Is Contributing to Open Source Right for You?

2017 may be the year you’ve resolved to start contributing to open source. And if you’re new to open source, you might be wondering how you get started. Our senior developer Andre Arko has three questions for you to ask before you dive in.

First: Ask Yourself Why You Want to Do This?

Is your goal to work on your career and hone your skills? Do you want acclaim from your peers? Or both?

You can write software for yourself that solves a problem that you have. You can volunteer as a teacher or mentor at RailsBridge, Code 2040, or a host of other programs.

Your time is your own, and you don’t owe it anyone else. Keep this mind and know that Github is not your resume. Also, know that free software doesn’t prove you’re a good programmer.

Second: Are You Ok with Not Being in Control?

Contributing to open source, more than anything else, means trying to understand other people’s problems and then help them. Sometimes that’s changing code. More often that’s explaining something—adding to the documentation or improving an error message.

When you choose to release work as open source you’ve agreed to give up control over it. Some licenses let you keep some control. Putting your code on GitHub does not mean it’s open source.

Research your license options (GitHub has a website Choose a License as well the Creative Commons license chooser), and pick one you’re comfortable with! Be very sure that you’re okay with the idea of your (unpaid!) work being used for something that you would never, ever do yourself—including building a drone system that drops bombs and kills civilians.

Third: Do You Have the Time?

You’ll need to spend at least 15 minutes every day on this. Depending on your personality, you may end up sucked in and spending an hour or two every day.

There’s also no end date on this commitment! Popular open source projects never out of people that need help. You’ll be able to do this until you decide that the work isn’t worth it for you anymore.

Next Steps!

If you’re new to open source and want to contribute, read Andre’s How to Contribute to Open Source or From No Experience to the Core Team in 15 Minutes per Day post. Or listen to the replay of his RubyConf 2016 talk. He guides you through the four stages you’ll complete on your journey from newbie to open source contributor.

When you’re ready to join an open source project, think about getting started with Bundler.

Decide you want to support critical Ruby infrastructure but don’t want to contribute personally? Consider supporting Ruby Together.

Happy New Year! May you achieve all of your 2017 resolutions!


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