In June, I went to AdaCamp, a wonderful unconference for women in open technology and culture. It led me to becoming a regular volunteer on an open source software project — OpenHatch, a community that it is itself dedicated to helping newcomers in open source! This has been fun.
Around AdaCamp, OpenHatch kept getting mentioned, and I also met Shauna and Asheesh, who were great. But I didn’t understand OpenHatch yet, and I wasn’t sure I could help. I’m not a programmer — I’m a community manager (for Cydia), which includes skills such as forum moderating and documentation editing. Tasks beyond code usually aren’t listed in bug trackers…and I also assumed that they were being taken care of by other great people.
One concrete step leads to another
In July, I saw Asheesh at another conference, the Community Leadership Summit. After I told him I didn’t know what I could contribute, he came up with the idea that I could answer emails sent to OpenHatch. This was a perfect start for me: it’s a very concrete task that needs to be done, and many questions can be answered with just a bit of research and friendliness.
As I learned more about the project, I found I could help answer questions on the IRC channel too. Since I had a sense of what was happening, I started adding to the newsletter. By August, I found myself reporting bugs and helping other people work on fixing bugs, because I’d learned a lot about the website. Since October, I’ve been an active member of the publicity team too, writing and editing updates on our blog and social media sites.
I help make OpenHatch friendlier, in every part of the project I can find, and being friendly is essential to its goals of helping a wide variety of people. Friendliness helps those who aren’t already used to navigating projects, or who might not already feel they belong.
Why I’ve stuck with OpenHatch
I know that friendliness matters to newcomers. I’d been interested in contributing to other projects before, but my previous attempts didn’t go anywhere. I would update a bit of obscure documentation and wonder if that effort was worth my time, or I would sift through bug trackers, trying to find bugs to verify and feeling very lost — and I didn’t realize I should find a way to ask for help, even if it meant asking in the channels geared toward developers. Sometimes I’d look at a project that felt friendly, but all the non-coding tasks looked like big time commitments, and I just wanted to start with something small.
So like Mandar, OpenHatch is the first non-work open source project I’ve contributed significantly to. There’s something funny about newcomers to open source contributing to OpenHatch itself, rather than being launched into another open source community, but I enjoy helping other new people. Like Mark, I care about helping people grow from consuming software to developing a critical and creative relationship with software. This is one of my motivations for my work as well — people who jailbreak a closed device and tinker with it for fun also learn a lot about software in the process.
I believe that a thoughtful relationship with software is important for everyone who uses software, but there is also huge demand for professional developers and other people who work with software, and working on open source projects is an effective way for beginners (and non-beginners!) to grow their skills. It is important to me that OpenHatch is specifically interested in helping women and other underrepresented people be among those beginners.
It started in person
OpenHatch was successful in turning me from a prospective contributor into a contributor, and I want many more people to meet OpenHatch too and also become convinced to work on projects they care about.
That’s also why I donated to our Open Source Comes to Campus fundraising campaign. My experience is an example of the importance of meeting people face to face, and these events provide that. We’ve run seven events by co-organizing with women in computing groups, and six other events this year. I hope you’ll click and let the busking baby penguin, informative graphs, and smiling people convince you!