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It’s easy to take open-source projects such as WordPress for granted. However, these platforms rely on developers and other professionals who donate their time and effort to improve them.

Open-source projects present opportunities to make meaningful contributions to online communities. Plus, participating in this transparent and collaborative approach to development can enhance your own skills and expertise.

In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of open-source projects and three reasons to consider contributing to them as a developer. Then we’ll offer some tips for getting started. Let’s jump in!

An introduction to open source

‘Open source’ refers to software with source code that can be accessed and modified by anyone. The intent is to make the applications freely sharable with and by the public.

To be considered open source, a platform must provide four freedoms to users:

  1. The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose.
  2. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help others.
  4. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is also a precondition for this.

Additionally, open-source projects are often distributed under the General Public License (GPL). There are no restrictions or fees, and anyone can create their own versions to use for any purpose.

Open-source projects benefit the development community by promoting collaboration and encouraging transparency. The belief is that opening up software to contributions produces better results. This includes the performance and security of programs as well as the skills of the professionals involved.

WordPress is one of the most popular open-source projects. However, there are many other well-known platforms that use this model, including the Linux operating system and Firefox web browser.

3 reasons developers should consider open-source projects

It’s not hard to see how open-source projects can benefit the development community as a whole. What’s less obvious is how contributing to one can help you specifically. Let’s take a look at three reasons to consider it.

1. They can greatly improve your coding skills and make you a better developer

Professional development is highly recommended for everyone, regardless of your level of experience. No matter what stage you’re at in your career, there’s always room for improvement.

Open-source projects present an opportunity to improve your coding skills and learn from others. Contributing to one can help you:

  • Uncover mistakes in your code
  • Receive inspiration and advice from like-minded professionals
  • Develop better habits for structuring code

Plus, working on open-source software can improve other key skills aside from coding. For example, it can strengthen your capacity for critical thinking and problem-solving. It’s also an effective way to hone your ability to communicate and collaborate on team projects.

Even advanced developers can benefit from participating in open-source projects. In addition to learning from other professionals, there’s also a chance to make meaningful contributions through teaching.

Explaining beginner-level concepts can be a nice refresher on fundamental skills. Plus, as the saying goes, the best way to learn is to teach.

2. Contributing to open-source projects can be a major portfolio booster

Contributing your time and talent to free platforms can give you a leg-up in your professional journey as well. In fact, according to a Linux study, 86 percent of professionals say open source helped advanced their careers.

One of the advantages of open-source projects is you can start with beginner-level tasks and gradually progress to more complex ones. Over time, contributing to these platforms can make for an impressive portfolio.

Building out a diverse development portfolio can make it easier to land new clients. Participating in these projects is also an effective way to make connections within their communities, some of which may lead to professional partnerships.

Additionally, many platforms will recognize you for doing your part. For example, the Make WordPress Team provides contributors with badges to add on their profile pages:

A WordPress Contributor profile with badges.

Open source necessitates that a project’s code is visible, transparent, and shareable. This means you have the unique opportunity to showcase not only the end results of your work, but how you achieved them as well.

3. Open-source projects and tasks are flexible and easy to find

One of the biggest draws of open source is the flexibility it offers. As a developer, you control how you contribute to or modify and reuse a project’s code.

Plus, you can find so many platforms to work on based on your experience level and preferences. Make WordPress, for example, categorizes its contributor teams to make it easy to discover tasks you’re interested in:

Make WordPress project categories.

Of course, there are other open-source projects out there beyond WordPress. You can find many of them on GitHub, a development platform built for version control and collaboration:

The Topics page on the GitHub website.

You can use it to create your own repository to host and review code as well as manage, merge, and contribute to others’ projects. Additionally, you can use the Community Forum to ask and answer questions.

How to get started with open-source projects

After you make the decision to try your hand at open-source contribution, the next step is figuring out where (and how) to dive in. As we discussed, WordPress and GitHub are two popular platforms for exploring and finding tasks and projects you’re interested in.

Additional resources you might try include:

  • CodeTriage. This platform displays open-source projects from GitHub that are seeking contributors. You can filter the list by language and subscribe to repositories to receive assignments via email.
  • Pull Request Roulette. A list of pull requests from GitHub in need of review. You can ‘take’ one to claim it so other developers don’t interfere with your task.
  • FixMe. Run by Mozilla, this platform enables you to find open-source contribution opportunities by project or by issue. You can also narrow your results by language.

Of course, your experience level will influence the type of projects you’re looking for. If you’re a beginner, it’s smart to start slow and work your way up. Some additional tips include:

  • Look for projects that use software and programming languages you’re already familiar with.
  • Consider fixing minor bugs or sending pull requests.
  • Remember you don’t necessarily need to contribute code; you can take part in discussions or suggest new features.

Most open-source platforms let you search by ‘labels’. For example, on GitHub, you can search for repositories by topic. You may also want to subscribe to the GitHub newsletter to receive automatic updates about the latest projects and other trending subjects.

Conclusion

Regardless of where you’re at in your development career, there’s always room for growth. Open-source projects benefit everyone involved and, thanks to the rapid proliferation of new technologies, there’s always a need for contributions.

In this article, we discussed three of the many reasons you should consider open-source projects:

  1. They can greatly improve your coding skills and make you a better developer.
  2. Contributing to open-source projects can be a major portfolio booster.
  3. Open-source projects and tasks are flexible, varied, and easy to find.

Do you have any questions about open-source projects? Let us know in the comments section below!

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