NewContributorWat

One of my students tagged me in an issue on GitHub about helping new contributors during the National Day of Civic Hacking. After spending some time writing the comment, I decided to repost it here :)

Orig thread here: https://github.com/18F/18f.gsa.gov/issues/668 reply here: https://github.com/18F/18f.gsa.gov/issues/668#issuecomment-90155612

In the past, many local event organizers have had agencies reach out to them directly and offer to partner on specific projects and initiatives (our local events in Rochester have featured challenges and speakers from the EPA, for example.) I would recommend reaching out to the national organizers, and seeing if you can get a list of cities/events that are not already partnered with a federal agency, or see if they will put your projects out on blast during the next organizer's call.

Either way, the most important thing for getting new contributions, IMHO, is to be sure you have *clear* action items, that are surmountable in the time of the event, with *dedicated* upstream mentors ready to synchronously provide feedback. That sounded kinda buzzword-y, so:

  1. Clear action item(s) (FIX #1337: CSS Bug on http://github.com/18f/18f.gsa.gov/issues/668)
  2. Clear documentation (README with instructions for getting stack up and running, styleguides, etc...)
  3. Person in IRC/Chat actively answering questions from contributors, and ideally hacking with them.

SecondMuse historically does a great job vetting the "problems" that agencies come up with, so working with them will likely help with that first bullet point.

There is *nothing* worse than spending an entire hackathon trying to get "to the starting blocks" and failing to get a stack just up and running. It is demoralizing, and makes new contributors very discouraged. Be sure that whatever contributions you are looking to garner have stacks that can be trivially installed on Linux/Mac/Windows. (i.e. - shipping a requirements.txt or setup.py with your python project, or even better, distributing to http://pypi.python.org for easy installation.)

Having that mentor available to kick down blockers and vgrep tracebacks is the difference between a new contributor spending 3 hours hunting down an error, or a mentor providing that 'obvious-to-them-seen-it-a-million-times-one-liner-fix' in 3 minutes. If you can get mentor that can commit to the *entire* event, that is a super amazing morale boost for new contributors. There is a certain magic in looking in channel or around room and seeing upstream hacking right alongside you in the trenches deep into the wee hours of the morning.

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