Contributing to open source software is intimidating. The good news is that many projects and organizations constantly make valiant efforts to welcome new contributors. Thanks to various community initiatives, making open source contributions is easier today than ever before. Starting from scratch, you can make your first contribution today.
Making contributions in 2018 will not only help you hone your skills (both technical and interpersonal), but it will also build your credibility, open career doors, and win you the affection and admiration of your cutest coworker, guaranteed. Plus, having significant contributions on your GitHub account automatically lands your resume in the sexy pile.
The only prerequisite for making contributions is that you must have the tools necessary to make a change request. For most open source projects, this means having basic familiarity with git. Git can be really easy if you spend some time learning how to use it or it can be really frustrating if you use the google-as-you-go method. I highly recommend Pro Git, which is available for free. GitHub also has a 15 minute interactive guide which makes learning Git very approachable.
Once you’re comfortable with the foundational concepts of commits, branches, forks, etc., you’ll have enough working knowledge to make your first contribution. Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to know everything before you can do anything.
Picking a Project
Choosing software to make your first contribution to is like choosing a band name: the longer you spend deliberating, the more likely you are to abandon the idea altogether. I recommend checking out up-for-grabs.net, which makes it really easy to find projects that are looking for new contributors. Try searching for technologies that you enjoy using; Rust, React, Redux, and Visual Studio Code all have related projects that are looking for love.
GitHub also has a list of projects that are great for new contributors. Quite a few of these projects have an explicit Code of Conduct that mandates being a decent human being, a topic that still remains controversial. You’re very likely to find a technology or community that you love on that list.
Breaking the Seal
In the interest of empowering first-timer contributors, the friendly folks over at firsttimersonly.com have put forth an initiative to curate simple tasks for people who have never made an open source contribution before. Most of the changes that appear on their GitHub label filter are easy enough that anyone can do them.
The great thing about this project is that, even though the changes are trivial, it gives an opportunity for first-time contributors to familiarize themselves with the change request workflow. Once you’ve made a contribution, you’ll have the confidence needed to attack more challenging problems.
The best way to stay motivated is to get started… right now. No matter how much code you’ve written in your career, nothing beats the satisfaction of a project maintainer thanking you for your change and knowing that others are benefiting from your contribution.
Making more contributions to open source software is one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2018, so join me in making it a year of friendly, wholesome collaboration.
List of Resources
|Git Interactive Guide||Easily Learn Git Basics|
|First Timers Only||Find Easy First-Timer Opportunities|
|Up For Grabs||Find Projects Wanting Contributors|
|How To Contribute||A Thorough Guide To Making Contributions|
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