How can you help free software?

Aside from donating to the excellent free software nonprofits out there, and contributing to a project by building software or other resources, there are things you can do to help the free software cause. The two biggest things I think are providing mentorship and gently normalizing free software.

Providing Mentorship

Allison Randal introduced me to the idea that mentorship doesn’t have to be an ongoing process. This is to say, you don’t have to sign up to be someone’s best friend and advisor for life (though you certainly can). Providing short term, project or skill based, or one off mentorship is useful for building community because it makes people feel welcome and cared for and helps build skills that benefit free software.

I do a lot of proofreading and editing of people’s writing – especially people with minimal writing experience and/or non-native English speakers who are writing important documents in English. If the person is interested, I try to talk to them about their writing and why I’m making these particular suggestions. I hope this helps them with their writing in the future.

Other examples are working on a particular project or skill, this can be helping them develop a particular skill (e.g. git outside of the command line), or giving advice on a project with a level of specificity and detail you’re both comfortable with. These can, again, be one off things or things that require minimal effort/occasional conversation. I have some friends who I consider my Debian mentors who just answer functional questions whenever I have trouble doing something.

I also love love love talking with people about their free software trajectories, their goals and desires and dreams for their involvement in free software, whether that’s finding a place in a community, developing a skill set, or other things about their future (like job hopes, schooling, etc). These conversations have been so helpful for me personally, and I like to think they help others.

Gently Normalizing Free Software

I think normalizing free software is very important to its success and adoption. It’s not helpful to insist someone who has never done so before to create a Debian boot disk and install it. It is helpful to suggest using Big Blue Button or jitsi. If a friend wants help finding audio editing software, suggest they try audacity. I’d go as far as to suggest doing this without explaining that it’s free software, and instead focus on why it’ll work and that it’s available at no cost. If they like it, then it’s a great time to talk about rights and freedoms. Of course if they already care about these sorts of things, if you’re discussing privacy software, if anti-surveillance is an issue, or any number of other things, software freedom is a great thing to bring up!

Above all, just be nice.

Be nice. It’s basically the best thing you can do for free software.