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Hacktoberfest: My Journey Into Open Source

brewsterbhg profile image Keith Brewster ・4 min read

I've been developing professionally for a little over five years. I've grown from a junior developer blasting through hacky front-end solutions with jQuery, to a senior developer making entire project architecture decisions. I've gone from being too nervous to raise my voice about something in the fear of being called out for not knowing what I'm doing, to writing articles on development & talking at meetups. Over the past five years I've gone through a ton of personal and professional growth, but in all that time I've never found an accessible entry point for contributing to OSS. It was something that I knew I wanted to do, but it always felt like there was a huge barrier to entry. I never knew where to start—trying to find a project to contribute to was an overwhelming experience, and when I finally happened to stumble across some potential issues, I wasn't sure of the proper processes to follow (some projects have well-defined contribution guides, but a lot don't).

Then an opportunity presented itself. I heard some buzz about an event called Hacktoberfest; an initiative encouraging developers to contribute to OSS in an effort to make it more accessible and inclusive. This seemed like the perfect stepping stone to making my first OSS contribution. The idea is simple: open up four pull requests on public repos in the month of October, and win a free t-shirt. A number of OSS projects seemed to be participating⁠—marking issues with a Hacktoberfest tag⁠—luring in sharp and hungry developers. And with the looming incentive of a free t-shirt if I was one of the first 50,000 people who completed the event, I was imbued with a fiery passion. There's very few things I wouldn't do for a free t-shirt, after all.

I ended up wrapping up my four pull requests last week, and I wanted to reflect on the good parts and bad parts of my experience.

The GOOD

Hacktoberfest is an incredible opportunity, both for people who are looking to begin contributing, and for newer developers for building up their skillsets. A contribution to an OSS project could mean a huge confidence boost for a new developer—and who knows—maybe help them in landing them their first job (I know when I'm browsing resumes, OSS contributions are always one of the first things to jump out at me). A lot of these projects emulate the kind of structure common in a lot of workplaces (if I had been involved in OSS before my professional work, I'd have been a lot more comfortable with managing project source control in a team environment).

It's also an incredibly positive event. I've seen nothing but words of encouragement for people completing the challenge on Twitter, and it's amazing to see newer developers excited to have their very first pull requests accepted. From what I've seen, a lot of projects have been very accommodating in guiding people through their commits. In a field that can often see a lot of ego, as well as people arguing over different tools & methodologies, it's nice to see an event bring people together in such a supportive way.

Also, free t-shirts. The world needs more free t-shirts.

The BAD

While there's a few resources seeking to rectify this issue, the fact remains that GitHub has a terrible ecosystem for searching out projects looking for contributors. Luckily Hacktoberfest provides some help by listing out a few places to start, but filtering out projects you're interested in contributing to is still an arduous task. Maybe it's because I was being a bit picky; since I've been a developer for five years, I didn't want to snag up anything that would have been better suited for newer developers. This made my search even more difficult—especially because it still needed to be manageable between my full-time job, and being completed within the one month deadline.

The next thing I noticed is that Hacktoberfest is incredibly popular. It can be a frustrating experience to try and find issues that haven't already been claimed within fifteen minutes of them being opened. This is a bit of a double-edged sword: it's good to see so many people are getting involved, but claiming an issue can be a little chaotic (especially in projects that don't have any sort of system in place for assigning issues to developers). I ended up opening my pull requests on Mattermost, as they opened up a huge number of issues for Hacktoberfest (it's also a really cool project that I've used at a workplace in the past).

Conclusion

Will I continue to contribute to OSS? I definitely plan to. I have a lot going on right now between work and starting a podcast, so it's a matter of managing the little time I have. However, OSS drives a lot of the modern web, and seeing as we leverage so much of it in our day to day lives, I believe it's important to give back to the community (if we have the capacity to do so). I have a great respect for open source maintainers, because it's a lot of work to review pull requests, manage issues, plan features, track changes—all of this while trying to actually get the work completed. Hacktoberfest was an amazing opportunity, and it knocked down the walls I had put up around myself for diving into OSS.

Are you taking part in Hacktoberfest? Have you completed your four pull requests? Let me know what you've been working on!

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Karl Marx Lopez

Great article! I'm also a n00b on the OSS community. I've also opened 4 PR's on Mattermost, and 1 on nuclear player. I guess, my OSS contributor journey does not end here, I pledge to contribute at least twice a month or if I have time 😅