Re: Is it hard for new contributors to help Debian? Can we improve things a bit?

December 20th, 2007 by lucas

Andreas Schuldei writes about my blog post about making it easier to contribute to Debian:

It is much more gratifying for a contributor if his effords have
immediate effects.

[...]

So what can people who want to help Debian do to achive more imminent gratification? Pick projects that let you help directly with direct svn/git/whatnot access (Security team, Debian Edu, Debian-Installer…)

While I agree that Instant Gratification is very important, I don’t think that the proposed solutions solve anything. It’s easy to have things sleep in an SVN repository instead of the BTS (lots of teams do that, sometimes for good reasons, like the lack of sponsors – hint: Games team). It doesn’t make things any better. What we need is tasks whose results will be available without too much wait in Debian unstable, for everybody.

Also, I must admit that I know very little about the inner workings of the Security Team. But I have the idea that it involves quite a lot of procedures (helping with bugs tagged security probably doesn’t, but going further than that probably does). Contributing to Debian already involves A LOT of procedures. A new contributor, even very good technically, can easily get lost in all the different ways to package stuff and solve common problems. So we should identify tasks that don’t have huge requirements. Ubuntu has the concept of bite-size bugs.

I started working on a page explaining the different ways someone can contribute to Debian. The goal is to provide a good entry point (not something that replaces existing documentation) and keep it at a manageable size. Its focus is mainly to replace the emails we write to people asking “I’d like to contribute, but I don’t know what I can do or where I should start!”. The page is available on wiki.d.o/HelpDebian/Start. Don’t hesitate to improve it (see also wiki.d.o/HelpDebian for a TODO list). When it will be good enough, I plan to move it out of the wiki (the content shouldn’t change much anyway) to eg http://help.debian.net/, so we can improve the design (I really like the idea of adding pictures of past Debconfs like Christian Perrier did in his FOSS.in talk).

2 Responses to “Re: Is it hard for new contributors to help Debian? Can we improve things a bit?”

  1. João Carneiro wrote on 12/20/07 at 3:33 pm :

    Great!

    I’m at that precise point where i want to help but don’t know how.
    Started to hang out on the local debian community (www.debianpt.org) and even started to write some sparse articles on sysadmin. I’m also providing some services to them.

    I’m not much of a coder(been improving though), more the sys/network kinda guy. Sent a couple of emails to some package maintainers to offer help in any way but no answer.

    so if you have some ideas on how i could debute on debian itself, fire away!

  2. Giovanni Mascellani wrote on 12/28/07 at 12:44 pm :

    I’m not a DD, and I’d like to become. My problems are not of course just the lack of “entry points” in the Debian community: I should improve my programming skills and, more important, have more time to spend on Debian.

    But the problem of how to join the community still remains. What I really can’t understand is why, when there are many people willing to contribute to Debian and searching for ways to do it, there are also many DDs who are unresponsive, MIA or whatever else (at least, this is the situation from my point of view).

    The main quality of a Debian maintainer should be, in addition of course to technical skills and good philosophical convictions, responsiveness. People who are not able to give warranties of responsiveness should not be maintainers. This is not a shame, is just acknowledgment of not having time/will/… to be responsible of something. There is no point that someone says he can do a job that he can’t do, while someone other could do it, but doesn’t because the first said he’ll do it. I think Debian should pay more attention to this. It’s always possible for anyone to be particularly busy for a few time and unable to look after his packages, and this has to be tolerated. But probably he should publicize this, telling how long he’ll be MIA, perhaps asking someone other to care for his jobs, not just disappear.

    These are, at least, things from my point of view of Debian “newbie”!