Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW)

, Volume 27, Issue 3–6, pp 679–714 | Cite as

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


Newcomers’ seamless onboarding is important for open collaboration communities, particularly those that leverage outsiders’ contributions to remain sustainable. Nevertheless, previous work shows that OSS newcomers often face several barriers to contribute, which 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 play a vital role in improving onboarding processes; yet, OSS mentors face their own barriers, which 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 to potentially alleviate some of the barriers. Since gender-related challenges emerged in our analysis, we conducted nine follow-up structured interviews to further explore this perspective. 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.


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



We thank the interviewees for their time and insights, and the reviewers for their valuable comments. This work is supported by the National Science Foundation (Grants IIS-1559657 and CCF-1560526); CNPq (Grant #430642/2016-4); FAPESP (Grant #2015/24527-3).


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Electrical Engineering and Computer ScienceOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  2. 2.School of Informatics, Computing, and Cyber SystemsNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA
  3. 3.Department of ComputingFederal University of Technology, ParanáCampo MourãoBrazil

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