Being a Mentor in open source projects

Igor Steinmacher, Sogol Balali, Bianca Trinkenreich, Mariam Guizani, Daniel Izquierdo-Cortazar, Griselda G. Cuevas Zambrano, Marco Aurelio Gerosa, Anita Sarma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Mentoring is a well-known way to help newcomers to Open Source Software (OSS) projects overcome initial contribution barriers. Through mentoring, newcomers learn to acquire essential technical, social, and organizational skills. Despite the importance of OSS mentors, they are understudied in the literature. Understanding who OSS project mentors are, the challenges they face, and the strategies they use can help OSS projects better support mentors’ work. In this paper, we employ a two-stage study to comprehensively investigate mentors in OSS. First, we identify the characteristics of mentors in the Apache Software Foundation, a large OSS community, using an online survey. We found that less experienced volunteer contributors are less likely to take on the mentorship role. Second, through interviews with OSS mentors (n=18), we identify the challenges that mentors face and how they mitigate them. In total, we identified 25 general mentorship challenges and 7 sub-categories of challenges regarding task recommendation. We also identified 13 strategies to overcome the challenges related to task recommendation. Our results provide insights for OSS communities, formal mentorship programs, and tool builders who design automated support for task assignment and internship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7
JournalJournal of Internet Services and Applications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Challenges
  • Mentors
  • OSS
  • Onboarding
  • Software engineering
  • Task recommendation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science Applications
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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