Re-thinking “Mistakes were made”: free and open source software and teaching

I’m working on my keynote for FrOSCon right now.

They asked for me to revisit the “Mistakes were Made” talk. My introduction will probably be a lot the same. A core idea is a theory that the ratio of failure to success remains mostly constant over time. So, in order to succeed a lot, we need to be trying and failing a lot more.

But this talk, I am planning to go into what concerns me the most about open source software: succession.

What I will argue is that we need to think and do more about teaching. Free and open source software activists have to be the best teachers. Our work is considered so mysterious, so difficult and so out-of-reach. That mythology serves the interests of proprietary software and discourages tinkerers, dreamers and other allies from joining our projects. We are discouraging many young people, in particular.

If we look at our track record, it’s clear that we could be doing better. We’ve made some mistakes. In the same way that we can learn from computing systems failures, we can learn how to teach better. We can learn to make space for newcomers to make mistakes. And all this will make our software better, in the end.

I’m not a professional teacher, but my husband is. I’m just really starting to learn what teaching can be, and how I can do better.

Not every developer has to learn how to teach well. But every developer should know what teaching actually is.