It was just a little flutter of a thought that lasted a few seconds before I came back to reality. But I get it. Young, fresh-faced Elizabeth Greenwood considered faking her death once all those pesky student loans starting knocking on her door.
I get that feeling. I was in the exact same position until a few weeks ago. Let me tell you my story. You have to learn how to work within a large code base.
I feel like this all the time because I am, after all, just an amateur trying to learn as much as I can. So I tried to take the easy way out: Now, this worked for a while, until I realized that I could make better use of the skill set I was building up. Just learning — without applying — counts for very little.
Then something happened that made me terribly scared about being a new contributor, trying to wade my way through the world of open source. I picked out an issue that seemed easy enough from a large, popular project.
I thought it would be better to ask clarifying questions before making any changes for fear of messing up. So I posted a comment saying that I was a new contributor, and asking how a particular piece of text should be altered so as to close the issue.
The reply I got was: This is when my quest for a mentor began as well. I felt that maybe if I knew someone with whom I was comfortable asking questions, things would be OK and I can make myself more useful. So I emailed a bunch of people, asking them to help me get started since I was feeling particularly intimated after the aforementioned experience.
I felt like I was bumping into a closed environment in the world of open source. Everything seemed to suggest that I just put myself out there and not be scared.
Discovering Mozilla I landed on this Mozilla project which helps you test web extensions one fine evening searching for issues to work on. Boy, I am so glad about that right now. I started working on one of them, but quickly realized that I had to ask questions if I wanted to be able to close the issue.
I skimmed through the code base. Once I had some sense of what was going on, I asked for more direction. I was able to solve the issue after getting all the relevant details I needed.
The folks at Mozilla mentoring these issues have been nothing less than super helpful and supportive. I plan to continue contributing to Mozilla as regularly as possible.
My contributions were noticed by the community, and I made it into the Addons Contribution Recognition document, as well. All in all, my experience over the past few weeks has been nothing short of wonderful. I lost a lot of time because I kept holding myself back, and this was my biggest inhibition.
Everyone is scared of looking stupid. The maintainers of the project have been well-versed in the project for years. They can help you fairly quickly.
But be careful about asking for information that is already readily available to you via some documentation or Google searches. The idea is to learn and grow as you start solving harder issues becoming more familiar with the project and the tooling they use.
The time it takes for this to happen varies from project to project and person to person. If you know a project or a organization with a beginner-friendly community, just start there. Ask for the relevant information to fill the gaps in your knowledge, then get to work.
Thank you, open source maintainers! A huge shout-out to all the open source maintainers who have been super responsive and encourage of new contributors.
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