Ndifreke Ekott

Thoughts, stories, ideas and programming

10 Jan 2024

Why You Should Contribute to an OSS Project in 2024

It is a new year 2024; at the start of the year, we typically have a long list of New Year resolutions, from losing weight to planning future vacation destinations. However, in this post, I will be focusing on life as a Software Engineer and how the year 2024 can be a year you make wider contributions to the Software community.

Open source projects heavily rely on community contributors to thrive and succeed. Without contributors, these projects would struggle to maintain and improve their codebases, as well as provide support to users. Here are some reasons why open source projects need contributors:

  1. Codebase maintenance: Open source projects often have large and complex codebases that require regular updates, bug fixes, and security patches. Contributors play a vital role in reviewing and merging code changes, ensuring the project remains stable and secure.
  2. Feature development: Additional features and functionalities are essential for the growth and evolution of open source projects. Contributors can propose and implement new features, expanding the project’s capabilities and making it more valuable to users.
  3. Bug identification and fixing: With a large user base, open source projects receive feedback and bug reports from various sources. Contributors help in identifying and fixing these bugs, enhancing the project’s reliability and user experience.
  4. Community support: Open source projects thrive in a vibrant and supportive community. Contributors can help answer questions, provide guidance, and share their knowledge with other users, fostering a collaborative and inclusive environment.

Despite the importance of contributors, open source projects face several challenges:

  1. Lack of resources: Many open source projects are maintained by volunteers or small teams with limited resources. This can make it challenging to handle the influx of bug reports, feature requests, and code contributions.
  2. Difficulty in onboarding: Contributing to open source projects can be intimidating for newcomers. Understanding the project’s codebase, development processes, and communication channels can pose a significant barrier to entry.
  3. Maintainer burnout: Maintainers of open source projects often face burnout due to the heavy workload of code reviews, issue management, and community support. This can lead to project stagnation or even abandonment if new contributors are not actively encouraged and supported.
  4. Lack of diversity: Open source communities often lack diversity in terms of contributors, leading to a narrow range of perspectives and ideas. Encouraging and welcoming contributions from underrepresented groups can help address this challenge and enrich the project’s development.

Overcoming these challenges requires active community engagement, clear documentation, mentorship programs, and fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment for contributors. By addressing these challenges, open-source projects can continue to thrive and provide valuable resources to the software community.

Donating financially to an open source project is a meaningful way to contribute, even if you don’t have the time or expertise to code or track issues. Here’s why you should consider making a financial donation:

  1. Supporting sustainability: Open source projects often rely on donations to cover expenses such as hosting, infrastructure, and maintenance costs. By donating, you help ensure the long-term sustainability of the project, allowing it to continue providing valuable resources to the community.
  2. Enabling full-time contributors: Financial contributions can enable project maintainers and core contributors to work on the project full-time. This means they can dedicate more time and effort to improving the project, addressing issues, and implementing new features. Your donation helps create opportunities for dedicated individuals to focus on the project’s development.
  3. Expanding project resources: With financial support, open source projects can invest in additional resources such as hiring developers, conducting security audits, or organizing community events. These resources can significantly enhance the project’s capabilities, quality, and overall impact.
  4. Recognizing the value received: If you’ve been benefiting from an open source project, making a financial contribution is a way to show your appreciation. It acknowledges the value the project has provided to you or your organisation and helps ensure its continued success.
  5. Encouraging others to contribute: Your financial contribution sets an example for others to follow. By supporting the project financially, you inspire others to do the same and contribute in their ways. This creates a positive cycle of support and encourages a thriving open source community.

Remember, financial contributions can vary in size, and any amount can make a difference. Whether it’s a one-time donation or regular contributions, your support helps sustain and advance open source projects, benefiting the entire software community.

I currently use a lot of open-source software and towards the end of the year, I felt, I should donate to something. Over the Christmas break, I got into Sim racing and consumed a lot of racing shows on YouTube. Sim racing YouTube channels do work hard and to support the content they produce, I felt, I should donate. I mean we do spend money on Netflix but barely watch enough movies or struggle to find anything engaging to watch.

A good approach to appreciate the importance of the continued development and sustenance of open source communities and projects is to try hosting software that you would use personally. From building a small hobby shopping app to building software to help the charity organisation of your choice, you will realise how much we depend on free open and available software. Talking more and educating others about your favourite project is also another way to contribute through promotion on social media.

My plan this year is to donate to a project or two and also support a few YouTube channels and communities. Do you have ideas of projects or communities you would like to contribute to? Are there other ideas on how you think you can contribute to a project or community? Do share your thoughts and comments.