Leading the Open Source Ruby Community

In a few weeks, I’ll be participating in a local chamber of commerce program providing opportunities to meet and interact with local leaders, and learn the ins and outs of the community in an effort to equip those of us in the program with the tools necessary to become community leaders.

Reflecting on my acceptance into this program, I’d like to consider what it means to be a leader in a community outside of my immediate surroundings; one in which I engage daily: the open source Ruby community.

Leading Open Source

Let’s start at the beginning. What is a leader? As a noun, a leader is defined as “the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.” The verb has two pertinent definitions:

  1. be in charge or command of
    • organize and direct
    • set (a process) in motion
    • be the principal player of (a group of musicians)
  2. be superior to
    • have the first place in (a competition); be ahead of (competitors)

These two definitions play off eachother. The latter suggests superiority gives rise to being in charge, and being in charge implies this person or organization is superior.

Leadership, then, is the action of leading a group of people or an organization towards a common goal. How do you get a group of people to work towards a common goal? Through influence, vision, and tenacity. In a sense, leadership is an implied social influence rather than dominance and superiority. Looking at popular quotes on leadership, you’ll find a variety of quotes referencing these values as key factors.

The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority."

Kenneth Blanchard

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.

John Quincy Adams

The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men, the conviction and the will to carry on.

Walter Lippman

Personally, the above quotes strike a chord deep down inside. It’s hard to explain why, but I think Eric S. Raymond does a great job in The Cathedral and the Bazaar.

The "severe effort of many converging wills" is precisely what a project like Linux requires—and the "principle of command" is effectively impossible to apply among volunteers in the anarchist's paradise we call the Internet. To operate and compete effectively, hackers who want to lead collaborative projects have to learn how to recruit and energize effective communities of interest in the mode vaguely suggested by Kropotkin's "principle of understanding".

Note: Emphesis, mine

The projects I interact with aren’t competing in the same sense as a project like Linux, rather, they’re competing against other projects. You’re probably thinking of a few at this moment…

Perhaps it’s time to consider how we enable developers to communicate towards a common goal, or emphasize the goals already set for a project. Github has revolutionized how we work towards a common goal, but how do we inspire others to contribute, engage, and give back? How do we become better leaders in this community?



  1. October 05, 2011 at 4:09 AM

    This is very useful for me.Can you share with us something more like this ??? Thanks.