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Nurturing the Future Maintainers of Open Source

· 6 min read
Bekah Hawrot Weigel
Developer Experience Lead

The world runs on open source, but we know the challenges of burnout, the need for support, and loneliness. Despite all those challenges, new open source projects are appearing every day. We need to support new maintainers as they learn to maintain in the fast-paced open source ecosystem experienced maintainers are accustomed to. If we want growth, innovation, and solutions to our problems, we’ll need to have a supportive environment for new maintainers. And this is why we need to educate and support new maintainers.

If you want to learn more about becoming an open source maintainer, best practices, and tips and tricks for enhanced productivity and community collaboration, check out our new “Becoming a Maintainer” Course

The Maintainer Learning Curve

When I started maintaining my first project, it wasn’t super popular, but I had enough contributors to feel overwhelmed. I didn’t have all the answers, my issues weren’t perfect, and I wasn’t sure what direction the project was going. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great experience and I formed bonds that I couldn’t have otherwise, but I could have been better prepared. I could’ve thought about how I would showcase the roadmap that was in my head. I could have written clearer issues. And I’m sure I could have made things easier on myself as I supported a lot of brand new contributors to a React Native repository.

This isn’t a unique story. There are many new open source projects popping up every day. Some maintainers have prepared for that launch, others are just trying something new, and others suddenly find their personal project gaining interest beyond what they ever imagined. But if you’re not prepared, you can feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities really quickly especially with a lack of structure support and without mentorship. The good news is that it’s ok, and you can still succeed. Take Liyas Thomas, the founder of Hoppscotch who started the project as a way to solve a problem he was facing and to enhance his resume. Not only is his project still going, but he’s now the CEO of that passion project.

We don’t want you to feel alone. We want you to have a success story too and to make sure new maintainers feel supported and understand the nuances of being a maintainer. This is why we created our “Becoming a Maintainer” Course and have Category in our Community for folks who have taken our courses. We want you to be supported and to be able to network with contributors. We want to make sure if you have questions, we can find you answers.

Growing as a New Maintainer

It can feel like a big leap from contributor to maintainer, but it doesn’t have to be. One of the top challenges is realizing that as a maintainer, your role is utility player: you’re often writing code, creating issues, managing projects, engaging with your growing community, and leading a whole project. In essence, you’re nurturing a project, ensuring the code and quality, supporting the community, and providing direction.

There’s a difference between becoming a maintainer for an existing project, and becoming a maintainer for a new project. You’re more likely to have support, mentorship, and some sort of strategy or map if you’re coming into an existing project. But when you’re coming into or starting a new project, you’re developing your own map, finding the tools that you’ll need for the journey, and navigating through unknown terrain. But you don’t have to be on that journey alone.

Utilize the resources available to you, reach out to other maintainers, and find seasoned contributors who are willing to provide you with feedback. You’re never alone in the open source ecosystem. Understanding what it takes to manage the technical and social aspects of open source projects can help you be more successful. Learning the tools and tricks whether from resources or other maintainers can decrease the barrier to entry, help you to create a stable project, and help you to create momentum.

By cultivating your own community and having a growth mindset when it comes to your project will help you to avoid loneliness that can come with maintaining a project. It will also help you to have a good understanding of how to support your potentially growing community. You’ll learn how to establish clear paths of communication and to create a welcoming environment. You’ll learn how to interact with and support external contributors. You’ll learn how to cultivate a community that maintains high standards of code quality and documentation. What I’m trying to say is, you’ll learn a lot through this experience. You might even find your project growing. And when that happens, you’ll learn new things too.

You’ll learn how to identify potential contributors and team members who can help to drive your project forward within the goals and community needs you've set. You’ll understand how to identify potential contributors who bring value to the project, mentor them as collaborations, and you may even find that they become maintainers themselves.

The Power of Positivity (and Maybe a Cat Video Break)

Maintaining a project can also require a healthy dose of optimism and resilience. There will be days that test your patience, but remember, with each roadblock you overcome, you're making the project stronger and more reliable. And hey, when things get tough, don't underestimate the power of a well-timed cat video break.

Becoming a Thought Leader: Share Your Wisdom

As you gain experience and insight into open source maintenance, share your knowledge with others. Write blog posts, create tutorials, or answer questions on forums. Not only will you be helping others, but you'll also be solidifying your own understanding and enhancing your credibility in open source.

Becoming a maintainer is a challenging but incredibly rewarding journey. Embrace the learning, connect with other maintainers, and remember, a positive attitude (and maybe a cat video stash) can go a long way.

Ready to Level Up Your Maintainer Skills?

Are you interested in starting your open source project but want more support? We've got you covered! Check out our comprehensive Becoming a Maintainer Course, packed with expert tips, tricks, and best practices to support you on your journey. Plus, once you've completed the course, head over to the maintainer guestbook and add your project so we can amplify the hard work you’ve done and connect you to more of the open source community!