Recently I received the title “Contributor” on a github repo that I…well…contribute to. This probably doesn’t mean a lot to most of you reading this, but I feel like it is kind of a big deal for me, and it got me thinking a bit. As web developers that constantly use open source products, how often do most of us give back to that community? If you are anything like me, constantly busy and figuring out how the hell you are going to finish “this” project, then probably not that often. However, over the last year, I have made it a goal of mine to strive to be a bigger part of a community that I constantly take for granted. Why am I doing that? I’m actively trying to involve myself in the open source community for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost, open source projects are only as good as the community that is contributing to them. We constantly take, take, take from projects that make our lives easier, and if you are anything like me, often never give back – no feedback, no bug reports … nothing. Does that mean you have to be the greatest developer in the world to get involved? Hell no. Every little bit helps. You find a small bug – you fix it – you potentially help 1000’s of people. You may come up with some small, but useful feature – you make a pull request – you may save some poor bastard 100 hours on his end. Doesn’t that feel good?

Secondly, I am getting more involved because hopefully it will make me a better developer. By contributing to projects – fixing/reporting bugs, helping with feature requests, adding to the discussion – I am making myself think about problems and their potential solutions. I am having conversations with other developers, some of who are WAY smarter than I can ever hope to be. I am exercising my brain and working towards a goal. That’s GOT to make me a better developer in the long run, right?

I don’t want to go on too long here. I’m not preaching or trying to guilt anyone into contributing to open source projects they use. I’m also certainly not the only person to broach this conversation. If anything, I am just trying to motivate myself a bit more to stay involved, and keep trying to better myself. Hopefully by having this in writing, it reminds me of my goal.

So what are some ways you can get involved, if you aren’t already? Here’s a small list I came up with for myself:

  • Create yourself a github account and start browsing some repos! Maybe you’ll find something super useful like the project I contributed to.
  • You know that great jQuery plugin you constantly use? I guarantee you that the guy/gal that wrote it would LOVE some help maintaining it, or integrating some new features. Drop them a line!
  • Not sure of your skills yet? That’s cool…Dive in. Hopefully whoever is in charge of the project is smart enough not to merge your un-tested changes directly into their active repo! If they aren’t that bright, there are bigger problems in that project than your development skills.
  • Still not sure, don’t have time to spend building new features or fixing other people’s bugs? You can still help out. Report the bugs you do find. Request features. Try to answer a couple of questions on Stack Overflow. Every little bit helps.

Become a contributor…I promise you’ll feel good!