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Interview: Bryan Østergaard

Bryan Østergaard will give a talk about "You're doing it wrong!" at FOSDEM 2012.

Could you briefly introduce yourself?

I'm a long time open source contributor deeply involved in a number of very different projects.

  • I'm one of the leading Freenode staffers (by far the world's largest open source IRC network) taking care of everything from helping users with lost passwords to setting up new servers and helping manage attacks, etcetera.
  • In 2007 I started writing a new Linux distribution from scratch. In 2008 Exherbo was announced and immediately hit Slashdot's and The Register's frontpages as well as several other big news sites. I'm still in charge of Exherbo.
  • Since 2009 I've been the president of the LUG in the Copenhagen area of Denmark. With roughly 4000 members and more than 100 events every year it's a busy place.
  • And finally for the past 6 months or so I've been deeply involved in organising the biggest open source conference in Denmark. The Open Source Days conference takes place in March so we're in final stages furiously networking with everybody we can think of to get the last pieces of the puzzle in place.

What will your talk be about, exactly?

My talk is going to focus on what I like to think of as Community Management. I'm primarily going to focus on two big areas:

  • How do small (and large) projects efficiently grow their community and make sure the community is going in the right direction?
  • How should you approach a project that you want to join? What can you do to get existing project members attention and get your patches reviewed and accepted?

And finally I'm going to quickly cover how normal users with no knowledge of programming or project internals can greatly increase their chances of developers looking at their bugs.

The talk is mostly geared towards smaller to medium sized projects but large projects can also benefit from the experience and advice I'm going to share.

What do you hope to accomplish by giving this talk? What do you expect?

I hope I can inspire a lot of projects to think actively about community management. Most of us are nerds and just want to focus on writing code, but community management is such an important part to succesful projects. And since starting Exherbo I've found that it can also be one of the most fun and rewarding things.

How big is the Exherbo community and how much has it grown in recent years?

The Exherbo community consists of several hundred people with most of them actively contributing patches. The project has grown solely by word of mouth and we've been careful to keep a fairly slow growth curve since it initially got a very polar response. A lot of people were highly excited about the project and at least as many people tried attacking the project and the developers behind it.

So I've been very careful about growing the community, making sure every step of the way that newcomers shared our goals and philosophy. I think we've been very successful in keeping our philosophies over the past four years despite a very rapid code evolution and constantly changing features.

What are the biggest challenges you faced while managing the Exherbo community?

Learning the ropes of community management. When I started Exherbo I focused 100% on the technical side and didn't even consider it might grow into a large project with lots of outside contributors.

Having large amounts of people show up suddenly was a bit of a wake-up call but I'm glad I took it as an opportunity. It's been a hell of a ride and a bit of a crash course for me but it's also been a chance to experience with different takes on community management. That's something you can't really do in a huge project but for smaller projects you can definitely try out a lot of "weird" things.

What's your secret to keep contributors happy/active?

The biggest secret is simply to focus on their needs. If you make sure their needs are fulfilled they'll be happy and should stick around. The real trick is figuring out how to combine their needs with your goals for the project.

I'm going to spend a lot of my time during the talk covering this and talking about exactly how I do this in practice.

Do you have some easy tips and tricks of community management?

The bullet points are:

  • Make absolutely sure you know what you want from the community. Do you want code contributors, documentation contributors, somebody to man your "helpdesk" or something completely else? Without a very concise goal you're going to fail.
  • Make sure you have a good understanding of your community members in general. What would they benefit from? They rarely give you very good answers if you ask them directly so you have to put yourself in their shoes and think about this in great detail.
  • Figure out how to combine the project's goals with the goals and wishes of (potential) contributors. This should be the easy part if you figured out the first two bullet points.

Have you enjoyed previous FOSDEM editions?

I've been to FOSDEM every year since 2005 and have enjoyed every single year. FOSDEM seems to grow every year and always manages to come up with something even crazier and bigger than last year.

I absolutely love the way FOSDEM manages to change every year without compromising on the basic things that makes FOSDEM such a great conference. I haven't been to any other open source conference so strongly focused on projects and communities and with so many interesting developers attending year after year.

I'm sure I'll keep coming back for many years to come.

Creative Commons License
This interview is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Belgium License.