Why working on Open Source software makes you a better developer

Recently there was a bit of a rant on the Selenium users mailing list about how there were a few bugs irritating the person and, because they are only testers with not enough development experience, didnt feel that they could help with fixing these issues.

Note: this person was not rude and was not trolling so was happy to reach out.

One thing that I want people to know is that you don’t have to be a brilliant developer to work on Open Source projects. You don’t even have to have any experience as a software developer. You are now wondering how you can help?

By submitting a patch, even with mistakes an inexperienced would do, you are solving the problem. Once you have submitted it one thing is going to happen. Someone is going to look at your patch, eventually and reply. The reply will be we landed it or your patch needs some work. The latter is a good thing, even if you see it as a negative, since you will be learning.

Now, and is the most important thing to remember, is that the developer looking at your patch could very well learn something from you! Committers on Open Source projects tend to have come up through the ranks, unless they created the project, and have learnt what code does what where. They have learnt from other developers and want to share the knowledge back.

Going through all of these processes is a good thing. As people in software we have to be constantly learning or we fall behind. Once you are behind it can be hard to get employment in some companies you would love to work.

Next time you feel negative about contributing to Open Source, try change the thought to how you can learn something new and make a difference to your favourite projects. Selenium has getting involved bugs and Mozilla has its good first bugs that people can solve.

Don’t be afraid to contribute to numerous projects because you will likely learn from a number of different people. This way you will get many years worth of meaningful experience instead of just many years of doing the same thing over and over.