Kunal: You talked about the personal benefits, let’s talk more about that. A lot of students are here- can you explain how it can benefit students to contribute to Open Source?
Matt: Absolutely. And all kudos to you, Kunal, for sharing many of these ideas while we were preparing for this.
There are five reasons I would give: skilling up, mentorship, resume building, networking, and learning about yourself.
In terms of skilling up, by writing code and by doing code reviews, on an Open Source project, you are improving your engineering skill. When people are reviewing your code, or you are reviewing someone else’s code, that is an amazing learning moment. That’s one of the reasons I’m obsessed with code reviews.
As for mentorship, reviewers can be giants in the field or the codebase– you can be learning from really smart people. And so it’s a great way to learn more in terms of mentorship– of course, it depends on what community you join. And it depends on how much work you do as a Contributor. But when you do it right, you meet people who become mentors to you whether formally or informally.
Third, building your resume. Some of you might be in university, where the courses on learning to code are lecture-only. It’s really important when you’re going on the job market to actually practice coding, and especially practice coding in teams, and giving and receiving code reviews. Code reviews are fundamental in the workplace– almost every organization uses them. And so to actually have real experience coding, getting code reviewed, and reviewing code is really important. is really important for your resume.
In terms of networking: working in Open Source can directly lead to jobs or indirectly lead to people who could help you with jobs or your career. Some Open Source projects are totally free community projects. But other times, there are companies built around the project. Red Hat, for example, was the first company based on Open Source that reached more than $1 Billion dollars in yearly sales, it was later sold to IBM for $34 Billion.
I can’t stress enough if you want to network or job hunt through Open Source the first step is to be a really good Contributor. Serve first before trying to advance yourself, that’s the most important part. In any field, people can smell from a mile away, that you’re, you’re just trying to network rather than being useful. [Editor’s note: “smell from a mile away” is an English expression indicating something obvious. ;0]
And then the fifth benefit is learning about yourself. This topic could be a whole other conversation about intentionally planning your career. But overall, every opportunity, whether it’s classes, it’s an extracurricular, it’s an activity like Open Source, every one of those moments is a chance for you to learn more about who you are, and what you like, and what makes you happy at work and in life.
In that way, Open Source is sort of like a club/ extracurricular, but it’s one that just happens to be one you might want to do professionally.
Kunal: I like the last point about exploring yourself. When it comes to exploring tech stacks, often times when folks are just starting out, there’s so many things to do– so many options and roadmaps. Open Source is a great way to see what tech stack interests you. So if you would want to work on a big scale project in development, mobile development of machine learning, or DevOps, or whatever, Open Source. Is a great way to test out your skills as well in various domains and see what you like.
Matt: Very well said.
Read the entire conversation here.