I was in Raleigh, North Carolina all day yesterday. I drove down in the morning so I could appear on a panel with a couple amazing people — Chris Grams and Tom Rabon. Returning to the home office today, I’ve been reading some of the blog reports that have started rolling in from Fedora contributors who are attending (and in some cases organizing!) the FUDCon in Zurich this weekend. It looks like it’s going to be a marvelous event, and I hope everyone there enjoys it.
I was able to attend two FUDCons in Europe (both in Berlin) during my time as FPL and I can’t begin to say how valuable and important those trips were to me. I was able to meet a lot of people I only knew by their IRC nicknames, and make some lifelong friends. I imagine a lot of the people at FUDCon Zurich will be returning, long-time contributors, and others will be new folks who are looking to get involved in Fedora in some capacity, or even just curious about who we are, what we do, and how we do it.
FUDCon events are a good way for us to renew the social bonds that help reinforce and support our collaboration with each other. They’re also an ideal place to reach out to new people and show them the large and friendly nature of our community, and help them find ways to participate and “learn the ropes” of our community. That includes finding areas where we need more help, including teams where contributors have moved on, or want to step back to give others a chance to lead.
I’ve heard people often talk about the fifth foundation of Fedora — in addition to the four everyone knows: freedom, friends, features, first — being fun. I think fun makes a good addition to the list because it starts with f! However, I think it’s more accurate to say fun in the sense of being rewarding. Not everything we do is 100% fun, after all — certainly many of us have soldiered on, trying to solve a problem by fixing a bug, sweating over a translation, trying to craft a procedure in our documentation, make our websites look a little better, correct a service in our infrastructure, and so on, when perhaps we’d rather be doing something else. But when we complete that task, hopefully we feel that time spent was rewarding — even if it wasn’t completely fun. We should constantly strive to make Fedora rewarding for people who are contributing.
That brings me back to making it easy for new contributors to learn and to lead. We can’t expect everyone currently in Fedora will be here forever, after all. People’s lives, priorities, and available time change constantly. They find new jobs with different schedules and demands, they have relationships that require time and attention to nurture, and so on. We sometimes have to re-balance things that may have been rewarding in the past against other priorities so that we can continue to lead full, happy lives. This is a natural, continual process, and we can easily accommodate it in a big project like Fedora.
To do so, we should always look to provide other people easy access to participation, and easy access to lead our efforts. Depending on the same people to always be around to work on the same tasks is a certain road to burning them (and perhaps ourselves) out. There are at least two things each of us can do to prevent that from happening.
First, take a look at what you are doing in Fedora. Ask yourself, how did you learn how to do it? Could someone else do the same with a minimum of effort? Or is the knowledge required to do it scattered in many different places with an uncertain road to finding all of it? Make a plan for bringing that knowledge together, collaborate with your colleagues to make sure the plan is solid, and then execute it.
Second, look around you at other people you know or see regularly in Fedora and ask them if they need help doing the same thing. Help them document what they do, so someone else can do it too. You might just find out that it’s something you’re interested in doing, too. I know this happened with me personally in a number of areas (such as helping with the Websites team). Sometimes turning to a new challenge can give you a real boost of interest and energy that you didn’t expect!
Attrition is a natural process in any group — whether it’s a volunteer community or a company. The groups that have real staying power figure out how to meet the challenges of attrition, with tools that quickly help new members learn and do things proficiently.
What are some practices you use to prevent burnout and to make it easy for people to help you and others?
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On a side note, I wanted to give some kudos to Jesse Keating, who heads up Fedora’s release engineering work, for taking on this challenge head on at Zurich. A couple weeks ago we talked about the opportunity at Zurich to get attendees looking at Fedora’s release engineering SOPs (standard operating procedures), finding remaining gaps, and enlisting people to help fill them. We have great technical people in our EMEA community who could easily understand and help document those processes, especially with one of our lead practitioners in attendance. Jesse was very bullish about this idea and I can’t wait to see the results that come out of the travel.
Similarly, we have groups of Ambassadors, packagers, translators, designers and artists, and other colleagues together in Zurich. We can accomplish a lot with all those great minds and talented hands in one place at one time — best of success to everyone!