My First Contribution to Open Source

I made my first open source contribution January 2015. The project was a small social media app written in rails on Github. I reached out to one of the project owners. They set me the link to their project’s ‘to do’ list on Trello and I was added to the contribution team on Slack. A few days later the project manager tasked me with removing a holiday indicator in their .scss file. It was a small fix that would help me become familiar with the project.

It took about 3 days before I could get the project installed and running locally on my machine. During the entire process, I felt odd emailing the project owners which seemed to be a bazillion questions regarding the error messages I was getting while I working on the project locally. The project owners were helpful, gracious and patient during the process. It’s just that…

I felt out of my element. I kept thinking, “Ack! What if I commit my changes to the wrong branch? Did I include a message with my commits?” This is the difference between making commits to your own project versus contributing to someone else’s on Github.

After I finished my changes, I opened a pull request for the project and my changes were eventually merged in the repo by the project owner. Whew! The overall process of contributing to open source is cumbersome especially for a newbie contributor. I wondered how anything ever gets done. I wrestled with this realization and it stumped my resolve to make additional contributions to open source in 2015.

However, looking back at my experience, here are some lessons learned.

Contributing to open source is not a glamorous task and that’s okay. Also, the back and forward with messages is part of the process of getting answers to questions that help you move forward in making a contribution.

It’s fine to start small and see how the project and tasks are managed and to see how conflict is resolved between the project’s contributors. Have a few of your own goals in mind other than make a contribution to open source. That goal might be to learn something new about the tech used in a project or to gain some insight see what it’s like to work with a company.

Figure out how much of a time commitment you can spend on a project write it into your weekly schedule to contribute to open source. Find projects that would make the most of your time.

When I decide to dip in contributing to open source again, I’ll also keep these tips in mind.


About the author.

Cynthia L. Wright is a frontend developer, writer, and stick-figure artist. When she's not writing or coding, she enjoys traveling, video games, reading, and learning how to draw things.


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