#open source

The Need for Recognition in Open Source




5 mins read


By highlighting diverse contributions and fostering a culture of recognition, we can inspire both current and future generations of developers and collaborators. In open source, anyone can contribute to the software that helps to power our world. It’s actually kind of mindblowing that we have the opportunity to make such an impact.

But let's be honest, not all contributions are created equal, at least not in the eyes of the open source community. While code commits and Pull Requests (PRs) get the limelight, other forms of contributions often go unnoticed. This isn't just a missed opportunity; it's a problem that needs to be fixed. Recognition isn't a vanity tool; it's the lifeblood of a thriving, inclusive, and diverse open source community.

The Human Need for Recognition

Remember Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs? Right above physiological and safety needs, we find the need for belonging and esteem; it's hardwired into our psychology. Studies have shown that recognition activates the same neural pathways as financial rewards. Recognition isn't just a feel-good factor; it's a fundamental human need that allows us to feel valued and connected.

The Open Source Dilemma

Contributions come in all shapes and sizes—code, documentation, design, community engagement, and even triaging. But the spotlight is often only on contributions that directly relate to code. At OpenSauced, we recognize that contributions aren't just green squares.

Open source communities bring together individuals from diverse backgrounds, united by a shared passion for developing and improving open source projects. Within open source, recognition plays a crucial role in motivating contributors, sustaining their motivation, and nurturing a healthy ecosystem.

While open source communities are often supportive, they aren’t immune to negative feedback and demanding responses. Although these elements can be constructive, they can overshadow the positive interactions that are necessary for community health. This is why it’s so important to amplify the positive interactions and contributions that often go unnoticed. Establishing a positive tone helps create a resilient community and discourages bad actors from participating.

Acknowledging Diverse Contributions

Traditional recognition systems in open source often focus on code contributions, overlooking the diverse ways people can add value to a project. Recognizing diverse contributions creates a sense of belonging, encourages collaboration, and creates a positive feedback loop that benefits everyone involved.

When diverse contributions are recognized and celebrated, it signals to current and potential contributors that their diverse skills—whatever they may be—are valued. This creates a virtuous cycle, attracting a wider range of skills and talents, which in turn enriches the ecosystem even further. At OpenSauced, we encourage contributors to share their journey of different kinds of contributions on our highlights feed. Acknowledging diverse contributions creates a virtuous cycle, attracting a wider range of skills and talents, which in turn enriches the ecosystem even further.

Building a Culture of Recognition

Recognition not only celebrates the accomplishments of individual contributors but also nurtures a culture of appreciation and motivation within open source communities. According to a Forbes article, employees want recognition and by creating a culture that promotes recognition, productivity is encouraged as well. Recognition becomes a kind of incentive to participate. Deloitte also cites the importance of recognition: “Organizations with recognition programs had 31% lower voluntary turnover and were 12 times more likely to have strong business outcomes.” Acknowledging and highlighting the efforts of contributors can create a positive feedback loop.

It's worth noting that recognition can also have effects after the event happens. A field experiment conducted with Wikipedia shows causal evidence of powerful and lasting effects of purely symbolic recognition. We might anticipate that once individuals have received recognition, they put in less effort. However, the study shows that they continue to strongly react to that recognition.

Additionally, recognition signals to others what type of behavior is acceptable and appreciated, without explicitly telling them. This is helpful when working with volunteers, as it allows you to convey your appreciation for their contributions while respecting their autonomy, decreasing the need to tell them what to do.

This culture of appreciation fuels collaboration and inspires community members to actively participate, resulting in increased project momentum and quality.

The Ecosystemic Importance of Recognition in Open Source

A Well-Rounded Ecosystem

In her book, "Working in Public," Nadia Eghbal discusses the "invisible work" that often goes unnoticed but is necessary for the health and sustainability of open source projects. This includes documentation, community management, and even emotional labor. Recognition of these diverse contributions isn’t a nice-to-have; it's an ecosystemic necessity that supports maintainers.

Yes, code is necessary for an open source software project. But without other contributions like documentation, triaging, community support, and educational content, the ecosystem would collapse.

The Economics of Recognition

Eghbal also talks about the economics of attention in open source. In a world where so many people are working to get attention, recognition becomes a form of social currency. Think about customer reviews in e-commerce or citations in academic research. Recognition increases the "market value" of contributors, making them more likely to be "invested in" by others in the form of collaboration, mentorship, and opportunity. We can think of recognition, then, as an investment in human capital that’s beneficial both to the contributors and the community.

Recognition is the key to unlocking the full potential of the open source community. At OpenSauced, we're on a mission to redefine what it means to contribute to open source. Recognition in open source isn’t limited to current contributors; it has a profound impact on inspiring the next generation of developers and contributors.

So, the next time you merge a pull request, close an issue, or read a well-written piece of documentation, take a moment to recognize the person behind it. A little recognition goes a long way.

BekahHW profile picture


Bekah graduated from a coding bootcamp in May of 2019 and since then has spent time as a frontend developer, started the Virtual Coffee tech community, spent time in DevRel and has continued to mom her four kids. She currently co-hosts the and Virtual Coffee podcasts, lifts heavy things in her free time, & works as the Developer Experience Lead at OpenSauced.

Recent Posts




10 mins read

Learn about the importance of belonging, motivation, and collaboration in open source community.






3 mins read

OpenSauced raised funding to further develop your AI technology that provides actionable insights for the open source community.