I listened to a podcast interview with a number of women who are mentors in the google highly open participation contest (which offers prizes to 13-18 year olds who contribute to open source projects). It’s got some interesting tidbits about community building on open source projects and some controversial banter about the role of women. Notes below — my comments in italics.

Community managers are often women. Someone noted that this project had more women than any other open source project she had been involved with. Is this a great thing where we’re seeing more women in open source? or is this the-women-taking-care-of-the-kids thing again? — ouch. I’d say yes, to both questions.

…coding is fun, and it is an awesome feeling to fix a bug or add a feature, but the human connection is even more rewarding. — yeah, I like the human connection stuff too, but sometimes it is really hard to carve out time to code. It certainly isn’t one of those socialized female traits to ask whether this newbie’s future contribution is really more valuable than whatever you are working on.

…Women may be drawn to these roles, but there are also a lot of men are very good at that. Absolutely.

…gnome love mailing list offers a great approach. People will give you something bite-sized to work on. The neat thing about these tasks is that it’s not just easier for the new contributor, you also need a much smaller commitment from the mentor. It is a way for a contributor to start small and many folks start there and then take on more central tasks.

…should we target some kind of stamp-of-approval for a women-friendly project? No, we should lower the barrier for all contributors. Frankly, with open source, you do need to elbow your way in. It is pretty intimidating to a lot people not just women. If you make it less intimidating to join your project, you will get more kinds of people, not just women.

What do you think?