When I first heard about open source, I was excited by the idea and amazed by the ecosystem behind it, yet I was not sure how to contribute or what benefits it could provide. I was looking at it as a way to spend time and volunteer, yet today, I am writing about how open source changed my life and got me a job in a company 3000 kilometers away! In this blog, I will share my journey in open source to inspire you to start your journey.
My family is an immigrant family from Syria that has been residing in Saudi Arabia. After the unfortunate loss of my father at a young age, we initially decided to return to Syria. With the onset of the revolution in Syria, it became increasingly unsafe to continue living there. Consequently, my mother decided to return to Saudi Arabia. However, due to certain restrictions in the educational system, we ultimately moved to Turkey to pursue higher education. My mother, a mathematics teacher who highly values education, saw Turkey as a promising opportunity for us.
Due to the love of education and technology I inherited from my parents, I was in touch with technology for a long time. My father's continuous learning approach and love of technology made him connect us to the internet at the beginning of elementary school. Before high school, I did not have a personal computer, but I had a family computer that we all shared, with my access limited to one day a week! I became aware of open source in high school. Back then, I heard about Ubuntu, Linux, and the tools available to people and developers.
At that time, I was unsure how to code or even learn about that, nor did I know the community behind it. During high school, I used to tinker and format computers and used to visit the computer repair shops in my area. This situation stayed with me till university. At that time, I started to learn programming and coding in my engineering degree. Then, I heard about GitHub. I used it as a drive to push my homework from school, which used to be tricky since the university did not allow me to share homework in public, and it counted as cheating.
While at university, I stumbled upon the GitHub Campus Expert program. A program that enables community leaders in their local areas. At that time, I was involved with one of the tech clubs at university and had a great love of open source as a user, which helped me to get accepted into the program.
The program had great values and opportunities for me. Looking back, I could not seize them all due to the university schedule. Yet, the most amazing part was starting my podcast, Hadith Tech, supported by GitHub Education, which will play a significant role in the story later.
During the last year, I was selected by one of my professors, Akif Eyler, to work on an open-source search engine as a graduation project, for which I am thankful I was able to get real-world experience during that project. The project is live now and has some users. This project provided me with a unique experience. The experience varied in different areas. During the project, I worked on the UI/UX design, the similarity engine, which used a vector-based and cosine similarity algorithm to get similar texts and suggest them. At the same time, I worked on the linguistic side, which used to get the root of the word and enable a search based on that! The experience provided a better understanding of open source and engineering. During this project, I learned the value of communication in open source, tracking issues, and community to sustain a project.
I graduated from university during COVID. There were a lot of layoffs happening at that time. The market was struggling, and I could not find a job in the market in the time that I was expecting. Back then, I felt my knowledge and degree were enough to find a job through an online application. I was wrong; I needed a network, soft skills, patience, and communication skills.
I landed my first two jobs by networking and building connections. However, because of the demanding expectations and an inability to come to reasonable workload expectations, they didn't last long.
My third job came from a friend's referral at a unicorn company. The company had a huge workload, so I continued there for several months. During that time, I hosted my second podcast season and launched the English one. At that time, GitHub Education invited me to attend GitHub Universe 2022, significantly impacting my journey.
This invitation had consequences, though, which caused me to get fired from the company. There were two reasons for that. The first one was that I did follow the leave request process for the conference; I got approval to join the conference, but when I returned, I had a jet lag and asked for two days of sick leave, which they rejected. The second reason was that I was doing my master's degree, which did not align with the company's demands and requirements. But was that worth it? Yes!
During the GitHub Universe, I met great-minded people, learned from their experiences, and got exposed to people's experiences; at this time, I had a chance to meet my fourth employer, Ahmad Awais, who offered me a job immediately after the conference. The offer was a contract, and my first win was from open-source. After the end of the contract, I started looking for a new job with a similar opportunity and mindset.
Joining the GitHub Universe event and connecting with the open-source ecosystem provided me great value and growth opportunities. One of the side impacts of the conference was opening the door to be hosted on TV. I used to have imposter syndrome and was not ready to be on TV to talk about my experience. However, the invitation to GitHub Universe made one of my friends, Nasir Kadri, who works in television, push me to get out and talk about the open source experience and its value. He did not accept no as an answer back then. Which I am thankful for!
As I mentioned before, I had a hadith tech podcast where I hosted great people in the tech world in Arabic and English. I had the pleasure of hosting Brian Douglas, the founder of OpenSauced, on one of the episodes. During that episode, he mentioned a few qualities people seek in programmers and how people hire programmers from open source. This talk inspired me to start a journey in coding and contributing to open source.
After my last contract, I set a goal to contribute daily to an open-source project, but I needed to figure out what project to start and how to start first. Therefore, I kept checking the OpenSauced repo for a few days until I found an issue I could work on. I decided to solve that issue in the morning; when I woke up the next day, I found the issue had already been resolved. That pushed me to work on an issue when I saw it immediately.
The first PR I opened was a development for the loading state in the app itself. This showed me how to get tasks assigned to myself and how to collaborate over a PR. After this, I felt mostly proud being on a project when one of PRs was closed! Yes, it was not merged. That PR taught me a lot about the project, the scope and the value of having small, concise PRs for the whole team, and the value of communication with the maintenance team.
I continued contributing to open source for a few months and hosting my podcast at the same time. On one of the episodes of Hadith Tech Podcast, I hosted Daniel Lenton, the founder of unify.ai, a YC company. In this episode, he mentioned a feature that would be great in GitHub. I got curious about the feature and started creating an open-source prototype for that feature.
When I finished the prototype, I shared it with him. A few days later, he sent an email asking me if I was free, and we had a short talk to see if it would be possible to work with them. I accepted that offer and started as a DevRel engineer in the company. During this call, he mentioned how he reviewed my contribution on GitHub and checked my YouTube channel, podcast, and TV interviews, which encouraged him to hire me. This would not have happened without being in an awesome open-source community like GitHub Campus Expert and OpenSauced.
As you can see from my journey, I have gotten into a job while contributing to open source, yet this is just a side effect of the journey. If you zoom out, you will discover that I have built genuine connections with people in the projects I have contributed to, improved my skills over time, and developed a different mindset. I would not believe it if you asked me one year ago.
As for yourself, you do not have to be able to produce the same story or have the same impact, yet you can get this story as an inspiration to figure out the hidden aspect of open source and write your story.
Are you ready to start your journey? Tell us in the comments what phase you are in right now.