Hidden Figures: Roles and Pathways of Successful OSS Contributors

Bianca Trinkenreich, Mariam Guizani, Igor Wiese, Anita Sarma, Igor Steinmacher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Open Source Software (OSS) development is a collaborative endeavor where expert developers, distributed around the globe create software solutions. Given this characteristic, OSS communities have been studied as technical communities, where stakeholders join and evolve in their careers based on their (often voluntary) code contributions to the project. However, the OSS landscape is slowly changing with more people and companies getting involved in OSS. This means that projects now need people in non-technical roles and activities to keep the project sustainable and evolving. In this paper, we focus on understanding the roles and activities that are part of the current OSS landscape and the different career pathways in OSS. By conducting and analyzing 17 interviews with OSS contributors who are well known in the community, we provide empirical evidence of the existence and importance of community-centric roles (e.g advocate, license manager, community founder) in addition to the well-known project-centric ones (e.g maintainer, core member). However, the community-centric roles typically remain hidden, since these roles may not leave traces in software repositories typically analyzed by researchers. We found that people can build a career in OSS through different roles and activities, with different backgrounds, including those not related to writing software. Furthermore, people's career pathways are fluid, moving between project and community-centric roles. Our work highlights that communities and researchers need to take action to acknowledge the importance of these varied roles, making these roles visible and well-recognized, which can ultimately help attract and retain more people in the OSS projects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number180
JournalProceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction
Issue numberCSCW2
StatePublished - Oct 14 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • career
  • collaborative development
  • open-source
  • role

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Networks and Communications


Dive into the research topics of 'Hidden Figures: Roles and Pathways of Successful OSS Contributors'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this