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Chris Grams for Tidelift

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Maintainers to industry: We need help (and here’s what we need)

In late 2022, Tidelift fielded its second survey of open source maintainers. Hundreds of maintainers responded with thoughts about getting paid for their work, the security and maintenance practices they have in place for their projects, and where they need help most, along with a host of other interesting insights. In this post, we share the ninth of eleven key findings. If you don’t want to wait for the rest of the results, you can download the full survey report right now.

Our last headline revealed that almost 60% of maintainers had quit or considered quitting work on their projects, due to (among other things) burnout, other life priorities, and losing interest. These startling statistics (largely unchanged from what we found in our previous maintainer survey) should make any organization using open source stop and take notice. After all, against a backdrop of increasing security threats, we need open source maintainers feeling well supported and having all of the tools they need to be successful.

In this year’s survey, we asked maintainers to tell us more about what kind of support might have kept them working on a project they’ve quit or considered quitting.

More money and more help are the top two things that will keep maintainers from quitting

Of course it’s no surprise that the most popular way to keep maintainers from quitting was…pay them! Fifty-seven percent of maintainers who had quit or considered quitting reported that if they earned more income for their open source maintenance work, they would be more likely to continue it.

But that is not the only kind of support that might keep them going. Fifty-six percent of maintainers reported that they would appreciate help finding another experienced maintainer or maintainers to join the project and share responsibilities, and 40% would appreciate help finding another experienced maintainer to take over some of their project responsibilities so they can focus on the parts they enjoy the most.

If you add the two “find experienced maintainer help” responses together, 64% of maintainers chose one or both of those, which makes getting experienced help even more important to maintainers than getting paid.

Beyond those maintainers on the verge of quitting, we also asked the larger group what sorts of non-financial support would make their lives as maintainers easier.

Beyond money, maintainers would love help improving the experience for users and contributors and improving documentation

The top two areas where maintainers would value support: 1) help improving the experience for users and contributors (89% would find this extremely or somewhat valuable) and 2) help improving documentation (87% would find this extremely or somewhat valuable).

Three-fourths of maintainers (75%) would appreciate help marketing the project to find new contributors and users, and just under three-fourths (74%) would like help retaining contributors. Seventy-one percent would appreciate help with succession planning and finding co-maintainers, while 69% would like support with triaging and addressing issues and pull requests.

Of all of the types of help we listed, none were deemed not very or not at all valuable by more than half of maintainers, which tells us that maintainers are looking for help in a lot of different areas.

When you combine this with the data about the help that maintainers who have considered quitting would value, it paints a picture of opportunity. How can we do more to help maintainers—in obvious ways, like paying them for their work? But also in less obvious ways, like connecting them with other experienced maintainers who might help support their work, or helping them improve documentation or user and contributor experience?

We hope you found some useful and actionable information in this blog post. If you’d like to get notified as future posts come out, give us a follow. Or if you don’t want to wait, download the full survey results today and watch our webinar where resident data nerd, Chris Grams, unveils the top findings from the survey.

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