During the early years of software development, programmers usually shared software to learn from each other and grow together. All of this spurred the creation of Open source software, which is intended to be freely shared and modified by developers worldwide.
As a developer, you must understand Open Source Software or OSS and actively become an open source contributor because, according to statistics, about 94% of hiring managers prioritize open source talent. Becoming a contributor comes with numerous benefits. It will improve your skills, help you find better job prospects, and enable you to build connections in the OSS community. This blog will discuss open source contributors and rely on some tips to help you become an excellent open source contributor.
Open source software is distributed with its source code, making it available for use, modification, and distribution with its original rights. OSS code is stored in the public repository, where anyone can access it and use the code to contribute improvements to the functionality of the project. So now that we know about OSS, the question arises who are open source contributors, and why do they contribute to open source?
When a developer contributes something to an open source code, it is known as an open source contribution. As a developer, you can contribute code to the existing project or perform non-coding-related jobs like promoting the project, fixing document typos, translating documentation, and more. OSS can be a way for developers to improve critical software, find people with similar interests, and can be a rewarding way to learn, teach, and gain experience in many skills.
One of the main reasons why you should start contributing is to develop and sharpen your skills. As a beginner, you should start fixing minor bugs and slowly move towards the more challenging issues. Here is a list of reasons you should become an open-source contributor.
Open source contributions for beginners can be challenging as most of the budding developers wouldn’t be familiar with the community’s critical open source terms. Here is a list of key terms you should know before starting your open source journey.
Git: It is a free open source distributed version control system designed to handle all kinds of projects efficiently. It allows you to save multiple versions of your code simultaneously and can be used via command line.
Repository: These centralized hubs help developers create, maintain, and track software projects. The primary function of repositories is to store the history of any given codebase. One repository can store one project, which may contain many files and folders.
Branch: A branch is an independent line of development and is a version of your repository. It is the duplication of an object/feature/module in a project so that it can be modified separately. Repositories can contain multiple branches.
Forking: When you copy an open source code from an OSS and start developing an entirely new program from the code, it is known as forking.
Merge: Incorporating changes that you’ve made in the forked repository to the original repository is known as merging.
Issue: Open source contributions revolve around the resolving of these issues. Problems in the OSS project are marked as issues so that they are easily identified and can be solved by developers.
Pull Request(PR): Pull requests initiate the process of integrating new code changes in the project repository. PRs are a mechanism that helps developers notify their team members when they have completed a feature or fixed a bug in an open source project.
In the past, OSS wasn’t as popular, with Github being treated as an underground community for developers to share code. But, now, numerous software giants are contributing to open source daily. Here is a list of the biggest open source contributors.
Microsoft currently has about 4,550 employees that contribute to open source regularly. The company has dramatically impacted the open source landscape with its significant contributions to numerous projects. The company was known as the “anti-open source” but has since changed its course. Microsoft has contributed to countless popular OSS projects and is the most significant contributor to the Chromium project.
Google is also a well-known OSS contributor, with about 2,267 employees contributing to open source daily. Although their employee number is less than some other companies, Google remains at the top when providing code to about 1,100 top repositories. According to data from Stackalytics, Google remains the top contributor to the CNCF open source ecosystem.
With about 2,027 employees contributing, Red Hat is a company that has switched over to open source forever. The company has contributed to all aspects of the software stack, including operating system, developer toolchain, and cloud. According to recent statistics, the company is also the most significant contributor to the Linux Kernel. Red Hat has also contributed to other projects like Fedora, anaconda, and Cairo.
As a beginner, it can be challenging to find open source projects that are suitable for you and do not overwhelm you with their sheer volume. So here is a list of some open source projects that are excellent for beginners.
TensorFlow is a free, open-source software suitable for developers interested in Machine Learning and Deep Learning. As a beginner, before contributing to a project, you should learn from TensorFlow tutorials and models. Currently, the TensorFlow model offers Natural Language Processing and Computer Vision projects.
First Contributions is a GitHub project ideal for beginners looking to make their first contribution to GitHub. This project guides you through the steps you’d have to take to contribute to GitHub. After the tutorial, First Contributions redirects you to a list of projects you can tackle through their webpage. Currently, the project has about 13,200 stars and 33,000 forks on GitHub.
One of the fastest growing open source projects, Zulip is an open source group chat application. It combines real-time messaging with threaded conversations and offers many tasks that are easy to perform for a beginner. The platform is popular among learners because Zulip enables you to contribute code and perform non-coding contributions such as reporting issues, translations, and feedback to improve the app.
Scrapy is a high-level and accurate data scraping tool built on the Python framework. It scours cyberspace and collects data from online resources according to user requirements. Scrapy also has a rich GitHub repository that can be a good place for developers to start their OSS journey.
Being an excellent open source contributor takes skills, dedication, and hard work. Here is a list of tips that will help you become an excellent open source contributor.
When you’re ready to make your first open source contribution, start with a straightforward issue to which you can dedicate your skills and time. Be careful with problems lying around too long, as sometimes the issues have been solved but are not marked as closed. Another essential tip is to always read the Contributing.MD which is a markdown document at the bottom of the open source project that acts as a short guide regarding the project.
Maintainers love collaboration and quality, so be sure to choose a project that you’re sure you can complete. When selecting a large-scale project, break your project into multiple issues and submit them for review separately. This tip will increase the chances of your PRs being reviewed and accepted at a reasonable time.
To become an open source contributor, you need to take the time to read the project’s contribution guidelines carefully. These guidelines explain what the project team expects from new contributors and guide them throughout the project. This includes instructions on technical details, coding styles, pull requests, and testing environments.
A helpful tip when contributing to open source is always to run full test coverage regardless of the project’s requirement. Run your changes against existing tests and also aim to create new ones so that your project is entirely covered. Also, ensure your changes don’t disrupt the existing project features.
Before submitting your PR, ask someone to proofread it. Maybe you haven’t explained your PR clearly or haven’t run tests extensively. Proofreading will highlight these minor faults that will help you improve your project. Some projects even provide a list of reviewers you can contact.
Open source contribution for beginners can be daunting, so if you’re still new to programming, you can join the tirage team. By taking a triage role, your job would be to identify needed features, record bugs, write issues, organize and prioritize issues, and review code. You’ll stand out and gain transferable skills for QA or product roles by performing these tasks. This practice will help you feel more comfortable when you finally start contributing to a project.
Another helpful tip is to always link your pull request to the issue. After you’ve solved an issue in an open source project, link your pull request to the resolved issue so that maintainers and other developers can be notified about it. This tip reduces the maintainers’ workload and allows other collaborators to track the progress of an issue. This practice is sure to help you out in the open source community.
Accepting failure is part of any job, but it’s especially true if you’re an open source contributor, as open source is all about experimentation. The tip is always to remember that failure is the norm in open source. For example, sometimes your bug report won’t be accepted as a bug, or sometimes your pull request won’t be accepted. Instead of taking these rejections to heart, you should take it as a learning experience and improve your skill set.
The open source community is diverse, motivated, and all about collaboration. You’ll find numerous people here who share your interests and can help you with your projects. So a helpful tip is to build connections in this community as these connections can provide valuable tips, help you in your project, inform you about issues in your area of expertise, and so much more. For example, a fellow developer in the community can help solve a problem that has proved challenging for you. So make connections and try to collaborate with different people in the open source community.
It doesn’t matter what profession you belong to; respecting your peers and colleagues is essential. As a contributor, you need to be respectful to the maintainers and other developers. For example, if you’re working on a project and disagree with the way the project is maintained, be respectful when you provide suggestions and offer your help to improve the project.
So here is a list of tips to help you become an excellent open source contributor. At Consulnet Corporation, we offer a variety of courses, and you can look here to see which ones interest you. We also focus on open source contributions and have guided numerous graduates in their open source contribution journey. I hope you enjoyed the blog and it was helpful for you. Feel free to contact us if you have any queries.