Doing what we do Best
By chance, I happened to see a conversation on #fedora-latam today
about whether changes are needed in how Fedora is presented
in Latin America. It was interesting (even if google
translate couldn't do it justice) and left me thinking that
there will be some contentious discussions in the near
future but the latam ambassadors are doing good work to
break some new areas for reaching new contributors.
Some of the issues raised:
- What contributions make someone a valuable contributor?
- What activities can grow the contributor base
- How to measure and grow the active contributors?
- How to work together as a latam group instead of
individual communities in each country?
Bearing in mind that I'm not a Fedora Ambassador and not a
member of the Latin American community, I'd like to
contribute some thoughts to this.
What contributions are valuable
All constructive contributions are valuable.
Coders, packagers, and release engineers have always been
valued in Fedora. However, a good number of us in Fedora
are aware that there are other forms of contribution and
those forms are just as important to cultivate.
Documentation writers, designers, artists, translators,
planners, end user support, teachers, etc. The trick is
figuring out how to fit the special talents that someone has
with a role that they can fill in Fedora.
Are some contributions more valuable than others? Yes. But
it's not necessarily the contributions that we normally
think of. It's important to any Linux distribution to have
packagers, for instance, but most Linux distributions
already have attracted a large number of those. Teachers
and UI designers (in my Fedora experience) have
been in short supply. That means that even though a Linux
distribution could not survive without any packagers but it
could survive without any UI designers, attracting one
UI designer may more valuable than attracting another packager.
How to grow the contributor base?
With the understanding that we do need a varied contributor
base, the ways that we grow and nurture those contributors
changes. I think it's fairly common for free software
developers to think of the process of contributing purely
through their own experience. First, they were a computer
user. Then they were a free software user. Then they
became a free software coder. Or from computer user to
system admin to Linux packager to software coder. The
danger in this unspoken assumption is that not everyone has
the desire to become a software coder in the end even if
they have the desire to contribute to the free software
I think that one of the challenges that the Fedora Latin
American community needs to address is to identify the steps
designers, teacher, and other non-coders take as they become
more and more involved in the project. Step by step:
- What prompted them to try Fedora?
- What kept them using it after the initial use?
- What got them involved in the Fedora Community as
opposed to just being a Fedora user?
- What roles have they stepped into since they first
became involved in Fedora?
- What roles do they want to fill eventually?
Answering these questions helps us to understand what
motivates other new
contributors and therefore become better at nurturing them
as they grow as a
Fedora contributor. For instance, let's say we had these
answers (note, I'm
making this story up; find some real stories for some real
My teacher showed me Fedora in school. I discovered that
better for drawing than photoshop (which I didn't own a
legal copy of
anyway) and the gimp was just as good for photo manipulation
after I got used
to the slight differences. After that, I heard about the
call for a Fedora 9
theme and submitted a mockup. Once I did that and started
getting involved in
critiquing the other submissions, I started hanging out on
IRC and talking to
the other Fedora contributors regularly. Now I'm on the
design team and work
on artwork for Fedora proper and localized versions of art
I'm hoping to get more into UI Design in the future.
What are some things that we can draw from a story like this?
- School is one venue for recruiting new people. Having
schools and training teachers could both lead to more
- Tools they needed to do work was more important early on
than it being free as in speech. They were using photoshop
for a job better served
by a vector
drawing program -- perhaps because they couldn't get a free
(as in beer) copy
of the latter. Showing people tools that are better for
what they do than
what they have now is one way to make an impression.
- Fedora made a request for the particular type of
assistance that the
person could provide. The person didn't hang around asking
how they could
contribute. Having "contest"-like events can be an entry
point for new
contributors. Note that they stuck around to critique other
people's work --
so design was the entrypoint but there was a smooth
contributing in other ways. This could also mean that
with an understanding of how to get people who want to
contribute in touch
with someone that can give them a task and mentor them right
away will lead to
better contribution than to expect people to ask on email
days after meeting
- Real time communication played a role in forming a bond
to the Fedora
- The contributor feels like they belong to a group now
(I'm on the design
- They want to advance by learning how to do UI design.
We should get some
of our current UI designers to give a class on that.
If we have real stories to think about, we can be better at
types of events we need to organize to get people interested
in Fedora and
what we need to do after the events to get those interested
people involved as
contributors, not just users.
Growing active contributors
The Fedora Account System has about 38,000 accounts.
Roughly 17,000 of those have signed the cla. Roughly 2,500
belong to another group in addition to the cla_signed group.
As the commitment to working on Fedora increases, the
number of people who are working on those things decreases
-- not just in Latin America but in the project as a whole.
I don't have any valuable insight on how to tell that
contributors will be active in Fedora but I do know that if
the latam group figures out something that works very well,
it won't be by copying what the project as a whole has
already done. They might take pieces of what we do and
adapt it but they will also need to experiment and try out
new ideas. Not only because they have a different audience
than other regions but also that what is being done in other
regions has definite room for improvement.
Working Together for A Better Tomorrow
One thing that was brought up was that Latin America only
has two commonly
used languages. It should be much easier for latam to
communicate and share
resources (like documentation and posters) than Europe where
multitude of languages. And yet it seems like much of the
fedora-latam is being done on a country by country level.
Listening to the
people doing the work, it seems like the main problem with
working together is
that collaboration takes time. When you have a small group
of people that you
can meet or talk to regularly, it is easy to arrange to do
When you expand to try to talk to other people that you only
see once a year,
have time zone differences, and see the needs of the people
differently, you have a harder time getting anything done.
I think that we see this in all of the Fedora project, not
fedora-latam. There are very definitely people who talk
about things, people
who make decisions, and people who get work done. There is
overlap among the
sets of people but there are other people who want to talk
forever. I think
that working together is definitely something to work
towards but those who do
things should not be slowed down by those who talk. If
someone is willing to
work on tools to help collaborate more, create it. If
someone is off doing
great things, report back what worked and what didn't
so others can
benefit from your experiences. Try to be open to other
ideas but don't wait on other
ideas being finalized to implement them if talking about
them is dragging on and you think you can do a good job with
the idea now.
Well, that's enough of my uninformed opinions for now :-)
I'm just excited to
hear what fedora-latam starts doing as they're pushing into
figuring out how to bring in contributors that are under
represented in Fedora
at this time.