As a self-taught developer, you're likely familiar with the challenge of trying to land a job without prior experience. It's a classic catch-22 situation where experience is required to secure a job, but a job is needed to gain experience. Fortunately, open-source projects provide an excellent opportunity to bridge this gap and acquire the experience necessary to land a job in the tech industry. By contributing to open source, you can test your skills, solve real-world problems, and improve your abilities. This article aims to provide guidelines and tips on how to contribute to open source effectively, convert your contributions into valuable experience for your resume, and ultimately help you secure your dream role in tech.
What is Open Source?
Open source, in the general sense, refers to any documents, projects, designs, etc. that can be accessed and modified by others. It’s not just limited to software applications; for instance, an author can decide to make his book open source by hosting it in Git and making it accessible to others to modify the source file.
In the context of software development, an open-source project is one whose source code can be accessed, modified, and used by anyone, e.g. web frameworks like Django, React, Vue.js, etc. This is in direct contrast to proprietary or closed-source software, where the source code is private and can not be accessed or modified by others, e.g. Adobe Photoshop, Apple Office suite applications, etc.
Licensing in Open Source
Open-source licenses dictate how others can use, modify, and distribute the code. They determine the permissions granted to others for repurposing the code for new applications. As a beginner in open source, it's important to understand the common types of open source licenses and the extent of permissions they grant. To find out the level of permission for a specific piece of software, you can copy its license and search for it on Google. This will provide a summary of what you can or cannot do with the software. The license of a project is usually available in its official documentation and on its GitHub profile.
How to Contribute to Open Source
For beginners, knowing where to start when faced with a large open-source project can be daunting. It may seem overwhelming, and you may not know which direction to take. This fear often discourages people from making valuable contributions to open source. However, finding the right project that matches your current skill set and understanding how to contribute can make the process much smoother. In the following sections, we will explore various ways to make your first contribution.
Understand Your Skills and Stack
Before diving into open source, it's crucial to assess your skills and determine the level of contribution you can make. This evaluation will help you find a project that aligns with your capabilities. Remember that contributing to open source is not limited to writing code. There are several areas where you can contribute, including:
Writing documentation and technical articles about the project
U.I and UX design
Developing a feature
Fixing a bug
Correcting typos in the documentation
Managing social media for the project
Once you have identified your area of interest, the next step is to find a project that matches your skills. Contributing to well-known open-source projects can be challenging due to their large code bases and the expertise required for initial contributions. Thus, starting with beginner-friendly projects is a recommended approach. Here are some strategies and tips for finding suitable projects:
Products you are already using
Start by contributing to technologies, libraries, frameworks, and tools that you are already familiar with. Since you use these products, you have a better understanding of how they work, where improvements can be made, and the existing errors. You can contribute by fixing issues, improving tutorials, correcting broken links, or raising new issues.
GitHub is a popular platform for developers, hosting repositories for numerous companies. Utilize the search functionality to filter projects by topics relevant to your interests. Visit github.com/topics/topic-name and replace topic-name with the technology or language you are familiar with. This will provide a list of projects using that technology or language, allowing you to find ones that align with your skills.
Startups and Open-source Projects
Is a great site to find open-source startups that welcome contributions. You can filter projects by year, technology, and open source to find suitable options.
Google Summer of Code
Participating in Google Summer of Code can help you discover open-source projects that are open to contributions. This program provides an excellent way to find projects aligned with your skill set. You can filter projects based on technology to identify those using your preferred stack.
Steps to Contributing to Open Source
Once you have selected a project that matches your skills, follow these steps to contribute effectively:
Find a good first issue
Head to the project's repository and look for unresolved issues labeled as “good first issue”, “first-timers-only”, “for beginners”, or “need help”. These labels indicate issues suitable for newcomers. Fork the project and create a pull request to merge your changes after working on the issue.
Join the community
After identifying a suitable project, join its community to fully immerse yourself in the project's ecosystem. Engage with maintainers and other contributors, ask constructive questions, offer help to others, and seek assistance when needed. Being an active member of the community is crucial for successful open-source contributions. Follow community guidelines, browse past discussions, and familiarize yourself with existing resolutions to avoid duplicating efforts.
Highlighting your contribution to open source
Now that you have made contributions to open source, it's essential to highlight them in your portfolio. Here are some tips to showcase your open-source experience effectively:
Describe the project
Provide a clear description of the project, including its purpose, unique problem-solving approach, and target audience.
Discuss your contributions
Clearly outline the contributions you made to the project, including the roles you took on, features you worked on, bug fixes, designs you created, and any other relevant details. Mention the duration of your involvement as a contributor. This will demonstrate the level of engagement and dedication you brought to the project.
Remember that employers value candidates who can effectively communicate and collaborate with others. Discuss your interactions with the project team, including how issues were raised and resolved. Emphasize your ability to work well within a team. In the tech industry, collaboration is just as important as coding skills.
Contributing to open-source projects is an excellent way to gain experience in the tech industry. Although your work may be voluntary, the experience, exposure, and effective communication skills you acquire are invaluable in the real world. Open source provides an opportunity for learning, growing, and gaining the necessary experience you need to secure your dream role in tech. Take your career to the next level by actively contributing to open source.