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New Years Resolutions: Open Source Edition

Today is one of the last few days in December. (It also happens to be my dad’s birthday. My dad is arguably the biggest open source influence in my life. Happy birthday, Dad!) I thought I’d go over some things I’d like to do more and better in the new year. Now is when I admit that I’ve been somewhat selfish with my time; I went back to school this year and I’m out of my house for about 12 hours a day. Though I have donated money to various causes, I have not really spent a significant amount of time giving back to any community. That needs to change.

I have more to admit here: I was a very selfish kid. I wanted to keep things to myself; I wouldn’t share things with people, especially other kids. (When I say things, I mean actual physical items, like toys and food, etc.) My catchphrase for the longest time was, “I don’t care.” (There was even one time when I heard/saw an ambulance outside of our house and I blurted out something along the lines of, “I’m glad that’s no one we know.” My father snapped back at me, saying that we should be sympathetic no matter who is in an ambulance. Smart man.)

I’ve learned how to be a better developer and human because of open source in the last 10 years. Share and share alike, help others, and give credit where it’s due are still relatively new to my attitude. I’ve built my career on open source and I’m still learning things about it every day.

Here are some of my resolutions for 2015:

  1. Become more active on Stack Overflow. Helping others is inherent to open source development. If you Google an issue you’re having and an answer you were looking for is on Stack Overflow, upvote it. (Conversely, if you find a bad answer, downvote it.) If you’re not a member of SO, sign up! If you have an answer to a question that hasn’t been answered on SO, no matter how old it is, you should really answer it. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people say they found their issue asked on Stack Overflow and it wasn’t answered. Well, star the question and if you find the answer, supply one so that someone else will find it in the future.

  2. Contribute to more code/documentation open source projects. I’m still afraid of doing this because I’m sensitive about my code; there are also still a lot of hostile people out there who want to and will try to tear you down. I keep referencing this talk by Angie Byron presented at DrupalCon Sydney 2013: How to Create Ravenously Passionate Contributors. It seriously helped me gain the courage to do the small amount of contributing I’ve done so far. I can’t say much else because this is a confidence thing I’m still working through.

  3. Say “Thank you” more to those people who maintain or contribute to the projects on which I base my work. This is pretty obvious, but has been slipping my mind lately. Those people don’t get enough credit and praise for what they do. Jenn Schiffer (@jennschiffer) mentioned in The Dirt (the podcast by Fresh Tilled Soil) that a good way to reach out to provide her with praise is via Twitter. A few years ago when a new version of WordPress came out, I used to tweet out things like, “Another awesome release from the WordPress core team. Thank you!” I may have only done this a few times, but I hope they got the message. I/we definitely need to do that more often.

  4. Find more time to write, even if it’s about something small. I may redo this website—I may also live blog the work on it so the process may help others. Even if someone else has done it before, I could find a new or different way to do something and explain how to do it here. You can too!

Other Tips for Open Source Involvement

I’ve found out over the last few years that no matter how small, a contribution matters. Even if you think you’re asking the most simple question in the world and you figure it out 5 minutes later, you should answer your own post with what you found so that other people can learn from it. I made that mistake early on in my experience with open source.

Another thing I had to get over, which much of my generation has yet to learn, is not to pass judgement. If someone else is asking a simple question on a forum, don’t chide them for not knowing. Kindly provide them with an answer and a smile. Conversely, if someone thinks they were asking a stupid question, don’t chide them for becoming embarrassed and deleting the question. It’s perfectly acceptable to want to forgo embarrassment by deleting (or asking moderators to delete) a post. That doesn’t give anyone the right to be rude about it. Kindly remind them that someone else could have been helped by the answer to the question, and ask them if they would repost the question and provide the answer that they found. If after a few tries they still don’t get it, then you should probably be more firm. Kindness goes a long way, especially for people in the community who happen to be more sensitive than others.

tl;dr

This upcoming year in general, maybe we can all think a little less about ourselves and more about others. Write a patch or create a pull request for an open source project. Submit your first answer to a question on Stack Overflow. Say “thank you for your work”. Write blog entries about the work you’re doing, no matter how simple. Believe it or not, it will help someone.