Stop Mentoring First-Time Contributors

If you’re an open source maintainer lucky enough to have a significant number of contributors you need to learn to mentor efficiently. First timer issues are not the right good way to get people involved in your project nor mentoring individual first-time contributors. Instead, do things that help all of them.

Helping (all) first-time contributors

Your project should be as easy to contribute to as possible. There should be good, up-to-date documentation on what you can do to get started and how you can contribute to the project. Homebrew even has a single command (brew bump-formula-pr) which allows you to make your first pull request without even using Git. Make use of pull request templates and automated checks (that contributors can run locally) to encourage high quality pull requests.

You can’t automate empathy, though. The most important use of your time on first-time contributors is congratulating them for being awesome when you merge their PRs so they contribute a second time.

Second-time contributors

So they came back for more? This meant that their first time was a pleasant experience: well done. The second-time contributor has taken a step closer to being a maintainer and as a result you should invest more time in them. Ensure that you start being a bit more strict with your code review. Don’t fix problems for them any more or tell them exactly what to do but instead make more ambitious requests of them. Some contributors will not like this; they do not want to learn from you or about why the project does things certain ways. If they do want to learn and are having fun doing so they may contribute a third time.

Third-or-more contributors

By the time someone has contributed more than two high-quality pull requests to your project they now warrant your individual, focused attention. You have a good chance to be able to mentor this person into becoming a regular contributor and maintainer. Suggest more issues they are likely to be interested in, praise their work and defend them against drive-by critiques.

These are the people you want to invest your time in rather than the first-timers. Do so and they’ll end up saving you more time than you invest in them.