A translation from the Spanish of a blog post by Tatica titled "Colaborador? Embajador? Mentor? Qué eres? This isn't a literal translation - I may have gotten a few parts wrong because my Spanish reading skills (supplemented by Google Translate) aren't particularly good - but I tried to capture my understanding of what Tatica was trying to say.
Although I have been part of the Fedora community for nearly four years, I've seen that many people don't fully understand the differences between the levels of collaboration (or hierarchy) that can occur in a community. Whether you're a Fedora, Ubuntu, Debian, or FreeBSD contributor, the community you participate in can help you learn to become the contributor you want to be.
Who makes up Fedora?
Having an organized community or at least a clearly defined purpose is the main thing that turns users into contributors. When people come to you for information and help, or when you talk on IRC or the mailing lists for answers, we're supposed to set a good example. However, many people are afraid to say "I don't know" and prefer to remain silent if they don't know the answer to the question they're asked. What if we said to these newcomers "Hey, I don't know either, but what if we learned together?"
What happens after I join the mailing lists and start hanging out on IRC and going to events? It's at this point where you start seeing differences between different project communities. It's at this point that users may decide to change and try another distribution, or stay and start contributing to that particular community. My own journey from user to contributor was very fast, so I will try to break it down a bit.
"What, me a contributor?" The first thing you have to realize is that you're going to have to do work; you need to accomplish things. Your main motivator for a "career" within the community should be pride in knowing that you're contributing to the software that you use. Simply attending events and giving talks about the work of others isn't enough - you must contribute yourself. If you do that, recognition and responsibilities will follow.
Many times people fail to come to the community and collaborate because they don't think they can contribute anything. That's one of the biggest misconceptions I've found. If you want to be part of a community, you should know that the community will also be your school - they will teach you how to contribute in the ways you want to help. When I started with Fedora, I couldn't really draw, much less speak or write English. I learned English here, and am now learning Porguguese. Learning is an everyday thing in an open source community.
"Hurrah for Ambassadors!" In Fedora, we say Ambassadors are frequent contributors to the community; our list of Ambassadors is the list of people who can spread the good word about the project. However, many people forget that to be an Ambassador, you need to be a contributor first - not because the wiki page says it's a requirement, but because it's the right thing to do. Every day I get 2-3 emails from users who want to be Ambassadors because they want to spread the usage of Fedora by giving lectures or workshops. You don't need to be an Ambassador to spread Fedora. Some people believe the "Ambassador" title is like a "license" that you need to to give lectures or broadcast on Fedora, and some people have even sent me messages saying "I want to be an Ambassador so that Fedora will send me places."
Now, as Ambassadors, is this the message that we want to send and what we want Ambassadors to be? We need to set a good example. For my part, since I became a contributor I've been trying to pitch in on what I can, and now I've started to focus more on specific things because I usually try to do too much. I've worked on Fedora art and events, translations, websites, writing content, and now working on the development of the LATAM Fedora community magazine. If all Ambassadors set a good example by showing a high level of commitment, the people who want to join will see our example and follow our lead without us having to explain a lot.
"And now a mentor?" After three years of participating in Fedora, I was asked to be a mentor to new Ambassadors. My role is to discover and guide new talent that will make our community better. I must be honest; I'm tough on new recruits. I filter out those who think that they can just install Fedora and become Ambassadors two weeks later without investing time in learning how to contribute to the community. However, if you just show me - even by a single email - that you want to take the next step, I will help you see how easy it can be.
Mentoring may be a scary task, but you should do it! I think I tend to be overinvolved with the people I mentor. Some of them do fail along the way. I try to teach them what they can do based on their skills, and I try to introduce them to others in their city and encourage them to teach others what they know. I'm not sure what the other mentors do, but I think they all do the same.
Being part of the community isn't just about having Fedora, Ubuntu, or Debian installed on your machine. It's not about appearing in events or delivering brochures, or about being on a mailing list or IRC channel but never saying anything. Being part of the community is about participating, learning and teaching that we are an example to the rest of the world on how to perservere and overcome obstacles. We spend our time doing wonderful things to improve the technology and help the other people who are doing this alongside us.
Now, who do you think you are to your community?