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Apache Takes Newcomers Under its Wing

01.13.2010
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In an effort to centralize developer resources and help newcomers to open source, the Apache Software Foundation recently launched the Community Developer project.  So far, the project includes plans for a mentoring program, a "Newbie FAQ", and resources for educators.  To find out how the project started and where it's going, DZone conducted an exclusive interview with Bertrand Delacretaz, an Apache member who has been with the project since the beginning.  He says some of the major goals for the project include mentoring for student developers and an entry point to the foundation at-large.

In 2005, Bertrand Delacretaz had a conversation with Ross Gardler, another open source mentor and Apache member, about making it possible for more people to get involved Apache projects.  Gardler was teaching in Trinidad and Tobago and Delacretaz was also teaching at the time.  "We were both trying to get students interested in the open source idea for their diploma work," said Delacretaz.  Gardler and Delacretaz envisioned an organization within Apache that would initiate a standard system for mentoring on any project.  

The idea came from their work at Google Summer of Code, which is a global program that encourages student developers to work on various open source projects.  "The student gets some money from Google so instead of flipping burgers during the summer, you can help open source projects," said Delacretaz.  The program, which started five years ago, has a mentoring system that Delacretaz and Gardler wanted to implement in the Apache community.  

"We started managing Google Summer of Code inside Apache in an 'add-on' fashion," said Delacretaz.  "We had mailing lists where mentors subscribe and then we coordinated it.  We felt the need to make this and other similar efforts more visible inside Apache and also toward the outside."  That's when Delacretaz and other Apache members decided to create the Community Developer project.  Delacretaz says that the Community Developer project will offer resources that explain how Apache works, how to get in touch with the community, and how to join projects.  Right now, Apache is working on centralizing these resources and completing unfinished documents.

The Community Developer project includes a mentoring program.  Delacretaz and other Apache members have written a draft for how this program will work and there are currently a number of requests being discussed.  The program draft proposes a system where Apache community members can commit to being a mentor for a new contributor.  A mentee, on the other hand, must commit to a plan that shows significant ongoing effort and contribution.  After the mentee picks a top level project to work on, sets goals with the mentor, and sets up a wiki, the work begins.  Delacretaz said that some mentor-student relationships will be starting soon through the program.  All of the contributions are on a volunteer basis, he says.  There's no money involved.  The Community developer project will also aim to be a contact point for teachers who want their students to get involved in open source development.

Helping people get involved in open source projects at Apache is the ultimate vision, says Delacretaz.  The mentoring program is in experimental stages right now, but it will strive to create the next generation of open source developers.  Applications are now available for the mentor program.