Open Source

Five things to consider before plunging into an open source project

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View from the LeConte Lodge in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Credit: Image credit: Christina Tynan-Wood

Open Source

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One of the great benefits to the area where I live is the close proximity to scenic nature including access to some spectacular mountain streams and lakes.  A quick dip in a mountain stream can be exhilarating to a hot and tired back country backpacker, but before venturing into the waters there are a few basics to think through. Last weekend, while contemplating such a jump, I realized the several similarities to joining a cloud open source project.  This might not be the first example you would think of, but here are 5 points to consider when looking to join an open source project:

1. Know how to swim

A great open source project will have a “Welcome! Start Here” web page. But that’s not all you need to know.  In less than five years OpenStack has grown to over 2,000 people contributing code patches to the project. [Disclaimer: I am Chairman of the Board for the Open Stack Foundation.] With so many people joining, documentation describing the tools, design, process and community procedures are critical resources in teaching the architecture and the community culture. 

2. Always have a buddy

By working with others in the project, users can benefit from mentoring programs, training, and multiple communication channels. These opportunities provide real time collaboration, support, and personal growth for all.

3. How does the water feel?

Is the project and community open and receptive to new people?  See if the community is growing or shrinking. You can also consider seeing the number of contributions including code, documentation, reviews, testing, number of components that have been submitted recently.  If an area is shrinking this is a good sign that it might be too cold.

4. How deep is the water?

Most open source projects begin with a mission in mind. A mission statement will provide direction and clarity to the objective and vision.  A project that strays from its purpose or mission is likely to be fraught with being tossed by a turbulent community. It is important that the project feature set and vision align with your values and needs.

5. What happens if I jump?

Consider validating the project through several mechanisms. The simplest is to browse the project's reputation and popularity. You can also review the open source license and contributor agreements governing the project.  An often overlooked step is to review the process the community goes through to verify the safety and integrity of the code and provide security patches. If there are holes it might not be the right place.

Choosing to join an open source project is like swimming with the fishes or falling prey to the sharks. These five considerations, while they may seem obvious, will guide you to safe waters and a fun venture.

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