A Better Onboarding

Fractal Mountain Climbing and SourceCred Role Growth


These thoughts are inspired by my recent explorations into the research done by Gallup and it’s “Twelve Questions” which help measure how engaged someone is in their role and work on the whole. In the book “First, Break All the Rules” where I’m encountering these ideas, the author makes an analogy between the journey of starting a new role and becoming an expert in it, and the experience of climbing a mountain from bottom to top.

Each phase of the journey to becoming truly engaged in your role, corresponds to a “camp” on the mountain as you climb to the summit.

Note that being “truly engaged” is not about how committed you are to the project, or how many hours of your time you sacrifice. Instead it’s the difference between a grocery employee who points you to the grapefruit, and the employee who walks you over there and explains how to pick your preferred ripeness of grapefruit based on their stocking methods. Being engaged means you’re truly present and purposeful in your work. That’s the summit of the metaphorical mountain.

I’ve written my thoughts in the “Climbing the Mountain” section through the lense of onboarding newcomers in SourceCred, however this system could be applicable to many different roles and journeys both micro and macro within our community.

Thoughts on the fractal nature of this method

This document replaces my previous musings about the “Onboarding Machine”. The Onboarding Machine is a good example of a ridged system, something that was designed for one purpose and will likely need to be overhauled every time the community grows/changes. Yes, this metaphor of climbing the mountain can be applied to the onboarding experience in our community beautifully, however it can also describe the experience of becoming a champion, of joining a new team, or taking on a new role of any kind within the community.

This climbing of the mountain metaphor contains both micro and a macro applications which I imagine will make it a more flexible, useful, and longterm tool for our community once it’s been refined. Regardless of the experience level or application; if you’re starting a new role of any variety, then you’ve just found yourself at the bottom of a new metaphorical mountain.

A warning about “helicoptering up the mountain”

The book specifically mentions the temptation and danger of helicoptering up to a higher base on the mountain and trying to get to the summit from there. In real mountain climbing, you’ll get very sick if you don’t put in the effort to start at the bottom and acclimate as you go. In this metaphor, if you can’t provide the understanding outlined in each “camp” before moving on to the next “camp”, then it’s only a matter of time before things fall apart.

You may even start a new role and find that you’re at Camp Three, but missing the staples outlined in Camp One. You may be willing/able to hold out for longer if you’re feeling good about your sense of belonging in the community, but things will eventually crumble if you can’t ever get an answer to the question “what is expected of me”?

There is deep importance in starting at the beginning, and addressing those needs one at a time as you work your way up the mountain.

Climbing the Mountain:

Base Camp: Learning how to play

  • Q1: I know what is expected of me.
  • Q2: I have the tools I need to do my work right.

At base camp, newcomers are taking stock. They’re getting a lay of the land, and trying to understand what they’ve just walked into. How does the project work? How does the community expect me to behave? How to I get my questions answered? How to I know where to start contributing? What tools/resources are available to me while I contribute? What do I get if I start contributing?

At this phase, a newcomer needs access to quick learning. They need clear, simple, and accessible documentation to answer basic questions and impart foundational knowledge. As well as a direct line to the community to get a grasp for the “feel” of how things work in this new-to-them space.

Starting a new journey or role without an understanding of what you’re expected to do, or the resources you’ll need to do it can be immensely frustrating. If a newcomer doesn’t have a solid understanding of what’s expected of them, or they don’t have the tools they need to fulfill those expectations, then before too long they’ll probably rage-quit or at least float away in search of other projects.

In SourceCred, this is currently a real problem. We need ways to communicate to anyone starting a new journey in SourceCred the bare minimum expectations around social behavior, getting involved, hierarchy, and available opportunities. As well as give extremely easy access to the existing tools to get started with.

Core Aspects:

  • Easy access to basic information about community/project
  • Easy access to community’s shared platforms/tools
  • Knows how they’ll get rewarded
  • Knows how to start contributing
  • Knows how to interact with community

Camp One: Experimentation and gaining experience

  • Q3: I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  • Q4: I’ve received recognition when I create value.
  • Q5: An experienced community member cares about me as a person.
  • Q6: Someone in the community encourages my development.

In camp one, a newcomer is gauging their confidence in their own expertise, and getting an idea of how other community members view them and their contributions. At this phase, a newcomer needs an expansiveness of opportunity to contribute, to try out different approaches with their contributions; thereby learning the right and wrong ways to try and add value through experience. Then, they need to be able to receive quick feedback from the community/algorithm on whether their contributions are truly creating meaningful value. This helps our newcomers “fail effectively” by encouraging attempts to contribute, and giving quick, constructive feedback based on their attempts. This process should be automated where that makes sense, but should also deeply focus on the fostering of relationships between newcomers and more experienced contributors in the community.

Core Aspects:

  • Lots of opportunity to experiment with their first contributions and explore the intersection of their interests and the community’s needs.
  • Quick and accurate feedback loops to help the newcomer gauge whether their contributions are creating true value in the community.
  • Easy access to personal engagement, connection, and mentorship with more experienced contributors.

Camp Two: Community trust and belonging

  • Q7: My opinions matter to the community.
  • Q8: The community’s mission/purpose makes me feel my work here is important.
  • Q9: My peers are committed to making valuable contributions.
  • Q10: I have a best friend in the community.

In camp two, the climber is evaluating whether they feel a sense of belonging in their community. It’s an assessment of the mutual trust building between contributor and community over time. Do people listen when the newcomer speaks up about their ideas or proposals? Do they trust that everyone else in the community is trying as hard as they are, and also delivering value to the project consistently? Do they feel truly comfortable, familiar, and friendly with (at least some of) the others who work on this project? Do they feel like their own personal values are aligned with the overall vision of the community? Do they feel like they belong here?

Core Aspects:

  • The opportunity to speak up and share new ideas.
  • Deeper understanding of both their own values, and the values of the community/project.
  • True friendship with other community members.
  • Trust built over time in both directions.

Camp Three: True access to innovation

  • Q11: I’ve talked about my progress with an experienced community member in the last six months.
  • Q12: Within this community, I’ve had the opportunity to learn and grow this last year.

This phase concerns itself with the ways in which understanding (base), experimentation (one), and building of trust (two) lay the foundation to truly innovate within a community and/or project. The contributor has deep interpersonal relationships with those they look up to in the community which allow for nuanced reflection of the contributor’s progress. As well as other markers of progress like a large cred score, or potentially someday a wall of badges. All three of which reflect and affirm their consistently valuable contributions to the project.

They also have the understanding, experience, and trust to; shake things up, bring new ideas, challenge assumptions, get passionate, and explore their own learning within the context of their contributions to the community.

Core Aspects:

  • Deep connections with mentors who listen as well as give reflections about the contributions made.
  • Access to opportunities to innovate and change things within the community.
  • Ability to choose their realm of interest and influence.
  • Systems that accurately recognize and reward the depth of their contributions.

The Summit: Engaged and effective

I as a contributor have clarity, focus, purpose, and a reoccurring sensation of achievement. Every day the best in me is called upon, and the best in me answers. I am engaged in what I want to create for my community, as well as effective and compassionate in my methods.


Yes this is really insightful. I think you nailed the psychology of contribution as well as key dimensions conditional engagement. If I could compress some of this in my own words: 1) what is this org building? 2) what are my options for contribution? 3) what will I get for each option? As you point out positive social feedback is a major part of question 3 and the structure of social engagement has many levels to it in itself. Eg I would bet that a social graph encoding newcomers social interaction could predict trajectory of their contribution over time, and even be used as a tool to guide community managers towards high return comm targets.

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The semantics of “break all the rules” got my attention from my inbox (onboarding machine, not so much :nauseated_face:). Really good summary, it really makes the implicit explicit, thanks for the reference - I’m sure you picked up loads from the deeper dive and would be interested in the nuance around cultural considerations that you may or may not have picked up.

I’m super excited about the possibility of collaborating on this, I feel it’s an essential element of community building that is often overlooked.

I reached out to @LB in this about in a DM yet perhaps this is the better place to add comments and feedback. Forgive me for not being active in Discourse yet, I am here now and going to make the community sessions a priority on my calendar :calendar:


Oh dang! Not sure I got this message, I don’t see anything unreplied to in my dm inboxes. Would love to chat more! Definitely come spend time with the Community Cultivation team if this kind of stuff gets you jazzed. We have a weekly team meeting every Wednesday at 11am PT in the Discord “Main” voice channel.

Oh no i wasn’t implying that you missed my message, only that public discourse is probably a better way to engage that DM’s !

How is this going by the way, any updates, data points, or feedback at this point in time ?

As part of our beta release we’ll publish a doc I wrote based on this philosophy called “Getting Involved with SourceCred” which is less a guide of actions you should take to get leveled up, and more a description of the different levels of engagement you may be experiencing with the community/project. I’m pretty pleased with it.

This post is super interesting. As someone who’s worked on the fringes of community and mostly in development, the subtleties pointed out here are what I’ve experienced and seen others experience without the vocabulary to discuss. Eagerly looking forward to what comes of the doc before beta release. Can I be a fly on the wall for the community calls? I just love to understand these softer issues and protocols of an organisation :mosquito:

Also, curious about what are your views on the ways of contribution that do not involve engaging with an organisation from ground zero and up, but involve more of a freelancing way of doing work. (eg., organisations outsourcing a part of their project)? (Ignore if this looks way out of context, was just curious :smile:)

You can absolutely come be a fly on the wall at the Cultivation Branch Meetings! That’s where we talk about the branch of the project that concerns itself with the health and functionality of the community. You’re also always welcome at the Community Call which is our weekly hang out call for anyone and everyone.

We’re in the process of polishing some docs and you can see the rough version of a doc about our types of calls here: https://sourcecred.io/docs/beta/our-calls/

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