seedling “Our developers are the seed of our community.”—Daniel Veillard

When companies open source products, they often spend a lot of time thinking—and worrying—about creating a community. In reality, they are the community. The product developers are core of the community—its first maintainers.

After the product’s code has been released as open source, they should focus on making sure that community is public and welcoming of newcomers. They can start by working in the open, as the open source community they are.

Open Source is a process more than just a license. Start that process in your internal group to invite community participation and growth. Some steps include:

  • Make sure the source code is in a publicly accessible place and that each developer has a login and is making all of their code changes there. This is the first step. Unfortunately, many companies stop here.

  • Have public meetings and public decision making processes. If the meeting normally happens in a meeting room, you can start by publishing the minutes. However, eventually, you’ll also need to move the meeting to a public video call or a text IRC call.

  • Make sure everything is documented online, whether that’s a mailing list or a website or Slack. All significant conversations, as well as the decisions that flow out of them, should be recorded where the whole community can see them.

  • Respond quickly. If someone asks a question or makes a contribution, the key to keeping them is to respond quickly. Even if you have to say “I received your pull request and put it in the review queue. We’ll likely get to it tomorrow.”

  • Find easy things people can get started with. Many open source software projects keep a list of things that are easy for newcomers to get started with. Often they are tagged in their bug tracking system.

  • Make people known. Individuals are important. Relationships happen between individuals so having contributors that others know by name and feel comfortable reaching out to is much better than a generic email address.

If you have a team of developers working on a project inside your company, they are the core community for that project. Users, consultants, and partners might also be part of the community. When you open source your project, new people won’t come and create your community. They’ll come and join your community. You need to make sure the developers and their working environment are visible.

Image courtesy of Alina Kuptsova under CC0 1.0 license.