Entering the open source world by contributing to a project can be a very rewarding experience. But taking that first step can be intimidating. There’s so much you have to learn, strangers you have to interact with, and at the end of it all, code you’ll have to put out there for all the world to see. Needless to say, it can all be a bit overwhelming for a first-timer.
But as intimidating as it seems, it’s really not that difficult and the rewards definitely outweigh whatever challenges you may face. If you find yourself still lacking the courage to take those first steps, here are some nuggets of wisdom that may help you through:
It’s Alright Not to Know Things
No one starts out knowing everything about everything. So it’s okay to admit that you don’t know how to use some of the tools that others are using. It’s alright not to know what certain projects are about, how to start collaborating on projects or where to begin making contributions. You don’t have to know everything right from the start. The great thing here is there is a whole community of more experienced people that can help you and you still have plenty of time to learn.
You Can Start Small
The biggest pressure you’ll face often comes from yourself. But you have to remember that you’re still starting out, so you can, and in many cases should, start small. It’s good to set high expectations for yourself, but you should always keep in mind that you’re still learning things and failures are inevitable but very useful in helping you grow.
Speaking of Failure…
Sometimes your code isn’t going to work. Sometimes the project won’t include your contribution. But you know what? These do not and should not mean the end of your efforts! You can always keep trying to improve your code and get help from community members. If your code never makes it to the project, that’s perfectly fine. You can still use it for yourself, and maybe even distribute it on your own (within the guidelines of the existing license of course).
You Don’t Have to Code
Or at least, not yet. Although most people expect contributions in open source to be code contributions, there are plenty of other ways you can contribute sans code. Reporting bugs, writing reviews and blog posts, and updating documentation are just some of the ways you can contribute with no codes required.
You’re Part of a Community
While this means that you have a responsibility to help other members of the community, it also means that there are plenty others out there who can help you when you’re in need. That’s a pretty solid assurance that no matter what kind of bind you may find yourself in, help is always available.
You Can Do This!
Many great programmers and developers started out just like you. They began only with what they knew. In time, they became project experts and soon had projects of their own. So don’t let those initial fears stop you- go ahead and start making your mark in open source.
SourceForge, Your Open Door to Open Source
SourceForge has been aiding developers of all levels create and contribute to open source projects for over a decade. If you’re new to open source, SourceForge is a great place to find your bearings, discover a lot of great projects and be part of a thriving and supportive community.