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On the value of the open source community

Open source is a wonderful thing. With over 200 million repositories on GitHub alone and many many more of SourceHut, GitLab, and thousands of personal git server instances (like mine!) across the globe, there's no question that open source powers the world - look no further than NASA's Curiosity rover!

On a more personal level, open source means a lot to me too, and I wanted to talk a bit about that here. I think the oldest open source project I both started and am continuing to work on and improve would have to be Pepperminty Wiki. At 1.8K commits and the first commit way back in November 2014 (7 years 7 months ago, wow), I've probably poured thousands of hours into it and many other projects over the years.

While at the time it was just because it was something cool I wanted to work on, since then it's come to mean far more to me, and has helped me to develop very useful skills without me even realising it, and I can thoroughly recommend if you have some time to spare and you're beginning a journey into programming / computer science, it's definitely worth your time.

Documenting things. I really can't stress this one enough. Through working on open source projects, I've learnt the power of good documentation. You can write the best program in the world, but if it isn't documented well then nobody will know how to use it! The best test for documentation is when someone comes along and tries your program out without you present, as then in following your documentation they test it ensuring it's updated and accurate.

Writing good documentation is both an iterative process and takes practice but open source is a great place to do so. You don't even have to have written the program yourself - you can even help out another project and improve theirs. Chances are you've read the documentation for a free and open source program already - and if you've ever had a thought of how you'd improve it, don't hesitate to get involved!

Working (remotely) in a team. Speaking of, it's very common to collaborate in open source with people over the Internet - probably in different timezones to you - on everything from tracking down bugs to writing code to reviewing contributions. Doing so effectively can also be a learned skill, but one definitely worth having.

Having a portfolio for your CV. Personally this isn't something I really think about myself, but if you're looking to get a job of some description, then having an open source portfolio of work can definitely work in your favour, and demonstrate your skills to your potential new employer.

Reviewing contributions, resolving disputes. What you review and how often you do so depends greatly on the kind of project you're working on. For me, this is not something I do often on my personal projects, but I do it all the time in tldr-pages.

By reviewing and checking for issues and things other people might have missed, the quality of a project can be improved. It's a fine balance though between getting contributions merged and requesting improvements. On the one hand, suggesting improvements can be a good thing as previously described, but on the other it can cause unnecessary delays and frustrate everyone involved. As with all things on this list, it takes practice and continual adjustments to find the right balance.

Helping others. One of the things I love most about open source is how I can help other people out. tldr-pages has 39.1K stars as of the time of typing, and is a hugely useful resource that lots of people use daily. I've had comments from people thanking me for my work on Pepperminty Wiki and other projects that I've created and open-sourced. Knowing that I'm helping others out is very motivating for me to continue contributing :-)

Conclusion

All these things are reasons why I'm proud to say that I'm a part of the open source community as a maintainer of multiple open source projects (both personal and tldr-pages). I'm especially grateful to everyone at tldr-pages (especially @waldyrious) for everything they taught me, and the chance I've been given to help out with the project.

While it hasn't been easy at times (helping to maintain a popular project like tldr-pages takes time and can be tedious in places), it's certainly something I'll be continuing to do and can thoroughly recommend to anyone who has the time to do so.

Art by Mythdael