Socialization in an Open Source Software Community: A Socio-Technical Analysis
Open Source Software (OSS) development is often characterized as a fundamentally new way to develop software. Past analyses and discussions, however, have treated OSS projects and their organization mostly as a static phenomenon. Consequently, we do not know how these communities of software developers are sustained and reproduced over time through the progressive integration of new members. To shed light on this issue I report on my analyses of socialization in a particular OSS community. In particular, I document the relationships OSS newcomers develop over time with both the social and material aspects of a project. To do so, I combine two mutually informing activities: ethnography and the use of software specially designed to visualize and explore the interacting networks of human and material resources incorporated in the email and code databases of OSS. Socialization in this community is analyzed from two perspectives: as an individual learning process and as a political process. From these analyses it appears that successful participants progressively construct identities as software craftsmen, and that this process is punctuated by specific rites of passage. Successful participants also understand the political nature of software development and progressively enroll a network of human and material allies to support their efforts. I conclude by discussing how these results could inform the design of software to support socialization in OSS projects, as well as practical implications for the future of these projects.