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Open Source Educator (Part Six: How to Get Started) March 5, 2011

Filed under: Volunteering — polyachka @ 10:00 am
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<polyachka> So what do you recommend for people who want to contribute to open source but don’t know how to start

<mchua> Funny you should say that, because Nicholas Whittier just came up with a blog post about that.

<mchua> (He’s new to open source himself and he’s writing about how he’s learning to participate in it.)


<polyachka> great

<mchua> So, I’m tempted to say “well, it depends…” but I know that newcomers sometimes really want those clear instructions. I’d say 3 things for them.

<mchua> First, start reading. Lurk everywhere you can – mailing lists, if you can figure out how to get on IRC channels, lurk there… read blog Planets – not just shiny press releases, you want to find where the actual contributors are talking and thinking out loud and hear what they’re saying.

<mchua> Second, start writing. Start thinking out loud. One of the things we lack the most in open source communities is newcomers telling us “hey, it’s hard to contribute because you haven’t allowed people to do X” – and if we don’t know that, we can’t fix it.

<mchua> I wish more people would do what Nicholas is doing, and write about what it feels like to be a newcomer to a project.

<mchua> That’s actually the most valuable contribution a newcomer can make – because experienced contributors can’t see those things any more, we’ve lost that ability – you’re the *only* people who can tell us how to make it easier for people like you to come help us.

<mchua> So don’t wait until you’re “good enough,” because you’re already good enough.

<mchua> Third, find some sort of scaffolding to help you – whether that’s an individual mentor who’s willing to help you through your first contribution, whether that’s an internship with a company that’s doing open source or something like Summer of Code…

<mchua> …attending a local hackathon (it’s often a great way for new people to get started – things go much faster in person) and contacting some people there beforehand and saying “hey, I’m new and want to start helping with your project, I’ll be at this event I saw you were going to, could you sit down with me and help me get started?”

<mchua> or going to the online versions of that – some projects have online classrooms for new folks – the Drupal Dojo, the Fedora Classroom.

<mchua> It’s about connecting with the people in that project as early and as fast as possible.

<mchua> And then you’ll figure out what basic skills you learn from there.

<mchua> I’d also say that for the “basic skills” part – one of the things I’ll be doing over the 2011-2012 (North American) school year is teaching online versions of that POSSE workshop for professors, except open to everyone and online (on IRC).

<mchua> has the topics – we haven’t set scheduling yet, but there’ll be one every two weeks during the school year.


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