Whether you’re in the software industry or a developer looking to innovate your product for adoption, open-source could be the way to go.

This is because open-source projects encourage collaborative development and have become integral parts of the software industry. The success of these projects revolves around the active participation of developers from around the world.

This requires you to motivate developers to contribute to your product or they won’t even look your way.

In this article, we’ll explore five effective strategies you can use to encourage developers to contribute to your project, whether it’s an open-source initiative or a proprietary product.

So, let’s go.

Have clear documentation

A primary factor that attracts developers to your project is well-structured and comprehensive documentation. Ensure your project documentation is accessible and up to date. Include information about the project’s goals, architecture, coding guidelines, and how to get started.

Good documentation enables developers to:

  • Quickly onboard
  • Reduce the time they spend on trial and error
  • And focus more of their time on writing code

Clear and organized documentation reduces the entry barriers for potential contributors.

To ensure clear and organized documentation, you must follow the best practices for writing open-source documentation. Such practices as:

A ReadMe file that contains:

  • A brief description of the project
  • Installation instructions.
  • A short example/tutorial

Allow issue trackers for others – Open-source bug tracking enables developers to track bugs in a program. A bug tracking software is essential for finding, tracking, and fixing bugs in a software collaborative development effort.  

A few examples of bug-tracking software you can use are:

  • Trac defect tracking tool – an open-source project management tool, wiki, and issue tracking tool designed for software development projects.
  • Redmine – Redmine is a web-based open-source software bug-tracking and project management tool, like Trac.
  • Bugzilla – easy bug reporting – one of the first web-based bug-tracking tools originally used by the Mozilla project. 

Write API documentation – the API will describe what a function does, what the function’s parameters or arguments are, and what a function returns. It’s the collection of references, tutorials, and examples to help developers use your API. Stripe API is a good example of how to write API documentation.

In the documentation of your code, apply coding conventions such as file organization, comments, naming conventions, programming practices, etc.

Provide code examples in your documentation to enable developers to understand the code they’re working with and its history.

List the versions of your files along with the major edits you made in each version. 

Writing great technical tutorials for developers
Whether you’re a software engineer who’s been asked to write something for your company’s blog or documentation, or you’re a non-technical marketing person who’s trying to help their contributors improve their skills, here’s how you can write better tutorials.

Define clear contribution guidelines

Define simple and clear contribution guidelines to outline the process of getting involved in your project.

Contributory guidelines are designed to help you through the process of contributing to the open-source project. It tells you exactly what they want to see in your submission so you don’t have to wonder anymore about what to include in your proposal.

These guidelines should include details on how to submit bug reports, feature requests, and code contributions. By making this process clear, you lower the barriers for potential contributors.

The following are some tips for defining clear contribution guidelines:

  • Keep in mind that the majority of people who’re reading your contributor guidelines are new contributors and have not contributed to your project before.
  • Recognize that the reader is about to contribute to your project and appreciate their effort.
  • Ensure that your contributor guidelines are thorough.
  • Keep a light and friendly tone.

A good example of what a contribution guideline looks like is the Angular contribution guideline.

The angular contribution is organized into different modules for ease of reference. These include Code of Conduct, Question or Problem, Issues and Bugs, Feature Requests, Submission Guidelines, and Coding Rules.

3. Create a welcoming community

Fostering a welcoming and inclusive community is crucial for attracting developers. Maintaining a tone that reflects warmth and inclusivity in your communication channels ensures a healthy community. 

Encourage interaction among community members through forums, social media, or other platforms. A friendly and supportive community is more likely to attract and keep contributors.

Some successful developer communities are:

  • GitHub – GitHub supports a community of more than 40 million people. The community is a place where developers develop software together, share ideas, and follow discussions on topics that interest them.
  • Stack Overflow – Stack Overflow is an open community of coders.  They help you get answers to your toughest coding questions, share knowledge with your colleagues, and find your next dream job.
  • CodeProject – CodeProject is a community with over 14 million software developers. Members come together to share code, tutorials, and knowledge with each other.

Create a code of conduct in your community to address harmful behaviors. A code of conduct for developers in a community will include the following:

  • Welcome constructive criticism and focus on what’s best for the community.
  • Show empathy towards other community members.
  • Respect people’s time and privacy. Don't DM anyone on official online forums without prior permission.
  • Don’t interrupt during meetups to mock speakers.

The Github Code of Conduct is a great example of a community code of conduct.

Join the community | Developer Marketing Alliance
The Developer Marketing Alliance Slack community is the perfect place to connect with like-minded marketers across the globe. You’ll be able to learn and grow alongside your peers, ask questions, find job opportunities, see the latest content, and much more.

4. Address beginner-friendly issues

Consider creating a “beginner-friendly” or “good first issue” task category. Such tasks will be well-defined and easy to tackle. This approach provides an excellent entry point for newcomers to your community and fosters a learning environment that expands the contributor base.

The idea of a ‘good first issue’ is to teach whoever addresses the issue something new, thereby empowering them to contribute to the project. It's a way to simplify the learning process for contributors to increase their independence with the codebase.

Additionally, organizing mentoring programs helps guide new contributors through the contribution process and makes the contribution system more manageable.

5. Acknowledge and reward contributors

Recognizing and rewarding developers for their contributions is a powerful motivator. Highlight their work in your project’s release notes or on your website.

You can also use any of the following to acknowledge or reward contributors:

  • Offer digital badges.
  • Provide certificates and testimonials.
  • Offer financial incentives such as commissions, referral programs, extra allowances, wage incentives, profit shares, etc.

Now you know how to attract developers to contribute to your product. It requires you to have clear documentation and to allow issue trackers for others. You'll define clear contributory guidelines and create a welcoming community. It’s also beneficial to address beginner-friendly issues and acknowledge developers’ efforts.

By implementing some of these strategies, you can create an environment that encourages developers to become active and enthusiastic contributors, thus benefiting your project’s growth and success. So, start implementing these strategies today and watch your developer community thrive.

Get your free copy of the Developer Relations Playbook and start fostering meaningful connections with developers, unlock the full potential of your community, navigate challenges and opportunities, and more.