How contributing to open-source can improve your programming skills

Updated on: April 11, 2020 · 6 mins read
Categories: open-source   | beginners   | gsoc   | advice |

Open source is one of the best ways to get started with the real-world experience of the programming world and learning quickly. Also, open-source organizations are very keen and welcoming to the new contributors to their platforms.

Lately, I have heard a lot of people saying that contributing to open-source projects is very difficult. So, I decided to come up with this post just to break the myth.

I know it can be hard at first but believe me, there are much harder things in the programming world than starting to contribute in the open-source.

In this post, I am going to share the motivation and plan to write your first patch for the open-source organization that you love to use in your personal time.

Why should you listen to me?

Well, there are a lot of experienced and well versed developers out there who has been doing open-source and developing things that we use daily.

I am sharing this for the people who want to start open-source development because I have been in the shoes before. I have done Google Summer of Code in 2017 and have been a mentor in the same organization in 2019. I have also contributed to some other open-source projects as well on GitHub.

Contributing to the open source takes a lot of hard work and good communication skills. This article might help you reach that goal.

Why should you contribute to open source.

I have been doing open source for quite some time now( Going on and off). My first interaction with the open-source was back in 2016-17 when I was writing my first proposal for Google Summer of code-2017.

I was trying a lot of organizations back then. I started out with the chat-based organization whose name I don’t remember now.

They were writing a chat-based client using XMPP protocol and we wanted to implement this chatting system in our college so that everyone in the college can chat with one another using the roll numbers.

Although I was able to know the process of writing the code I don’t think it ever got merged with the main code. What I learned in there was how to read and navigate through the large codebase quickly.

I tried a few others and finally, I ended up spending my summer writing code for an organization called AboutCode.

You can read about the experience here.

Long story short, I know how to start off and write pull requests that organizations want to merge to their main code.

Before starting that let’s discuss why we would want to do any open-source development at all.

Learning to build end-to-end solutions.

Well, the first and foremost advantage of doing open-source is that you learn different things.

When you are doing open-source you have to complete the PRs which involve writing code, tests and documentation for the feature that you are building.

Sometimes you have to become the tester to test out the feature that other build to find out bugs and find mistakes to fix.

Mostly you will have to architect your own solution for the problems that you are solving as well.

Learning how to communicate properly with the team

Open-source involves communicating with all the people in the organizations in a public channel. This will help you a lot on how to communicate your concerns better.

How to ask questions and what questions to ask is very important to learn.

This skill will help you throughout your life.

As the name suggests, your code is going to stay there for a long time to come and people will judge you with the code that you have written for these organizations.

Since most of the organizations have a high standard for type of code they merge to the repository, you will be rated highly among your peers for participating in some open-source organization.

Good for your career

Doesn’t matter what you want to do after the open-source gig is over. Maybe you want to do open-source throughout your life, starting out with an organization will always be good for you.

Generally, open-source organizations tend to recommend the org participators which end up helping you in your interview with some big company.

Sense of pride behind building something

You also get a sense of pride while you build something that people use.

You also get good feedback from the users who directly use the feature that you build.

Those are all the reasons why one should be doing open-source as a project over the holidays or in their free time.

Note: I am sure I must have missed something, do let me know about your motivation behind doing open-source.

How to start contributing to the open-source

Now that we have talked about the reasons why one should do open-source development, let’s talk a bit about how you start with that.

Choose the organization

Choosing an organization is very important. Always try to choose the organizations whose product you might have used in the past.

This helps you to build a sense on how the product should work.

Otherwise, you can find the organization whose tech stack involves something that you know.

Just go to the GitHub search page and find out the organization with the programming languages or any other thing that you want to learn about.

Join all communication channels

The next step is to figure out all the communication channels which the organization uses and join all of them.

Introduce yourself as quickly as possible. Communicate your intentions of joining early. If you are there to participate in GSoC, best to tell them right from the start that you are doing it for the reason.

Sometimes, they are thinking of not participating in the GSoC for the next season and it’s always good to know earlier rather regretting your decision later.

Setup the project

Quickly set up the project on local following the instruction from the organizers or READMEs and let them know if READMEs are wrong anywhere.

Sometimes, people figure out something wrong in the READMEs and its a great point to start and write a patch for them.

Figure out the good-first issues to start with

Most organizations mark easy issues as good-first issues. You can pick any one of those issues and start solving them.

Just remember to tell the organizers that you are working on that issue so that no one else picks it up at the same time.

Just start

My final and most important recommendation is to just start. Get up and pick up your organization and start building things that you love and make an impact.

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