GitHub’s The ReadME Project elevates the open source community through education and mentorship

GitHub is committed to open source and building solutions that support the open source community. With The ReadME Project, GitHub is building an editorial platform where open source maintainers and contributors can share expertise in an effort to grow the collective knowledge base and inspire everyone to become better together. The ReadME Project amplifies the voices of the developer community by telling stories about open source, culture, security, DevOps, and more.

Through featured stories, how-to guides, developer profiles, and podcast conversations, members of GitHub’s open source community regularly publish articles relevant for every stage of the developer journey. From those looking to land their first job to managers or leads onboarding new employees, The ReadME Project aims to elevate the whole community by amplifying expertise and personal stories and giving maintainers and contributors more opportunities to lift each other up.

"A mentor once told me, 'Lift as you climb': As you move up in the tech industry, lift people along with you," said Cassidy Williams in a recent Developer Story. "They’ll fill in the gaps you leave behind, and the industry is so much better when everybody gives back. You get a lot by giving."

This is great advice not just for building a career, but an encapsulation of the open source ethos. Williams shares her conference talk slides and notes, and even her speaker rider, in a repo. She not only shares her technical knowledge, but also helps people learn to give their own talks so they can advance their careers and deepen their own technical knowledge.

Regardless of what motivates them to contribute, they're creating positive feedback loops where the whole community benefits. "Being a developer is priceless," Hoppscotch creator Liyas Thomas shared in an article on his open source journey. "I love building tools that help the community. I want to show others that it is possible for a guy like me to create a tool like Hoppscotch."

Thomas created Hoppscotch initially to scratch his own itch. His job involved testing APIs and he wasn't satisfied with the tools available at the time. "My day-to-day consisted of manually testing each one to get a schema of every response, which was hectic," Thomas wrote. "When I see an opportunity to make something easier from a developer’s point of view, I try to hack a solution and make it open. So I created an MVP called Hoppscotch with buttons, an input path, and a list box, and open sourced it."

It's a project with an amazing multiplier effect. Not only did it help Thomas do his job, and set an example for others to follow, it helped other developers in their own API testing, which in turn helps the end-users of the software built by all of those developers. Hoppscotch, now a thriving open source project with more than 175 contributors, also created a new opportunity for developers, designers, technical writers, community managers, and others to hone their own skills by contributing to the project.

Spreading these opportunities generally takes active stewardship. According to GitHub's 2021 State of the Octoverse report, projects that use the "Good First Issues" tag see significantly more contributors than those without. For example, projects with around 25% of their Issues marked "Good First Issue" saw 13% more contributors, as opposed to those without.

Others take an even more hands-on approach. For example, CHAOSS, the organization behind the open source community analytics tools Augur and GrimoireLab, shared their experience onboarding new contributors in a ReadME Project article. In particular, they underscored the importance of mentorship.

"Having a dedicated person who engages with new community members helps them overcome hurdles and stay involved with the project,” CHAOSS co-founder Georg Link said. The State of the Octoverse report found that mentorship increased productivity in open source projects by 46% percent and tripled the chances of having a healthy culture.

“It's a paradoxical constraint,” says Sean Goggins, another co-founder of CHAOSS and maintainer of Augur. “Fostering a strong community takes pressure off maintainers so that they can focus more on the technical side because there are other people to take care of non-technical things. But community management takes time away from the technical side of the maintainer role.”

Creating community engagement roles within an open source project also provides still more opportunities for people to get involved and enhance not just the project, but themselves. But the growing pressure facing maintainers is real. The emerging field of "contributor relations" aims to establish healthy best practices for open source communities that benefit both maintainers and contributors.

There are plenty of challenges in the open source community, but they're being met in just the same way that technical challenges are: collaboratively and in the open. And with every advance, the whole community grows stronger. You can follow the latest by subscribing to The ReadME Project newsletter—or help out by pitching your own Guides or suggesting topics for future coverage.

Developers, and the technology industry as a whole, benefit enormously from open source software. Science, businesses, careers and humanity advance on open source platforms like Ruby on Rails, Node.js, and Kubernetes. The culture of open source is full of individuals who want to give back to communities that they've benefitted from, whether that's by contributing code and documentation, building new tools to support an open source ecosystem, or by volunteering time to answer questions, organize events, or help with community management.