Kushal Das

FOSS and life. Kushal Das talks here.

On contribution

Contribution, a word a I first heard in 2004. I was a student back then. I first contribution was to the KDE l10n project with help from Ankur Bangla project. More than anything else it was fun. All the people I first met were already doing many things, they used to do more work than talking, they still do a lot more work than many people I know.

The last 10 years

Over the last 10 years the scenario of FOSS movement in India has changed. Contributors used to be the rock stars. The people just starting always wanted to become contributors. But a new word has taken the place, evangelist. Now everyone wants to become an evangelist. Most of the students I meet during conferences come to me and introduce themselves as evangelists of either Open Source or some other FOSS project, they do only talking and all of them want to change the world. But sadly, none of them seem to want to contribute back.

How to contribute?

I can understand, contributing is difficult in many cases. One needs some amount of preparation and some commitment to contribute to any project. That takes time, cannot be done overnight.

To begin with, you have to spend more time in reading than anything else. Read more documentation, read more source code, read more meeting minutes of the project you want to contribute in. Remember one thing, one always reads more source code than writing. But if you are just starting, you can spend more time in writing code too.

Try to get involved in the discussions of the project. Join the IRC channel, stay there. In the beginning you may not understand all the conversations in the channel, but keep a note of the things people are discussing. You can read about them later, use a tiny and shiny site called google.com :)

I know new students have a tendency of trying to solve non-programming bugs. But as most of you are in Engineering background, you should focus in programming more than anything else.

At home, try to find the things you do in computer in steps and repeatedly/regularly. Try to write small programs which can do those tasks for you. One of my first proper project was a small GUI application using which I used to upload photos to flickr.com, via emails.

When working on some other big project, try to solve easy bugs at first. These days all projects somehow mark easy bugs in their bug tracker. In case you can not find one, ask in the IRC channel for help. Remember that IRC is asynchronous, you may not get the answer right away. If someone is helping you, you may want to ask their timezone.

I am not saying doing work in other parts of the project is less meaningful. I personally want you to write more code than anything else. That way we will get more developers from India.

What about translation and documentation?

If you look at the people who contribute with translations or documentation, you will find few common things. Like they all love their language, they love writing. As I said before even my first contributions were translations. But neither me or any anyone else that time used to do this for some goodies or ticket to any conference. We love our mother tongue and we love to use the computer in our language, period. If you are doing translations, then do it for the love of the language and fun. Please do not do this for some stickers or release parties.

What about becoming an evangelist?

Before you start calling yourself an evangelist, you should learn about that project. You will have to spend a lot of time to learn about the technology behind, you will have to learn why some decisions were taken. The evangelist is a person who cares and believes in the project and most importantly, knows the project intimately. [S]he knows the developers behind the project, constantly talk, blog and spread the news about the project. If you look at the established evangelists, you will find mostly veterans who spent a lot of time contributing to the project first. It is not about the age of the person, but more about the time [s]he spent in the project. Btw, if you want to call yourself a developer evangelist, first become a developer of that project. That means some real code, not some examples.

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