Getting started contributing code to an open source project shouldn’t feel like getting bad customer service: “Please hold – while we connect you with the first available representative…” followed by mind-numbing elevator music on an infinite loop. Nor should new contributors feel as though they have to scale Mt. Annapurna and go before a wizened greybeard to get their first commit accepted. Too often, junior coders are scared away from open source altogether because everything that they do is exposed for all to see.
When I was first starting out in open source, after more than a decade producing closed-source, proprietary code for Fortune 500 software companies, I made some (ill-conceived) contribution suggestions to Selenium, and I was taken aback by the abrupt nature of my interactions with the others involved. It seemed to me as though they were always too busy, or too disinterested to look at what I was working on, let alone help me. And it wasn’t as though the project was a nothing; Selenium was and still is now the industry standard for automated web-browser testing.
So what should getting started in open source feel like?
We at G-Research are partnering with Major League Hacking (MLH) to bring more coders into the open source universe. We aim to get them started with good, productive experiences so we can build a talent pipeline for the entire open source universe and keep it full for years to come.
MLH started in 2013 as a community for developers that runs hackathons and helps people secure employment. The MLH community is 600,000 strong, and sees some 1,000 participants pass through its fellowship programs each year. The MLH Open Source Fellowship runs for 12 weeks and helps new coders get started with key concepts such as submitting pull requests, maintaining projects and open source best practices.
We’re partnering with MLH to focus on making the OSS experience as positive as possible at every step from code creation to code maintenance.
Finding capable coders isn’t easy for employers and finding ones empowered to execute on open source can be even more daunting. The Linux Foundation found in a recent survey that 93 percent of hiring managers had difficulty sourcing sufficient talent with open source experience. The need is particularly acute when it comes to welcoming traditionally under-represented demographics in tech, such as women and minorities.
Creating good open source code is one thing, but we also see a strong need for maintainers to keep projects nourished and vital. I’ve written about just why we view it as important to maintain past open source projects. Turnover for maintainers is high by any measure. Tidelift, a company that distributes funds to open source maintainers and connects those maintainers to the companies who use them, reports that 59 percent of project maintainers have considered quitting. That’s an indication that the experience for those that keep and improve the code needs to be better.
We have a fistful of open source projects ourselves – Armada, a multi-kubernetes-cluster batch job meta-scheduler; Siembol, a a scalable, advanced security analytics framework; and ILGPU, a just-in-time compiler for high-performance GPU programs – and then there are there’s the armful of projects we provide our employees time to support as maintainers: Consul.net, Thanos-remote-read, geras, ParquetShop, a Vault plugin database for Aerospike, Apache Ozone and Fantomas.
These projects are integral components to what G-Research does and their smooth operation makes our business stronger. Partnering with MLH will help ensure that the open source projects we rely on continue to attract and nurture top talent. We’ve already seen tremendous success directly within our team having hired a number of the Fellows from the MLH program to continue working with us on our projects in some capacity.
Indeed, many contributors report that their time working with our engineers was one of the most positive experiences of their careers. And a few have gone on to work for us on our projects. “The best part of this program is getting to learn from the G-Research devs,” says Victor Zeddys, an Apache Ozone Fellow. “They were really kind and informative and I envied their capabilities to handle such a complex project.”
And Victor isn’t alone. “I had an amazing experience and met lots of great people,” says Celina Cywinska, a DevOps Fellow. “I’ve learnt so much about real world team work, and the maintainers shared knowledge that I wouldn’t have gained in the classroom.” Gaining knowledge from your coworkers is one of the most important aspects of any employment, and can make an especially big difference for those just starting out.
Just as important as the people we have managed to bring on to our team, is the sense that we are helping seed the wider open source universe with capable, confident open source engineers. “This fellowship has helped me evolve in ways I couldn’t imagine,” says Christos Bisias, an Apache Ozone Fellow. “It has been an amazing experience working closely with such professionals and learning all kinds of new technologies and best practices.”
We’re just as proud of the fellows who have come through our program and applied their experience to other projects or other employment. We don’t necessarily have to hire everyone that comes out of the program to benefit from the things MLH teaches and the experiences it equips its graduates with. We know that somewhere down the road we will all reap the benefit of having a healthy open-source talent pipeline from the very beginnings of the open-source journey – no mountaineering required.