I have started contributing to open source projects roughly 4 moths ago. This journey started because of OSD600 course of Seneca College. This 4 months were the most exciting of my entire college life. I have contributed to a few projects including a project maintained by PayPal. I have learned many new skills. In this blog I am going to talk about some of the benefits of contributing to open source projects. You may also achieve these benefits by working on open source projects. Also I am going to share my thoughts on deciding on which project to work.
How open source projects helped me
4 months ago I had no clue how to use Git and GitHub properly let alone contributing to a project. Today, I have the confidence that I can work on fixing complicated bugs, implementing a new features, navigating large code base, working with other- more experienced developers and many more.
I think this one is the most crucial for new developers. All jobs ask for some sort of experience in development and new developers usually struggles to get experience. Of course, if I don’t get a job how do I get experience. We do personal projects to showcase our skills. This is great. Open source projects can help to get development experience. There are tons of projects and tons of things to work on. Big companies also have open source projects. If you work on any of these projects, you can write that in your resume which will definitely add value.
Understanding the code
When we build our own application, we are the one who decide on the code structure. If there is a bug, we can find it out and solve it comparatively easily. Because it is our code. But in job we are not going to write all the codes ourselves. We will be working with code written by others, probably, maintain already written code which is in production. To fix a bug or implement a new feature in existing code is tough. If the code base is unknown and large, it is tougher. Navigating the code base, understanding how different components are interacting with one another is a crucial skill. You need to develop this in order to make any change confidently, in the production code base. A college student don’t get the chance to work on projects like this. You can master this skill by working on open source projects. Big projects, used by many people, are out there. You can get the code in your computer, look at the code base, work with it. You can learn how big companies organize their projects, how they write codes.
Learning new tools, technologies and concepts
There are so many tools and technologies out there. Which one should I learn? This question used to pop up in my mind now and then. I was very confused. Now, I think that apart from fundamental stuffs, you learn what you need for your work. It has happened to me so many times that I have learned something new then I have forgotten it after one month because I did not use it. Or the learning process was hard because there was no application of that knowledge. Working in open source projects helps in this respects too. So far I have learned about Java modular system, Gradle, Maven, Git, GitHub, GitHub Actions, Log4j2, Logback, SLF4J, Kafka, Junit to name a few. There are many other smaller things. This will add up. The best part is that I can retain my knowledge because I have learned it as part of my work and I have used it. I have learned by doing.
I have seen this twitter last month-
We all have our favorite weapon. I feel that for newbie developers, reading official documentations is the least favorite weapon. It is intimidating to read the documentations. But this is just for a few times. If you read the documentations you get a clear picture of how that specific thing works. For example, when I read someone’s answer about how to use an unknown function in Java, may be I get how I should write it in my code. But when I look into the documentations, I get whole lot of information like whether the function throws an exception which I need to handle. When you work on open source projects, often you deal with something new, like a weired bug or using a new library. In those cases, you will find yourself reading the documentations very often. After a few times, official documentations will be your favorite weapon. Of course, not all projects have good documentations. I have struggled with this several times.
Your code reviewed by other developers
The code you contribute to open source projects are reviewed by other developers. This is a great opportunity to learn from other, more experienced developers. Don’t get upset when you see a review request on your code. This is a learning opportunity. This also helps improve communication skill- getting your ideas through.
Confidence build up
As newbie developers, we often suffer from lack of confidence. At least that is what happened to me. I used to think what would it be like to work with production code. Can I do it? What if I break something? How do I know for sure that I have not broken something? I also didn’t have the courage to approach an open source project maintainer and say that I would like to contribute. Working in a few projects have boosted my confidence. Now, I have the confidence to handle complicated bugs and implementing new features. It may take time but I will get to the solution.
The most important factor to get a job is networking as we know 80% jobs are hidden. We network in different platforms and forms. To me the best person to talk about my work is the one who I have worked with. Others will also put more weight on that person’s word. In open source projects, you are working with other developers who are seeing your work, evaluating your work. When a developer talks good about your skill, what do you think it will do? You might get an OFFER.
How should I choose which project to work in
This depends on what you want to achieve. I will share my decision criteria so it may give some points to consider. I decided to improve my Java skill. So, I looked for Java projects. Among many I decided to work on projects maintained by large companies as this will look good on my resume. I did not choose projects where there are hundreds of developers. This is because I was just starting out. There is no reason why you should not contribute to projects where there are many developers. Next, I decided to focus on one or two projects so that I can make big contribution like implementing new feature. To me it seemed better than making contributions to many projects. Once I have enough confidence, I will go out to pick another project and put significant contribution. Don’t get me wrong, in open source all contributions count. This was just my preference.
This is my achievement and learning so far from open source projects. I am really loving it. I can see myself contributing to more projects in future and blog about it. Stay tuned.