THE BLOG
04/22/2014 11:47 am ET | Updated Jun 22, 2014

Why You Should Get Involved With Open-Source

It's still unclear how the Heartbleed bug is going to affect the overall quality of open-source communities, people are still trying to find answers, while some are already trying to build alternatives.

I think the fact that someone would try and build alternative to OpenSSL - is quite predictable, and at this point, it actually seems a little bit silly to try and carry it out.

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Trying to generalize open-source is not an easy task - a lot of book writers, community leaders and presenters have different opinions on how the open-source community works, and whether it has any real benefit to newcomer programmers. I think it does, and here are some reasons for it:

  • Practice Makes Perfect - Open-source projects and communities are perfect for practicing, and exploring new areas of programming. It encourages collaboration and thinking in groups; not limiting yourself to one opinion.
  • Acquiring New Skills - It has never been easier to learn about new technology, about new ways of doing things. Open-source communities encourage you to try new things, which later become a new set of skills.
  • Gaining Credibility - Work on something for long enough, and people will begin to trust your advice and judgement. One of the highest quality awards that come with working on open-source projects.

I guess there are a couple of other things, but these seem to be of the most importance when it comes to reaping rewards for work well-done.

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Open source abdicates your flexibility as a developer to better serve the people who actually use your products. You can see that as a constraint... or you can see it as a door to iteration, innovation, and constant progress. - Matt Mullenweg

WordPress would not be where it is right now, if it wasn't for the support of the open-source community. It's just an example, of course, but it goes to show that a product that is completely free of charge, can outperform the market of similar platforms by an unbelievable margin.

Getting started is the toughest part. You will constantly tell yourself that it's pointless, that you couldn't possibly ever find enough time to do any contributions, or that you're simply better off to work on your own. The list could pile on in an endless loop, similar to other areas of our lives.

Where to find open-source projects?

I'm glad you asked! Remember, anything that's out there in plain-text to see, can be and is considered open-source. Your job is to contribute, innovate.

  • GitHub - GitHub is the best place to share code with friends, co-workers, classmates, and complete strangers.
  • StackOverflow - Stack Overflow is a question and answer site for professional and enthusiast programmers.
  • OpenHatch - OpenHatch is a non-profit dedicated to matching prospective free software contributors with communities, tools, and education.
  • SourceForge - SourceForge is an Open Source community resource dedicated to helping open source projects be as successful as possible.

You get a wide variety of options from all of these platforms. I'm a huge fan of GitHub, and not because it's so simple to use, but because it has a very reasonable size community behind it, and forking something to your own profile can be done within a click of a button.

What can I do to improve an open-source project?

There's so much we can do to help an open-source project to move forward, or at least help to stay it afloat. I'd begin by examining common misspelling errors in both the documentation, and the code comments. It might not seem like a very big contribution, but it helps you to learn more about the project as you go.

You can later use that knowledge to help answer questions, or simply give people advice on what a given project can do. It all adds up. As you continue doing these things, you can begin contributing your own pieces of code, and suggestions.

Before you know it, you'll be filing bug reports to help fix critical issues. And how good is that, now you're able to harvest those incredible benefits we talked about at the beginning of this post. It doesn't get any better than that.

Why You Should Get Involved With Open-Source

If you care about the open internet, the open web and your own privacy - you should care about the open-source communities. I've never seen anyone get harmed, for contributing and getting involved with someone else's ideas and dreams. It's all for the best, and it makes the web as accessible as it is.