Newcomers' Barriers. . . Is That All? An Analysis of Mentors' and Newcomers' Barriers in OSS Projects

Sogol Balali, Igor Steinmacher, Umayal Annamalai, Anita Sarma, Marco Aurelio Gerosa

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Newcomers' seamless onboarding is important for open collaboration communities, particularly those that leverage outsiders' contributions to remain sustainable. This is the case for many Open Source Software (OSS) communities. Previous work shows that OSS newcomers often face several barriers to contribute, which can lead them to lose motivation and even give up on contributing. A well-known way to help newcomers overcome initial contribution barriers is mentoring. This strategy has proven effective in offline and online communities, and to some extent has been employed in OSS projects. Studying mentors' perspectives on the barriers that newcomers face can play a vital role in improving onboarding processes; yet, OSS mentors face their own barriers, which can hinder the effectiveness of the strategy. Since little is known about the barriers mentors face, in this paper we investigate the barriers that affect mentors and their newcomer mentees. We interviewed mentors from OSS projects and qualitatively analyzed their answers. We found 44 barriers: 19 that affect mentors; and 34 that affect newcomers (9 affect both newcomers and mentors). Interestingly, most of the barriers we identified (66%) have a social nature. Additionally, we identified 10 strategies that mentors indicated could potentially help alleviate some of the barriers. Since gender-related challenges emerged in our analysis, we conducted nine follow-up structured interviews to explore this perspective in more depth. The contributions of this paper include: Identifying the barriers mentors face; bringing the unique perspective of mentors on barriers faced by newcomers; unveiling strategies that can be used by mentors to support newcomers; and investigating gender-specific challenges in OSS mentorship. Mentors, newcomers, online communities, and educators can leverage this knowledge to foster new contributors to OSS projects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StatePublished - 2018
Event16th European Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, ECSCW 2018 - Nancy, France
Duration: Jun 4 2018Jun 8 2018


Conference16th European Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, ECSCW 2018


  • Challenges
  • Coach
  • Difficulties
  • Joining process
  • Mentor
  • Newbie
  • Newcomer
  • Novice
  • Obstacles
  • Onboarding
  • Open source software
  • Tutor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Software
  • Human-Computer Interaction


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