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Unlocking Opportunities: Why Open Source Contribution Is Great for You

Unlocking Opportunities: Why Open Source Contribution Is Great for You
Chris Howard

Chris Howard • Open source advocate

05 Jun 2024 • 1 min read

Learn from Open Source advocate Chris Howard why contributing to open-source projects can enhance your skills, build your reputation, and drive innovation.

Open source today

When lines of code have the power to transform organisations and an individual's skills and passion have the potential to make global impacts, the world of open source contribution sounds pretty exciting, doesn't it?

Open source has come a long way, and in today's heavily connected world, contributing to open source projects and solutions is no longer about simply pushing code.

Instead, it's about joining dynamic communities that foster collaboration, empower learning, and deliver innovative enhancements and improvements for solutions that organisations and individuals across the globe depend upon.

What's more, an open source contribution isn't always just about writing code but can also include fixing bugs, authoring documentation, providing feedback, testing software or even offering support and mentorship, then engaging in the development, enhancement and ongoing maintenance of projects (published under an open source license) sounds like quite the opportunity to get stuck into.  

What follows are my thoughts, taken from my own experiences of building open source communities, on how engaging in open source contribution can provide tangible benefits to you as the individual…

Skills development through contribution

We're all familiar with that feeling of submitting a piece of work, be that code or not, and awaiting feedback from your peers or perhaps even a manager on how you've done. When the feedback is excellent, nothing quite like it, but when alterations, suggestions or even criticisms are put forward, it can be a very different feeling. The idea of feedback from someone you don't even know, as is often the case in open source projects, can be a daunting prospect.

Yet, experience shows that by lifting the lid on your code and sharing your hard work with a diverse community of developers, you not only gain valuable feedback and insights that can improve the quality and efficiency of your code but also benefit from the opportunity to continuously refine and enhance your skills and competencies by learning through others. 

Tapping into a global network of collaborators exposes you to different perspectives, techniques, and best practices; a fresh set of eyes if you like. Such communities built upon a culture of improvement, learning and a shared sense of motivation are often hard to find in traditional development environments or the corporate sector.

With open source contributions, every comment, suggestion, and review is an opportunity for growth and development for not just you but everyone involved. Open source contribution opens avenues whereby meaningful contributions not only enhance your skills but also have a real impact on the project and the world around you.

Building your reputation, influence and recognition

Yet, it's not all just about enhancing your skillset and experience in a specific language or framework. Each contribution you make serves as a small piece of a portfolio of your expertise, engineering prowess, and, of course, a personal commitment to a project that you’re supporting or even maintaining. 

Sites such as GitHub are scattered with profiles proudly displaying visuals and metrics of an individual's open source activities throughout the year as indicators of contribution.

Participating in open source communities, therefore, can result in industry recognition and those that make regular and impactful contributions are often well-regarded by peers and tech leaders alike.

Individuals who have established heightened recognition within a project become attractive candidates for bigger roles. Their built reputation opens doors to networking opportunities, and they also become thought leaders and influencers in their respective domains.

Many times, I personally have sought out the top contributors on a project to engage for expertise and opportunities based on their digital footprint - and almost all of these individuals frequently find themselves on the radar of potential employers and recruiters keen to hire for influence or expertise!

At the forefront of innovation

Collaborating alongside such experts and thought-leaders, it's no surprise that contributing to open source and embedding yourself in open source communities provides unique opportunities to engage with new technologies and the latest tools and frameworks – putting you at the cutting edge of innovation and industry know-how.

Many open source projects provide developers with a front-row seat to their latest advancements, offering first-hand exposure to the latest developments and emerging trends while providing hands-on experience way ahead of others.

Solutions such as Kubernetes, GraphQL & TensorFlow were all born out of open source projects, alongside the ever-increasing popularity of the Rust programming language and its attractive sustainability benefits.

A whole range of generative AI models now also demonstrate the true potential of open source in driving innovation, and those getting stuck into shaping and developing these solutions through their contributions are already reaping the benefits as experts in their field.

Starting your open source contribution journey

Recognising the range of benefits that open source contributions can bring you as an individual, it makes sense to put your first foot forward and find a project that suits your motivations and aligns with your personal interests, expertise, and career aspirations. 

When you take your first steps into an open source project, it's incredibly important to get to know the codebase, communication channels, guidelines, and governance around raising issues or pull requests. No one wants to be told to "read the documentation again" if it lays out how to share something.

Many can see such guidelines, often managed by small teams of maintainers alongside a thriving forum or community board, as barriers to engagement. However, with small steps tackling digestible tasks to build confidence and familiarity with the project's processes, you’re on to a winner in terms of making a great first impression. Many of my first contributions, even today, to new projects include fixing typos in documentation and dealing with formatting issues.

Contributing to open source is a journey

It's okay to start small and gradually work your way up to more significant contributions or roles within a project. 

My closing advice would be that remaining patient, persevering, maintaining respect, and always being open to learning from others along the way is a surefire way to start reaping the benefits of open source contribution.

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