All the Things they didn't teach you at University

How to survive and thrive in Open Source

Dan Čermák

CC BY 4.0

who -u

Dan Čermák

Software Developer @SUSE
i3 SIG, Package maintainer
Developer Tools, Testing and Documentation, Home Automation
dcermak / D4N

Methodology & Tech-Stack

  • test things properly in staging, but sometimes you have to patch production
  • real infra is held together by and 🧙
  • git is 👑
  • backend: , ,
  • frontend:
  • enterprise: , SAP, Kotlin

…some of this will change, some won't…

but one thing will never change

you have to work with people

Working with People in FLOSS

  • their motivation ≠ your motivation
  • their employer ≠ your employer
  • their culture ≠ your culture
  • their timezone ≠ your timezone
  • volunteers, paid contributors, students, etc.


  • "just a bunch of people"
  • have a common goal
  • often no clear joining rules
  • empower others

How to communicate

  • asynchronous: email, forums
  • synchronous: chat, voice/video chat
  • issue/bug/feature tracker(s)
  • one place to reach the community

avoid ambiguities!

Yeah, right

  • keep it simple
  • be kind to each other

Build a welcoming community

  • enforce a code of conduct
  • provide a place for your community to meet & talk
  • document & enforce processes meticulously
  • be present and friendly
  • empower your contributors

Motivations for contributing

  1. Ideology
  2. Altruism
  3. Fun
  4. Kinship
  5. Reputation
  6. Reciprocity
  7. Learning
  8. Own-Use
  9. Career
  10. Pay

Keeping the Community motivated

Conflicts - One Bad Apple can spoil the Barrel

There will be conflicts

What it means to be a Maintainer

  • you will have to learn to let go & share responsibilities
  • take care of all the "boring" parts:
    • infra
    • documentation
    • onboarding & mentoring
    • issue triage & patch reviews
    • funding
    • moderation
  • licenses/legal
  • project & release management

How to make your project popular

  • build something that people truly need/want
  • marketing: talks, tutorials, evangelizing
  • documentation, documentation, documentation

The Contributor Funnel

Recruiting contributors

  • past impact does not matter, perceived future impact does
  • contributors need a vision
  • good onboarding experience encourages further onboarding
  • prompt responses boost the chances of a contributor returning

Take care of yourself!

  • stay true to yourself & your motivation
  • you must stay your top priority

Receiving feedback

  • feedback is a gift
  • thank, absorb and reflect
  • don't defend yourself, adapt and discuss (if appropriate)


  • you will mostly get negative feedback, if at all
  • only negative feedback can be crushing
  • must train to not be personally bothered

Providing feedback

  • criticize the code, not the person
  • be constructive, clear and fact oriented
  • be positive
  • speak only on your behalf

a thank you never hurt anyone ❤️

So when should I start?


but defer big announcements until it's ready™

This all sounds horrible!

It's a lot of fun

You will learn a lot

But only delve into Open Source as long as it is fun

So was that all the things they didn't teach me at University?

Of course not!

But it's a starting point for your journey

Links and Further Reading


Proposing Changes

  • start small
  • have a vision
  • battle versus inertia
  • address fears of all stakeholders
  • get early adopters and early wins