GitLab's commitment to fostering a thriving environment for wider community contributions, has been a significant factor in its success and appeal. Contributions from the wider community naturally prevent silos, boost velocity, and incentivize engineers to uphold a higher standard of maintainability.
Our Editor Group has a lot to gain from cultivating wider community contributions within our slice of the GitLab product.
At the time of writing this, less than 2% of all GitLab community contributions target the Editor Group's codebase
(see editor contributions, see all contributions).
For just the
devops::create stage, the Editor Group has around 15% of all GitLab community contributions (see create stage).
It appears that the Editor Group has a very small slice of all community contributions. This could be a symptom of a more underlying problem, and/or a missed opportunity.
PLEASE NOTE: For this analysis, we assume that GitLab as a whole has a healthy base of wider community contributions. We are only interested in considering issues that arise from the Editor Group specifically.
Here is an interdependency graph breaking down this problem into possible contributing factors and their relationships with possible solutions.
suggestion: When reading the graph, look for nodes with multiple arrows pointing away. These are areas where a small difference can have a significant spreading effect.
A codebase that evolves in a silo is difficult to maintain in the long run.
Silos are systems which generate knoweldge, but keep that knowledge within themselves. This can create a single-point-of-failure for an organization. It also threatens to deteriorate quality overtime, because the system cannot receive external feedback, nor knowledge foreign to the system.
When there is a healthy stream of contributions from the wider community, the codebase is naturally protected from growing in a silo. On the other hand, a lack of wider community contributions could be an indicator that the codebase will exhibit other silo-like behavior (most notably, a decline in maintainability). This further prevents outside involvement, creating a negative feedback loop.
The following sections describe possible solutions that address the above problems. These solutions are not mutually exclusive and should be prioritized and adopted as needed.
The most significant impact towards fostering wider community contributions is to treat the wider community as the primary audience for issues. This directly improves a contributor's motivation for picking up an issue. Issues written this way:
With the wider community as the primary audience, the issue writer is forced to consider that someone who picks up an issue may not even know where to get started. This is an incredible motivator to investigate and leave an implementation guide.
What goes into an implementation guide?
This guide can be very brief. It simply contains the result of a informal investigation into related lines of code and possible actions that could resolve the issue. It can also contain steps for breaking up the MR's into iterative chunks.
At the end of the day, the implementation guide guides the implementor, but gives enough flexibility and room for their discretion and creativity.
What if the author isn't equipped to leave an implementation guide?
The issue author does not have to be the one to investigate and leave an implementation guide. Instead, the author should ask someone with domain knowledge for help.
@<NAME_HERE>, could you please help me investigate and leave a brief implementation guide for this issue? Thanks!
This seems like a lot of work.
If someone with domain knowledge cannot feasibly and quickly formulate an implementation guide for an issue, then it's a good sign that there might be a requirements gap or even some unique challenges. These unique challenges should be captured in the implementation guide, so that contributors are aware of the entire picture.
This effort of leaving an implementation guide (and specifically the investigation effort) goes along way to informing all stakeholders about the true nature of the issue - from planning, weight estimating, implementing, reviewing, and testing.
The GitLab Hackathon is an amazing virtual event of distributed velocity and productivity. It attracts many veteran and first-time contributors.
Participants of the GitLab Hackathon have an incentive to create a lot of MR's during this event, so they are looking for MR's with very clear requirements, a very clear implementation guide, and a low-level of effort. Across GitLab's Frontend, we've had amazing progress made in large project-wide efforts (example, another example) during Hackathons. This is because the relevant issues and epics are geared towards the wider community and leveraging that scale.
How can we improve the Editor Group's issue presence during Hackathon's?
Hackathon - Candidateor the
good for new contributorslabel is appropriate.
This seems like a lot of work. What do we expect to gain?
The Hackathon attracts new and veteran contributors, and is a great way to mentor people to not only conrtibuting to GitLab, but contributing to the Editor Group's relevant issues. When contributors have a positive experience, they tend to gravitate towards similar experiences (e.g., searching for issues with similar labels or people involved).
An investment in the Hackathon is an investment into fostering a longer-term community.
An issue may be well written and attractive for a new contributor, but contributing to some codebases is simply just difficult. When we think of maintainability, we usually think of our future selves and ask, "Are we able to keep maintaining this"? When it comes to open source software, we should look beyond ourselves and ask, "Would someone completely outside my group be able to keep maintaining this?"
How do we keep a codebase maintainable beyond ourselves?