How to contribute to open-source projects with Eddie Jaoude of EddieHub

Ana Marija Kostanic

After 15 years in open source and multiple awards, Eddie shares advice on how to get started with contributing to open-source and how to use it to become a better engineer.

Like most open-source enthusiasts, Eddie Jaoude got into the field completely by chance and as a hobby. Now, 15 years later, he first made open-source advocacy his full-time job and then scaled it to be his business as the founder of the open-source community Eddie Hub.

Jaoude’s motto is that there is a place in the open-source community for everyone so, as one of the keynote speakers at Infobip’s Shift conference in Zadar, he shared with developers his thoughts on why open-source is still relevant, how contributing to open-source can help them in their careers and what they (don’t) need to do become recognized and good contributors in the OS community.

Open-source helped me a lot to progress as an engineer, I believe it will help you too.

Collaboration, not code

However, Jaoude pointed out that not everything is about code but about collaboration. That’s why one person really can make a difference with their contribution, even though it often does not seem so from the start. He also stresses that the open-source community is full of amazing engineers, and that’s what meant a lot to him.

You have the opportunity to learn from great mentors and gain exceptional experience, he adds, explaining that the experience is all the richer because you get different perspectives from all over the world. Of course, it is also an opportunity to expand your network and accelerate your career.

Contributing to OSS is like brushing teeth

Eddie admits that onboarding is not the OS community’s strong point, but once you’ve done the basics, you can contribute – it doesn’t matter what level you are, because senior members will jump on board. The only thing important is that you start somewhere. 

That’s why Eddie can’t stress enough that the code is only part of the project and that the context of work and contribution is also very important. You can also make a difference by verifying existing bugs, reviewing pull requests, or opening questions when something is not working.

Jaoude is now a recognized and awarded OS contributor and advocate. Of course, the one question he always gets is how engaged one has to be to achieve that. Or how engaged a developer has to be in the OS to even be able to say they’re an OS contributor.

Eddie compares contributing to open-source to brushing teeth:

You don’t even think about brushing your teeth anymore, it’s become a habit. Although it is short-lived, it is very important and you do it every day…

It’s the same with open source – you participate little and often, but you have to be consistent.

How to choose a good project and start contributing?

Of course, there are challenges that need to be addressed, adds Eddie. He is aware that it is difficult for newcomers in the community to find projects that suit them – to develop at a speed that suits them, to use a tech stack that they know, and, after all, to be legitimate and active. 

Likewise, he notices that newcomers are often afraid of screwing something up, so he advises:

If you broke something in the code, congratulations, you probably found a bug and now someone will solve it.

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How to be a good contributor to open source projects?

First and foremost, it is important to choose a good project. Eddie advises starting with projects and tools you have already used and are familiar with and looking for OSS initiatives related to them.
 Of course, GitHub search will be the main tool to do that, and as an additional piece of advice, he says that most first-issue projects are, in fact, not a good choice for a first project. Instead, refine your search and look for projects labeled as “good first issue”.

Getting involved in communities is also a good way to find a good project, be it related to a hobby, some idea, or technology. However, he notes, regardless of what you choose:

When you decide to become an active open-source contributor,  focus on one project and one community.

When deciding on a project, pay attention to several things.

First of all, is it contributor-friendly, or is the community generally friendly? Check if they have set guidelines for behavior and contribution to the project and how well they adhere to them.

A good trick for this is to check the pull requests and see the accepted and rejected ones. Those that are closed, and not accepted – open them and see why they are closed. You will learn a lot from the way someone was rejected: was it done correctly, politely, and with an explanation.

Browse, participate, automate 

There is always something that can be automated in the code, Eddie says. Plus, other project collaborators will love you even more if you get to grips with test automation.

When it comes to reviewing pull requests, Eddie warns against approving them blindly; that’s the fastest way to get you removed from the project. 

And when it comes to his advice on how to be a good and valued open-source contributor is the following:

  1. Before you get involved, read the project’s contributor guide
  2. Never use the main branch of the project, and do not make large pull requests 
  3. Search for existing issues before posting new ones
  4. No need to DM those who maintain the project as soon as you have made a pull request 
  5. Don’t chase the green squares
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