7 ways to be a valuable open source community member

New to open source and looking for tips on how to succeed in your community? While every open source community has a different personality, I wanted to share a few tips IBMers have learned about how to make yourself a valuable member of a community. Check them out and put them into practice!

1. Understand your community’s personality

Each community has its own way of doing things. Before entering the fray, be observant and learn the rules of the community. Read and adhere to the community’s Code of Conduct. If they don’t have one, that’s sometimes a red flag.

2. Treat others the way you want to be treated

Behave in a respectful, professional manner while treating others how you want them to treat you. Aim to make friends in the communities where you’re contributing. The best communities are friendly and helpful.

3. Start small, build trust

You need to contribute small changes for while before you will be trusted to make large changes. Improving documentation is a great place to start contributing—you’ll gain a good understanding of the software as well as the community’s personality.

4. Contribute clean, manageable, tested code

You earn respect and eminence based on the code you contribute. Code structure matters to volunteers who will be reviewing your code, so submit clean code that adheres to their structure. Remember to make contributions that are small, complete, and easily reviewed in a single sitting. Including tests with your code is always helpful so the reviewer can validate that the code is clean.

Talk less, do more, and prove your worth to the community.

5. Have a maintenance plan

All of your code development from commits, to issues, to automated test cases happen in the open. As soon as your code is committed, you need to be responsible for it or hand it off in a responsible way. This ensure the code and work isn’t abandoned with dependencies on it.

6. Get a mentor in the community. Let them put you to work.

You don’t want to be the smartest person in the room. You need to be looking to other people for direction and advice and offer your help in return when you can. The experienced contributor is usually more willing to answer your questions and do code reviews of your work if you help them out.

7. Know the license and stick to the rules

IBM prefers to contribute under permissive licenses such as the Apache v2, MIT, EPL, and BSD licenses. GPL, AGPL, and other restrictive licenses can cause risks and require special consideration. So, before you contribute to open source, it’s best to understand the licenses and also what rules your own company has about contributing.

Get contributing!

Above all, remember that you are your reputation. How you treat other people in an open source community and your general attitude, coupled with the code you put out, all point to who you are and whether you’re going to be a good community member.