Last month, I started contributing regularly to open source (GitLab) for the first time. It has been a blast so far and I highly recommend it! Contributing to open source has a lot of benefits that just don’t seem to be talked about enough. So, I’ve decided to take some time to share some of the benefits I’ve found to be true while contributing to GitLab.
Contributing helps you learn
One of my initial motivations to contributing to GitLab was to improve my front-end skills. I had a solid foundation in front-end development but there were many areas in which I still wanted to learn and grow. It was challenging at first since GitLab’s stack used a lot of tools and languages that was unfamiliar to me, but over time I was able to identify bugs and create working solutions.
One of the most valuable learning moments when contributing to open source is the merge request review process.
After you submit a merge request with your bug fix, the core team of the open source project reviews and provides suggestions and comments. This is a fantastic way to learn best practices and to practice communicating your thought processes. The core team appreciates your hard work fixing bugs (which saves them time to work on other critical items) and you are rewarded with a free learning moment from them! It’s a win-win situation!
Contributing is fun
Another aspect that I did not expect from contributing to open source was how fun it would be. Every time my merge request was merged, I was challenged to do more. Each time I was thanked for my contributions, motivated me to increase my participation within the community. This was because I felt like my contributions were making a difference.
I had a brief stint last year building a startup focused on nonprofit fundraising and I’m fascinated with the similarities between philanthropy and contributing to open source. I would make a case that their emotional motivations are almost identical.
In general, the emotional drivers that motivates people to give is the desire to make a difference. Contributing to open source (especially in big projects) is also about making an impact in the technology community.
Nonprofits try to focus on creating multiple feedback loops to their volunteers and donors, so that their one time involvement transforms into a regular involvement. This is something that is critical in philanthropy and also an area where many open source projects fall short.
This aspect of fun will vary across projects but overall in my experience, I would say that GitLab does an above average in this arena. The reviewers regularly express their gratitude for community contributions and the team also recognizes a valuable contributor each monthly release.
Contributing builds reputation
Another benefit to contributing is that it builds your reputation/professional network. This occurs in the same way as being involved in a nonprofit or meetup. As you contribute, you build a reputation and network effect of being known in the community as someone who is a great developer and a good communicator.
Although you can use your open source contributions as an additional resume to companies and recruiters, you can also use the community to help you network towards more career opportunities. Some say that 85% of all jobs are filled using networking!
I hope you got to see a glimpse into some of the many benefits of contributing to open source and I hope that this made you think about it. To all of those who regularly contribute, thanks for all your hard work and for paving the way! Thanks also to the friendly community at GitLab who has taken time to review my issues and merge requests (@smcgivern, Connor Shea, @fatihacet, @jakecodes, @annabeldunstone, Luke Bennett, Phil Hughes)
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