become within a project. 

There has been little research about what it takes to provide a greater newcomer experience to ensure that projects keep getting quality contributors. This is what I am trying to find out in my PhD thesis. 

If you have joined Debian, GNOME, Gentoo, KDE, Mozilla, NetBSD, OpenSUSE, or Ubuntu since January 2010, and are willing to help out, I would like to invite you to take part in the project’s survey.

Find What Works

The research project will help to answer a variety of questions such as:

  • Does formal mentorship really help in generating valued contributors? What about informal mentoring?
  • How important is the support of a community towards its newcomers? 
  • How effective are formal joining processes such as those relying on sponsorship? What about informal joining processes?
  • How can we generate a higher sense of identification towards a project? 
  • How can we facilitate the integration of newcomers within a project?
  • Are tasks specifically tailored for project newcomers really helpful?

By comparing the various types of newcomer experiences across projects, it will be possible to identify what works from what does not work when dealing with newcomers. The data will help each project to assess more accurately the extent to which they effectively facilitate the integration of their newcomers. The data can also help to identify and compile the most succesful newcomer practices from each of the involved projects. 

Data Will Be Open Source

The dataset will be released under a share-alike ODbL license so that the participating projects can extract as much value as possible from the data. The software used for this survey is issued under GPL 3.0.

The survey is anonymous and should take around 20 minutes. 

As part of an academic project, the survey is approved by the Human Ethics Committee at the School of Information Management at the Victoria University of Wellington

If you’re a member of any of the above projects, please spread the word! 

If you are a member in a large project that is not in the list of mentioned projects and want your project to take part, please contact me asap, there is still time

I will post news about my progress with this research, and the results on my blog: Don’t hesitate to contact me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it