Guiding the way: A systematic literature review on mentoring practices in open source software projects

Zixuan Feng, Katie Kimura, Bianca Trinkenreich, Anita Sarma, Igor Steinmacher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Context: Mentoring in Open Source Software (OSS) is important to its project's growth and sustainability. Mentoring allows contributors to improve their technical skills and learn about the protocols and cultural norms of the project. However, mentoring has its challenges: mentors sometimes feel unappreciated, and mentees may have mismatched interests or lack interpersonal skills. Existing research has investigated the different challenges of mentoring in different OSS contexts, but we lack a holistic understanding. Objective: A comprehensive understanding of the current practices and challenges of mentoring in OSS is needed to implement appropriate strategies to facilitate mentoring. Method: This study presents a systematic literature review investigating how literature has characterized mentoring practices in OSS, including their challenges and the strategies to mitigate them. We retrieved 232 studies from four digital libraries. Out of these, 21 were primary studies. Using this, we performed backward and author snowballing, adding another 27 studies. We conducted a completeness check by reviewing the references of the 4 most relevant primary studies, which resulted in us adding 1 additional study. We then conducted a full-text review and evaluated the studies using a set of criteria; as a result, 10 papers were excluded. We then employed an open-coding approach to analyze, aggregate, and synthesize the selected studies. Results: We reviewed 39 studies to investigate the different facets of mentoring in OSS, encompassing motivations, goals, channels, and contributor dynamics. We then identified 13 challenges associated with mentoring in OSS, which fall into three categories: social, process, and technical. We also present a quick-reference strategy catalog to map these strategies to challenges for mitigation. Conclusions: Our study serves as a guideline for researchers and practitioners about mentoring challenges and potential strategies to mitigate these challenges.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number107470
JournalInformation and Software Technology
StatePublished - Jul 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • Literature review
  • Mentoring
  • Open source

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Information Systems
  • Computer Science Applications


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