Easily one of the most popular pieces of advice for newer developers seems to be, “Get into open source development.” And really, they’re not wrong. Open source technology is easily one of largest parts, if not the largest part of modern software and web development today. A quick Google search, and I found this article from The Whir citing the 2015 Future of Open Source Survey, a study by investment firm North Bridge and open source software (OSS) management company Black Duck Software,. The general rub: over three-quarters of all companies surveyed use open source in their IT operations.
With all of this output already in progress, the question still remains. How can I, a fledgling developer, strike a claim in the open source community? With little experience or knowledge outside of how to use the tools I’ve learned, how can I contribute? And, to what? I use the first person here because that’s where I stand now. I’m still learning more about web development as time allows, and this tidbit keeps popping up in conversation and on job applications themselves. Unfortunately, like a lot of things suggested, the process is never explained.
And yet, the answer is really pretty simple. When I hear that suggestion, “Go work on some open-source projects,” my inner developer thinks of scouring repos of Rust or Docker or some other tool I don’t fully comprehend and solve an issue. In reality, the best way to get into open-source is pretty zen: look inwards.
So, really, in the end, this is a very simplistic way of looking at the whole idea of stepping into open source, and far from the only way. You could use a tool and make a suggestion like adding a feature you might have implemented yourself. You could simply join in the discussion on an issue and ask questions; you never know, you might inspire a solution. All in all, open source technology is a really inviting place to explore, and while it can be intimidating, don’t be afraid to try new and different things.