Last year, I didn’t complete Hacktoberfest. And I felt pretty bad about that. I spent hours looking through issues, hoping to find one that was tagged as a “good first issue” that was actually a good first issue and not a 20-hour project. It didn’t happen. And honestly, it made me sad. I wanted to try to get into open source, but it didn’t feel very open. Fast forward to this year. I started a little thing called Virtual Coffee in April, and by September I had a co-founder to help me support the community, and we decided to create a team to do our first major event with Hacktoberfest.
A lot of work was put into planning and executing this event. But, wow, was it worth it. This year I was a contributor, maintainer, and mentor. Never would I have imagined that I would go from last years’ disappointment to fulfilling all these roles and learning so much along the way.
But here’s the thing: Last year I failed because I didn’t have community, because I didn’t feel supported.
I wasn’t prepared for this at all. My React Native project was a ball of tangled yarn to start with. I had started the project when I had no business starting it–which, by the way, I totally recommend–and then abandoned it for a while (or a year). With the encouragement of some amazing Virtual Coffee members, I decided to see what I could do. And what I learned is that I can do far more with a community of people who care about the project who have had no experience in React Native than I ever could do by myself. I also learned that experienced developers were there to support me, encourage me, and spend time talking me through everything from MVPs to dev experience to issues I had setting up my first open-source coding project.
I also learned, it’s damn hard and time-consuming to write good issues, but that makes the difference in building community. One of my favorite moments of the entire month is when a contributor tweeted that my project had the best documentation that she’d read. And that documentation doesn’t happen without my Hacktoberfest team. With them, especially Kirk I learned how to create better documentation and issues.
In no universe did I ever feel ready to be a mentor. I’ve got about a year and a quarter under my belt and it seemed very unreasonable to mentor anyone at any stage. The thought of it sent imposter electricity up and down my spine. And here’s where community comes in again. Talking through my self-doubt can be really hard. But I’m lucky that I’ve been able to be vulnerable with the people in my community. When I told Dan about my insecurities, he had a lot of great advice. It’s a learning experience. And if you’re honest about where you are and you let them know that some of this will be learning together, everyone grows.
There was a lot of looking things up together. There were/are some unanswered questions. But honesty and vulnerability are kind of the thing I’m always working towards. I’m a work-in-progress and that won’t ever stop. But that’s what coding’s about. And if I can show that to someone else, someone with less experience than me, and if they can find some self-acceptance there, then that’s my biggest win.
There are no fireworks wins here. My last PR was a one word update to a ReadMe. But I wrote some Elm code for the first time ever with the help of a great maintainer, and I learned about how important it is to value contributors, to allow them to be part of the community. I know that I’m more likely to want to contribute to the people who are on my team, who I know I can talk to and ask questions and it’s the people who never make me feel like I am bothering them.
Open source is an amazing place to be. And there’s so much talk about how it’s a great place for new coders to get experience. Except everyone forgets to mention that a lot of, and maybe even most, OSS projects are not friendly to new coders. Friendly is creating documentation that everyone can understand. Friendly is creating an environment where everyone knows they can ask any question they have. Friendly is inviting opportunities to develop that community from the ground up.
It doesn’t matter if you hit those four PRs and earned a t-shirt. What matters is you were open to trying. There are some projects that make it a better experience than others. Open-source projects don’t end with Hacktoberfest. I think the best thing that I learned this year was that with the right community–for me, that’s not necessarily the most technical, it’s the one with the heart and passion to keep learning and moving forward–it’s a movement to build things for everyone. And that’s the energy I want.
This Hacktoberfest was a beautiful experience, and I am so very thankful for the Virtual Coffee team that made it possible. I’m thankful for all their volunteer hours and their desire to help everyone in our community to grow. I am thankful for the maintainers who paired and offered their projects to our community. I am thankful for the mentors who spent time with our community members helping them to grow. I am thankful for the mentorship I had to be able to be a maintainer, contributor, and mentor. Community matters, folks. And I am a part of the best one 💖