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Mentoring in open source: my journey so far

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Giulia Di Pietro

Aug 3

Oleg Nenashev has been active in open source since 2012 and has been part of multiple mentorship programs.

Jenkins GSoC Leadership Team at Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit, 2018 (Oleg Nenashev in middle).

Mentorship programs have become a crucial aspect for the growth and sustainability of open source communities. At Dynatrace, we encourage our employees to contribute to open source and have recently established the Open Source Program Office at Dynatrace that includes team members like Oleg, who has been active in open source for over a decade.

We asked him to share his thoughts on mentoring in open source, why it’s important, and some tips on starting your own mentorship journey.

How did you become a mentor in open source?

I started contributing to open source in 2012 and did my first mentorship in 2014. I mentored a few contributors in Jenkins who were starting their own authorization strategy implementation. And that was a real fun experience!

But it was in 2016 that I first learned about Google Summer of Code from other communities at FOSDEM. I was excited about the community bonding and collaboration opportunities such programs provide. So, I suggested that Jenkins participates in these programs too. And this is where the love story with mentorship started for real.

Since then, I’ve participated in or led many mentorship programs in Jenkins, Free and Open Source Silicon Foundation, Continuous Delivery Foundation, and currently in Keptn. In total, I’ve mentored more than 10 mentees, and so far, all projects have been successful. These mentorship programs gave them a huge boost to their careers and many students found great jobs and/or continued their education abroad in top universities. Moreover, many students I mentored keep contributing to open source and have become mentors themselves.

In 2022, I am happy to lead GSoC in Keptn, looking forward to seeing the results of this mentorship program!

Keptn projects in GSoC 2022

What motivates you to keep working as a mentor?

I like mentoring, but that’s not the main reason why I like to run mentorship programs. I am passionate about open source communities and I want to see them grow.

For me, mentorship programs are a great way to grow leaders in the communities I work on. While we always grumble about lack of contributors in open source, lack of community leadership is what actually saturates the community growth and project evolution.

When you get someone involved in mentorship and other activities beyond a small component they maintain, there’s a good chance they will keep contributing at a project level. It works well, and I really appreciate the outcomes we reached in Jenkins, CDF and other communities.

Shruti Chaturvedi, a GSoC 2021 student, presents how Jenkins interacts with Keptn and Tekton through CloudEvents

What was your best experience as a mentor?

For me, the best experience I’ve had was in 2020.

We were managing seven projects in Jenkins, with almost thirty potential mentors and project ideas. Despite the coronavirus, lockdowns, and many people becoming unavailable, as a GSoC team we were able to organize our work together and to help and support each other throughout the program.

Despite these odds, all seven projects succeeded and delivered great results. We were also able to help other contributors and communities during the programs. It was an island of stability for me, and it helped me to pull through that crazy year. Thanks to everyone for contributing in 2020!

GSoC Team staffing the Jenkins Booth (Oleg far left)

Why do we need mentors?

As Daniel Vetter (Intel) says: “maintainers don’t scale”. I would also add “…and they don’t grow on trees!”.

As already mentioned, it’s not that easy to get new contributors to open source projects, and it’s even harder to get maintainers and leaders. However, community leaders are crucial to the success of open source projects.

Mentors can help raise the new generation of leaders and drive community initiatives, bonding and retention. They help open the community to new contributors and make them a safe space for everyone.

What are the benefits for mentors?

Mentorship in open source is not just volunteering, it can be very useful for your career.

It’s a great way to train your leadership skills, if you are interested in a managerial career. It can also help you create a network and boost your visibility in open source. Plus, it’s a great community bonding experience.

Who are good candidates to become mentors?

If you are passionate about open source, active in your community and want to help others, you are a great candidate to become a mentor! It is not only about coding, but there are also mentorship programs for tech writers, designers and even community managers. If you are ready to chop wood and carry water, even better.

Usually such a role does not require deep technical knowledge and hands on experience, because there are plenty of contributors who can share their expertise. As a mentor, you would rather be guiding the mentees and introducing them to the wider community and the open source experience. This is where your soft skills will shine.

If you are interested in community leadership, then there are many opportunities to coordinate work while mentoring: from managing a single project to org administration, to driving the community’s roadmap in a particular area. If you are interested in such topics, then mentorship can be surely better for you.

Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit in Munich, 2019

How can you become a mentor?

There are plenty of open source mentorship programs one could join as a mentor, regardless of your profile and expertise. It includes Google Summer of Code, Season of Docs, CNCF Summer Internship, and outreach programs like She Codes Africa or Outreach.

Watch this video by Kunal Kuswaha where he provides an overview of many mentorship programs: 25+ Paid Open Source Programs and Internships. Individual projects also organize their own programs, so check out portals like LFX Mentorship for more opportunities.

Regarding training to become a mentor, this is something that depends on the individual community. Some org admins like Jenkins invest a lot of time in training mentors and in providing additional materials for them. I have personally mostly switched from mentoring students to mentoring mentors, and I would be happy to mentor interested people in the Keptn community or in the Continuous Delivery Foundation.

If you are interested to starts as a mentor, please feel free to reach out!

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Mentoring in open source: my journey so far was originally published in Dynatrace Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Giulia Di Pietro