How to get started with open source projects: A guide
So you want to start dabbling in open source? There are tons of reasons why contributing to open source projects is a rewarding use of time–from advancing your career to supporting a community you like. But contributing to an open source project for the first time can be incredibly intimidating.
Like many, I was apprehensive about contributing to open source projects at first. I kept putting it off, thinking that I would eventually help out when I had more to offer. But you don’t need to be an expert to support an open source project–you don’t even need to write code to be a contributor. The opportunities are often quite broad and many communities, like Rubrik Build, accept code and non-code contributions.
Here are some easy ways to get started with open source:
Join the conversation
The simplest and fastest way to get started with open source projects is to contribute your thoughts. No code required! Join in the conversation and offer your experience or use cases. This can be done with Slack conversations or providing input on issues associated with projects on GitHub. Alternatively, start the conversation by filing an issue for a project. Tell us if something isn’t working properly, a feature is missing, or let us know of a potential enhancement.
Another way to contribute without code is to help with documentation. Not only flagging errors, but also helping document functions or even helping with translations and localization of documentation. These contributions may seem small but are incredibly beneficial, and can help increase your comfort level with getting involved in this new community.
Improve an existing project
Picking a project is the hardest part, especially when there are so many open source projects available. Usually, I recommend finding a project written in a familiar language or that addresses a specific use case you have. But by no means are you limited by working in languages that you have mastered.
If you have been learning Python, then you could find an open source project written in Python and make a contribution. Not only do you get to flex your Python skills, but it also exposes you to code written by others more experienced with Python. This can really open your eyes to what a larger Python project could look like.
Keep an eye out for labels! Most open source repositories use specific labels or tags for newbie-friendly issues. Labels like “First-Timer,” “Help-Wanted,” or “Exp-Beginner” allow you to filter projects for issues that are more manageable for someone just starting their open source journey.
At a high-level, this process would be:
- Choose a project you find interesting
- Look for an issue to work on
- Ask any clarifying questions about the issue
- Fork the repository and make your changes
- Submit a pull request and wait for review
- Code will be reviewed and merged by maintainer(s)
And voilà! Code you wrote is now a part of an open source project, available for anyone to benefit from and continue to improve upon.
Submit new projects
The most challenging, but most rewarding option is to create your own project. You have complete freedom to choose everything from the language to what the code actually does. However, with great power comes great responsibility. This means you must also consider other items, such as a code of conduct and licensing for the project, to determine how others can use your code.
Open source provides a plethora of options to get started contributing and honing your technical skills. I encourage anyone who has considered contributing to give it a shot.
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