by Leta Keane
I’m a front-end engineering student at Turing School. This week, I had to contribute to open source for a project.
Although I’m only two weeks and change away from graduation (!!!!!!!!) and being an official junior dev, it still felt daunting — I wasn’t ready! I was being rushed! I was being pushed into a situation I wasn’t ready for!
It felt like this:
However. Let me assure anyone who wants to contribute to open source projects but is scared to begin, it actually turned out to be more like this:
So worry not, friends. If I can do it, so can you.
Open source can sometimes be a minefield, it’s true.
This article doesn’t pretend to furnish you with jerk-proof armor, but it will give you a few tips to help you find supportive, junior-dev-friendly projects.
Okay, enough chatter; let’s do this thing!
GitHub user MunGell has put together a totally excellent list of open source projects (and the list itself is open source — whoa) which are specifically “awesome for beginners”. It’s a great place to start.
label:beginnerinto the search bar will bring up issues that the project’s devs consider appropriate for beginner programmers.
beginnertags to their issues is going to be a supportive bunch.
When you’ve found an issue you want to try out, take a beat to be respectful:
Brittany Storoz has written a succinct script to use:
Hi there! I’m a first-time contributor and was hoping to help out with this issue. I noticed nobody was assigned to it, but if there’s already a solution in progress I’m happy to try helping out elsewhere. Thanks!
Keep in mind that — sometimes — an issue earmarked for beginners might still be urgent. Be timely; if you can’t complete an issue in an appropriate timeframe, add a comment letting the team know.
It’s no good sitting on an issue (that someone else could be working on) if you’ve given up on it.
In addition to a
README.md that tells you how to install a local version of the app on your machine, many open source repos will include a
CONTRIBUTING.md file that breaks down the steps of how to contribute to the project.
Take a beat to read over it — a lot of projects tell you exactly how to give yourself the best shot of having your PR merged into the codebase.
CONTRIBUTING.mdfile if there is one.
The number one thing about waiting for feedback is:
Feedback isn’t uncommon. What I’m saying here is: don’t build up an idea of what kind of feedback you’ll get. That way lies madness, or at least a bummer of a time.
And another important thing about feedback is:
You might never get a response, you might get a response in the negative (they silently close your PR), or you might get a response that is negative (aka curt/mean/dismissive/derisive/generally jerkish).
Hopefully feedback will be kind and helpful. Some projects have active and passionate open source contributors that create discussion boards and leave verbose, constructive comments on PRs.
If you run into that, embrace the experience! Build out your network, and find mentors who will help you learn the open source ropes!
If you don’t … try another issue, another project, another repo.
Remember: the sharks are imaginary (or photoshopped), and even though scary deep water is a real thing, there are people out there who will cheerfully help you stand up in the shallow end (even if you flail a bit at first).
So get out there and flail ❤️