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Alex Lakatos πŸ₯‘
Alex Lakatos πŸ₯‘

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The Story of a T-Shirt or How I Got Involved in Open Source

A tiny bit of backstory, I'm a Mozilla Reps Mentor and Mozilla TechSpeaker in my spare time. What that means is I'm basically a volunteer who helps other people volunteer. I'm going to tell you a little story about a T-Shirt and how that got me involved in Open Source.

About 9 years back I was fresh out of college and in my first job. I'm from Romania, and that means the tech scene there is all based on outsourcing. For those fortunate enough to not know what outsourcing is, you get rented or leased out to other companies for your software skills. So I was starting to work with a company that does trip management and stuff like that (i. e. TripIt). About 3 weeks into my job, my manager took me aside and said: "You know what, we've got this company called Mozilla, and you're going to go join their team". I didn 't like change, I was barely starting to get my bearings with the other company. The only thing I knew about Mozilla was they make this browser I used called Firefox. And that was it. Didn't even know what Open Source was.

Volunteering wasn't even in my vocabulary back then. So we had to make a deal: I was going to stay with the new team for about 2 weeks, until he got someone to replace me. And then I was going to move back to the team I felt comfortable with.

When I joined the new team, I kind of felt like an outsider, like I didn't belong. I joined around the time we were releasing Firefox 4, which was a good time. It was easy to get excited about the project. But just a week before I joined the team, everyone got these T-Shirts that said "Firefox 4 Beta Tester", and I didn't get the T-Shirt. So I felt left out. And on top of that, they were a team of testers, while I was hoping to be a developer one day. Which didn't help either - So I felt even more like an outsider.

Of course, my manager didn't really keep up his part of the bargain, stuff happens. About a month into my new job I was reading the Mozilla Planet, Mozilla's blog aggregator. I saw a story about the Mozilla Developer Network having a documentation sprint over the weekend, for 48 hours, and if you contributed you got a T-Shirt. I had my "a ha!" moment right then! Not only was I going to fit into the team, but I was also going to be better because I would get a developer T-Shirt - unlike the testers T-Shirts they had. I had a plan, it was all going to work out. It was going to be perfect!

So I told my friends, "Look, I need to do this thing for a couple of hours, and then we can go out, party, have a good time". I was fresh out of college, and with money, what would you expect?

I joined the documentation sprint, and something happened, something changed. Because, unlike in my day job, I felt accepted there. Everyone greeted me when I joined the IRC channel. Everybody showed me how to contribute, everybody was super nice about it, and the 2 hours I was supposed to spend doing this ended up being 48 hours. It turns out you don't need that much sleep in 48 hours. My friends kept calling me trying to get me to go out and have fun. I was struggling to make them understand, that I was already having fun right there, with a bunch of people I met over the internet.

In the end, I got my T-Shirt, my developer T-Shirt, because in the Open Source world T-Shirts are like currency and they make the world go round. But if I look back on the whole experience, in just 48 hours, I felt like I belonged, I had found my place.

I started all this Open Source journey for all the wrong reasons, for a T-Shirt, for material gains, but I got there and I found a vibrant community, which embraced me, made me feel like I belonged. I stayed for all the right reasons. For the Mozilla Community, and in the end, I'm not really looking back. It was like I had just found the missing piece of my puzzle.

I got into it for a lousy T-Shirt, which I don't own anymore, 'cause you know, a T-Shirt doesn't last 9 years. But the sense of being part of a community, that's what it's all about folks. I'm still contributing 9 years later because Mozilla's mission gives me hope about the future:

Our mission is to ensure the Internet is a global public resource, open and accessible to all. An Internet that truly puts people first, where individuals can shape their own experience and are empowered, safe and independent.

If you'd like to contribute to Open Source, Mozilla has a lot of opportunities, not all code related, at IRC is going away soon, but if you need any help along the way, ping me on Twitter, I'm always happy to help!

Here's a recording of me sharing this story with the audience at ViewSource a few years ago. It's as emotional now, as it was then.

Top comments (4)

kenystev profile image
Kevin J. Estevez

How can I get into that journey?

lakatos88 profile image
Alex Lakatos πŸ₯‘

Mozilla has a lot of ways you can get involved, here are a few simpler things you can do:

If you're looking for something more challenging, you can:

There's also a lot of coding opportunities, here is a guide about contributing to the Mozilla code base:

Other open source projects have other contribution paths, I'm not as familiar with them as I am with Mozilla's. is open source as well, and you can contribute to it, and there is a regular thread going here as well with people looking for open source contributions, you could start with this:

norbertpapp profile image

Great story :)
It's like when I have joined to a school chemistry contest because the prize was chocolate :)

lakatos88 profile image
Alex Lakatos πŸ₯‘

I did it for a T-Shirt, but let's be honest, I'd do it all over again for chocolate :)