Apache Community Development Website: Join the Party!
Last week, JAXenter reported that the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) has launched a new Community Development website to encourage newbies to get involved in Apache-hosted open source projects. JAXenter spoke with Ross Gardler, service manager and Member of the Apache Software Foundation, about the new website:
JAXenter: You recently launched the ASF
Community Development website. What’s the main objective of the
Ross Gardler: For newcomers to Apache projects
it can be quite difficult to get started as a contributor. For
those of us who have been around for some time it seems simple –
join the developer mailing list, check out the code, review the
issue tracker and get going – but for those who are entirely new,
and possibly at an early stage of their career, this is very hard
Furthermore, many of the project web sites assume that visitors
already know something of how an Apache project works. The
information about how to participate can be hidden behind more
technical or user focussed documentation.
The Community Development project aims to provide an entry point
for everyone new to Apache projects. It will become a place for
people to find introductory materials and people who are willing to
answer those important “newbie” questions about The Apache Way (the
pet name for our software development process.) The goal is to give
people the confidence to approach their chosen project with
JAXenter: What motivated the Apache Software
Foundation to launch a website, specifically aimed at encouraging
newcomers to participate in the open source community? Do you feel
the Apache community needs an influx of new developers?
Ross Gardler: It’s certainly not that we are
short of developers. The ASF is growing at an increasingly fast
rate as is reported by Jim Jaglielski, the ASF Chairman each year
at ApacheCon (see 05:40 and 08:08 in the opening plenary from
ApacheCon US for most recent figures)
This growth is in the form of new projects via the incubator,
new committers, new members and new committees to address
foundation level issues. The ASF is growing at such a rate that it
can be difficult to know where to go for specific information. It’s
a bit like entering a large party on your own, the first few
minutes before you connect with someone can be really
uncomfortable, but if you have someone with you, or you know where
to find the right person, things are much easier.
The goal of the Community Development project is to give people
enough confidence to enter the party.
We can do this by providing information about how a typical ASF
project works, where possible we will provide mentors to help get
There were a number of motivating factors, including (but not
- the success of our involvement with GSoC
- the success of the Incubator for building new communities
- increasing requests from third parties for speakers at their
Ross Gardler: Yes. The ASF has been a
participant in Google Summer of Code (GSoC) since it started in 2005.
Each year we mentor a great many students and each year we have
more mentors than slots allocated by Google.
The GSoC programme is fantastic and we applaud Google for
leading the way. However, at the ASF (and in most open source
projects) non-code contributions are just as important as code
Documentation, translations, design, testing, evangelism and
many more activities do not require programming skills. Whereas
GSoC is a Summer of ***code***, it is only interested in
Furthermore, GSoC is aimed at students, but open source for
those already in employment.
The ASF mentoring program will seek to match mentees of any
background with appropriate mentors. We have our first mentee
starting right now, with Kathey Marsden as mentor, we expect to
really push the programme later this year.
JAXenter: The strength of many Apache Processes
has always been that they were not strictly formal and consequently
non-bureaucratic. Do we see a new formalism coming up at ASF?
Ross Gardler: To increase the level of
bureaucracy in the ASF would be a mistake. The processes we adopt
have been tuned over the last ten years and are now a proven way of
creating and developing highly reliable and successful software
products. We don’t want to increase bureaucracy, we want to ensure
people understand how things work and why they work.
Whilst there are few formal processes, there are many
conventions that have emerged over the years. These are recognised
by the “old timers” and applied automatically because they have
been proven to work. Without these conventions, and the ability to
tweak them as necessary on a case-by-case basis, there would be no
Because these conventions have emerged over the last ten years,
they are very rich and very deep. However, they are often
undocumented and therefore it can be very difficult for newcomers
to understand what they are and why they exist.
We should also recognise that the ASF is not completely devoid
of formal process. Some level of formality is required for legal
and strategic reasons, both at foundation level and at project
level. For example, the process for accepting a third party
contribution is clearly defined.
Without a formal process to document the provenance of a third
party contribution the foundation would not be able to protect the
software produced by its projects. Again, understanding these
processes and the history behind them is very important for
contributors who become more engaged as Members of the
The Community Development project is a place where we welcome
questions about why things are done the way they are. We will not
hold all the answers and we won’t be setting policy, instead we are
a first point of contact for people unsure of where to go for
JAXenter: How has the reaction to the website
been so far? Have many newcomers signed up? And what do you think
they’re taking from the experience?
Ross Gardler: It’s way too early to comment
We have done no publicity for the project yet. Some people, like
yourself, have come across us, but we are not actively seeking
mentees yet. Despite this, our first mentee just started work this
month and we are currently seeking a mentor for our second. Having
said that, we welcome approaches from people interested in the
program and we’ll do our best to find a mentor.
Our plan has always been to launch the mentor program formally
either after GSoC 2010 has started (if Google run it this year) or
if there is no GSoC we’ll run it in place of GSoC. So come back and
ask this question in about six months’ time ;-)
JAXenter: Thank you very much!