Summary:

How do you bring people into an open source community? Mozilla developer Brian Bondy has taken ideas from online education to create a training curriculum for Firefox.

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The open source community is at a constant push-pull, struggling to create a system that is open enough to attract enthusiastic programmers to the cause but stringent and structured enough to produce a viable, usable product. Go too far one way, and nothing gets done — go too far the other, and you cannibalize your community a la Wikipedia.

Mozilla developer Brian R. Bondy has taken it upon himself to widen the community circle at Firefox, drawing cues from Codecademy and other MOOC-focused platforms to create an on-boarding curriculum for those interested in becoming “Mozillians”: Code Firefox.

“I won’t make any money from this site, I’m just doing it because I think it will help on-board new contributors,” Bondy explained via email. “Firefox is a great product, and the only browser out there that puts users, and their privacy first. I want to help others, help make it even better.”

As an open source product, Firefox relies on volunteers to detect and patch bugs within each build to perfect the software for the general audience. Doing this takes a lot of time and persistence — Mozillians must set up special debugging environments and learn how to write fixes for Firefox builds that also satisfy the processing needs of the community. Before Code Firefox, users interested in helping were often pointed to a list of disparate tutorials and guides that made learning difficult.

“Myself along with dozens of other Mozilla contributor and employees have been mentoring people for a long time,” Bondy said. “I basically just documented the process new contributors were going through, which I had seen first hand.”

Bondy drew inspiration from fellow Mozilla employee Josh Matthews and community contributor Kamil Jozwiak, as well as outside influence from MOOC platforms, to take matters into his own hands with Code Firefox. Started by himself, with no initial support from Mozilla, Bondy created an on-boarding curriculum with corresponding videos to help ease users into the process. Bondy said that the project is in its early days — he is posting, on average, one video per day, and has made 20 thus far. It’s small now, but he plans on widening it to other Mozilla products.

“I have at least 50 more videos related to Desktop Firefox, and then I want to get into Firefox OS and other things,” Bondy said.

The on-boarding process is a huge pain point for open source communities, but Bondy’s embrace of educational methods to bring non-users into the fold is probably the friendliest I’ve seen in a while — and that’s what makes it so atypical.

Furthermore, Bondy says that Mozilla encourages its employers to interact with and foster non-employed volunteers, which makes Code Firefox a natural extension of that philosophy. It might seem like a small step towards improving relationships in open source, but Code Firefox could ultimately help Mozilla’s suite become even better.

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