Getting Your Feet Wet – Tackling Your First Open Source Project

Now that you have obtained a thorough online background in computer science, how can you put it to use? Chances of getting a job with a homemade computer science degree are pretty slim, since you do not have any hard evidence that you can use your new-found skills. Don’t fear—you can still put your new-found skills to use and build up some credibility for your resume!

Contributing to open source software is an excellent way to build your resume and give back to the community, even if you are an experienced developer. Most big projects have more open issues than they can contend with, and every bit of help is appreciated. Here are 4 ways that you can give back and start contributing today!

1. Write Documentation

I know, I know, you didn’t spend all that time learning about loops, functions, and objects just to be a technical writer. But there’s no better way to become familiar with the inner workings of a project than to write documentation.

One example of documentation that most every project is lacking is how to get a simple build environment set up. This is good practice too. Document how to build the project, start it from the build directory. and run the tests.

2. Groom the Issue Log

Most projects have more open issues than they know what to do with, and some of them could be quite old and stale. Start at the bottom of the backlog and see if you can reproduce them or if they have been fixed in passing, then leave comments.

3. Pick up Easy Tasks

Once you are familiar with the backlog of open issues, find one that looks easy or is tagged as easy. Create a branch and start hacking on the issue. Do not be afraid to comment and ask for help either!

4. Fix Failing Builds

Most open source projects these days are in continuous integration and with limited resources. Sometimes the failing build falls by the wayside. Checkout the project, reproduce the failing build, and see if you can fix it.

Most importantly, do not be afraid to ask questions or ask how you can contribute to a project. Jump onto the project’s IRC channel or drop a comment to a maintainer on github. Ask them how you can contribute and if they are available to mentor you. Happy hacking!