You might have seen the word triage thrown around when talking about open source. Maybe you wondered what it meant and how that role impacts open source. If we think of open source like a journey, then the role of someone on the triage team is an explorer who helps to discover hidden challenges and helps to chart a path forward.
Open source triage involves evaluating and managing incoming issues and bug reports submitted by users and contributors. As a triage team member, your primary goal is to ensure that the project's issue tracker is well-organized and that reported problems receive the attention they deserve.
In some ways, we can think of open source projects as a treasure map. A new feature release might be a small treasure. Maybe launching the product is the big X on the map. Along that map, you’ll find that there are challenges (bugs and issues) that need to be understood and categorized to make progress. A triage team member helps to understand and ask the right questions so the other explorers can continue on the journey.
This means you’ll need to learn how to categorize and prioritize issues based on their severity, impact, and relevance to the project.
For example, let’s say you’re triaging an open-source pizza delivery software project. A user reports an issue regarding incorrect pizza toppings being displayed in the order confirmation screen. To triage this issue, you carefully analyze its severity, impact, and relevance to the project. After some investigation, you identify the problem as medium severity because it affects the user experience but doesn't cause critical failures to the success of placing the order. It’s still incredibly important to the project's core functionality, so you prioritize this issue to ensure a timely resolution.
At the time this post was written, our Insights repo had 104 open issues. Having someone there to triage the issues provides the development team with more time to work on resolving the issues.
To verify issues, you need to replicate reported issues on your system.
Continuing with our analogy, you encounter an issue reported by a user regarding a glitch in the pizza tracker, showing inaccurate delivery status. To verify the issue's validity, you follow the user's steps and use their order details to replicate the problem on your system. You’ll also check the software's logs to gather any other useful information. Once you’ve replicated the issue, you confirm the issue's validity and move forward.
Managing issues helps to create a more efficient development process. Understanding how to assign labels, milestones, and priorities to issues allows you to update the issue tracker to reflect the work that needs to be done and prioritized.
For example, let’s say you come across an issue related to adding new pizza toppings to the menu—a request from the community. To manage this issue, you assign the appropriate labels, such as "enhancement" or "feature request." You add relevant milestones to indicate it as a target for the next software update. Because this is your most upvoted issue and your team has the capability to add this functionality, you prioritize this issue based on its popularity and the potential impact on the project's success. Throughout the process, you update the issue tracker with necessary details, providing the developers with a clear understanding of the community's desire for new pizza toppings.
Engaging with users, contributors, and maintainers, you act as a bridge between them and the development team to resolve issues
As a triage team member for the pizza delivery software, you see an issue raised by a user who struggled with the pizza customization process in the app. You respond to the user via comments on their issue, asking clarifying questions to understand their specific difficulty. You actively collaborate with other members of the pizza software community to find possible solutions. As part of the process, you gather feedback from other users, identify common usability challenges, and discuss potential improvements with the development team. Effective communication and collaboration efforts bridge the gap between users and developers, leading to a better pizza customization experience for all users.
If you want to grow in your open source journey, you might find that a good milestone is becoming a part of a triage team for an open source project. Here are some tips to follow that path:
Choose a project you’re interested in and willing to commit to for an extended period.
Check out the project's documentation, repositories, and issue tracker to understand its goals and contribution processes.
Join the project's communication channels, introduce yourself, and let them know that you’re interested in becoming part of the triage team. Ask for help from experienced members.
Even if you’re not a part of the team, that doesn’t mean that you can’t help. You can still offer contributors suggestions or direct them to answers if you’re able to. The key is to only do so if you know the answer. For example, maybe someone raised an issue that was already responded to. You can direct them to the previous answer.
The triage team plays an important role in the long-term health of the project and supporting maintainers. Triage team members are the first point of contact for issues and bug reports and help to make the communication between the development team and the contributors seamless. Their work makes space for faster issue resolution, resource optimization, and knowledge sharing. It’s important to note that not all contributors have the technical expertise to contribute directly with the code. Triage creates an opportunity for non-developers to make meaningful contributions. A positive user experience often starts with the triage team.