An Ultimate Guide To Open Source Contribution For Beginners

Testsigma Inc.
6 min readSep 12, 2023

Open source software (OSS) is a cornerstone of modern software development. It’s a collaborative environment where programmers share their code freely, allowing others to use, modify, and distribute it. This guide aims to provide beginners with a comprehensive understanding of how to contribute to open source projects.

What is Open Source Software(OSS)?

Open source software (OSS) is software whose source code is available for modification or enhancement by anyone. This openness allows for collaboration, leading to more robust and efficient software. OSS has been the driving force behind many innovations in the digital age, including the development of the internet, operating systems like Linux, and various applications and tools.

Why contribute to open source?

open source contribution for beginners can be rewarding for several reasons:

  • Improve existing skills: Whether it’s coding, user interface design, graphic design, writing, or organizing, there’s a task for you on an open source project. For example, if you’re interested in web development, contributing to a web application project can enhance your skills in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.
  • Meet people who are interested in similar things: Open source projects with warm, welcoming communities keep people coming back for years. Many people form lifelong friendships through their participation in open source. You can connect with like-minded individuals, share ideas, and learn from experienced developers.
  • Find mentors and teach others: Working with others on a shared project means you’ll have to explain how you do things, as well as ask other people for help. The acts of learning and teaching can be a fulfilling activity for everyone involved. You can both seek guidance from experienced contributors and mentor newcomers who join the project later.
  • Build public artifacts that help you grow a reputation (and a career): By definition, all of your open source work is public, which means you get free examples to take anywhere as a demonstration of what you can do. These contributions serve as valuable additions to your portfolio and can impress potential employers.
  • Learn people skills: open source contribution for beginners offers opportunities to practice leadership and management skills, such as resolving conflicts, organizing teams of people, and prioritizing work. These skills are essential in professional settings and can boost your overall professional growth.

Open source contribution for beginners

open source contribution for beginners may seem intimidating at first, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some steps to get you started:

  • Get to Know GitHub:

GitHub is a web-based hosting service for version control and is a common platform for open source projects. Familiarize yourself with its functionalities such as repositories, branches, commits, and pull requests. Explore different projects and their issue tracking systems to understand how developers collaborate.

  • Learn the Basics:

Understand the basics of the programming language that the project uses. You can start by learning popular languages like Python, JavaScript, or Java. Additionally, familiarize yourself with version control systems like Git, issue tracking, branching, and merging to efficiently contribute to projects.

  • Join the Community:

Most open source projects have a community around them, consisting of users and other contributors. Join the community, participate in discussions, and understand the project’s culture and norms. Engage with the community through mailing lists, forums, chat platforms, or social media. By actively participating, you can gain insights into the project’s needs and find opportunities to contribute.

  • Develop Welcoming Skills:

Open source communities appreciate contributors who provide a positive influence. Be respectful, patient, and welcoming to everyone. Remember, your attitude can influence the overall community atmosphere. Actively listen, ask questions, and offer help when possible. These welcoming skills will help you collaborate effectively with others and build a supportive network.

What to consider before you go open source

Before you start contributing, consider the following:

  • Programming Language:

Choose a project that uses a programming language you’re comfortable with or interested in learning. This familiarity will enable you to understand the codebase better and make meaningful contributions. For example, if you’re proficient in Python, look for projects that use Python as their primary language.

  • Type of Project:

Consider the type of project that interests you. It could be anything from a web application, a utility library, a data analysis tool, or even a game. Identifying your interests and aligning them with open source projects will help you stay motivated and engaged throughout the contribution process.

  • Project Volume:

Consider the size of the project. Larger projects may be more complex and harder to navigate, but they often have more resources and established processes for new contributors. Smaller projects, on the other hand, may provide a more intimate and beginner-friendly environment. Balance your comfort level with the project’s size to ensure a fulfilling contribution experience.

Ways to contribute to open source projects

There are several ways you can contribute to open source projects:

  • Create Your Own Open Source Project:

If you have an idea for a tool or software that others might find useful, consider starting your own open source project. This will allow you to practice your coding skills and learn how to manage a project. Identify a problem or need, and develop a solution that aligns with your interests and expertise. Invite others to contribute and foster an inclusive community around your project.

  • Create Open Source Alternatives to Commercial Software:

Creating open source alternatives to commercial software can provide free tools for those who can’t afford the commercial versions. It also promotes competition and innovation in the software market. Identify popular commercial software in your domain and build an open source alternative with similar features and usability. Encourage collaboration and gather feedback from users to continuously improve your project.

  • Contribute to Existing Open Source Projects:

Contributing to existing projects can be a great way to improve your skills and make a difference in the software you use. You can fix bugs, add new features, improve documentation, and more. Look for projects that align with your interests and skills, and explore their contribution guidelines. Some areas where you can contribute include coding, testing, user interface design, documentation, localization, and community management.

Some Projects to Contribute to:

  • Testsigma (Language: Java): Testsigma is a cloud-based test automation tool that allows users to create automated tests using a simple English-like language. Contribute to Testsigma by adding new features, enhancing existing functionality, or improving documentation.
  • First Contributions: A project to help you get started with contributing to open source. (Language: Multiple)
  • freeCodeCamp: A self-paced learning program with interactive coding challenges. They encourage you to help improve the curriculum. (Language: JavaScript)
  • Elixir School: Elixir School is an open-source project and community focused on providing the best Elixir programming language lessons. (Language: Elixir)
  • Homebrew: A package manager for macOS that simplifies the installation of software. (Language: Ruby)
  • VS Code: A popular code editor developed by Microsoft. Contribute to VS Code by fixing bugs, adding extensions, or improving performance. (Language: TypeScript)
  • TensorFlow: An open-source machine learning framework developed by Google. Contribute to TensorFlow by implementing new algorithms, optimizing existing code, or improving the documentation. (Language: Python)
  • WordPress: A widely-used content management system for building websites. Contribute to WordPress by fixing bugs, developing plugins, or translating the software. (Language: PHP)
  • React Native: A framework for building cross-platform mobile applications. Contribute to React Native by fixing issues, improving performance, or developing new features. (Language: JavaScript)
  • Django: A high-level Python web framework. Contribute to Django by fixing bugs, improving documentation, or implementing new features. (Language: Python)

Conclusion

Contributing to open source projects can be a rewarding experience, both personally and professionally. It allows you to improve your skills, work with others, and contribute to the software you use. So why wait? Start contributing today!

Remember, every contribution, no matter how small, is valuable. Whether you’re fixing a bug, adding a new feature, or even correcting a typo, your work helps improve the project. So don’t hesitate to contribute. Your journey in open source contribution starts now!

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Testsigma Inc.

Testsigma is a completely cloud-based codeless test automation tool that lets you create stable and reliable tests for web, mobile & APIs — all from one place.