I took part in Hacktoberfest this year for the first time. I had a lot of upfront expectations and beliefs. One of these was bang on the money, the rest were so far from the mark it’s a little embarrassing.
What I thought at the start of Hacktoberfest
that the process would all be easy
that finding a repo to help with would be easy
that I would only take me a few hours
that I would learn stuff
It never occurred to me that Hacktoberfest could be a force for bad. I appreciate that might sound naive, but when this blog post was published I was shocked. I read it over and over, trying to make sense of it. I mean, sure, it made sense, now it had been brought to my attention, but in my world, it wasn’t a thing. I simply hadn’t given it any thought. It was eye-opening.
I started questioning myself. I was excited to be participating in Hacktoberfest, but it really made me question if I was doing the right thing. That blog post triggered a change in the rules for Hacktoberfest from Digital Ocean. Repositories then became opt-in to Hacktoberfest which I fervently hope did address the problems highlighted in the earlier blog.
So after a somewhat bumpy start and angst, I decided I would still participate in Hacktoberfest because I hoped I would not only add value, but I would also learn stuff. And I like learning stuff!
Job 1 – Find a Repository to Contribute to
Easy right? Nope, not even close. I tried two primary routes here, I browsed the repositories labelled hacktoberfest for hours at a time, there were hundreds. I would whittle them down to Java repositories, then documentation (where I was confident I could add value) and then either the bug would already be assigned to someone, or there would be comments indicating that someone wanted to pick it up. I moved on.
I wasn’t having much luck with this approach, so I considered meetups. This was vaguely successful, but it wasn’t enough. I was painfully out of my depth, and I knew it. I felt like the places I could add value were so small and, even if they existed, I couldn’t find them. I felt utterly defeated.
So we’re now into the second week of October, and all I’d achieved was to get stressed about whether I was doing the right thing participating and, even if I was doing the right thing, I couldn’t find a suitable repository and issue. It wasn’t going great.
Job 2 – Find a different way to achieve Job 1
I’ll be honest, I had a few G&Ts and wondered how on earth I was going to get myself out of my Pit of Doom™️. Then it occurred to me that I had a very obvious option to me that I had not explored. I needed to ask for help. I was incredibly fortunate in many ways in that I had made some contacts in the OSS world before Hacktoberfest 2020. I reached out to a connection and said that I was stuck and I was struggling.
And that’s when my fortune changed. They directed me to a repository where I could add value and a bug too that wasn’t assigned. It was a completely different experience. To be honest, I didn’t realise how little I knew, even then! I took their advice and read the readme. I proceeded to fork the repo, and then clone it into IntelliJ IDEA (obviously). Somehow (still couldn’t tell you how), I managed to run Docker despite knowing nothing about it, and I got the documentation bug fixed up and tested. Go me! I made a PR on the original repo to pull my changes in, and it got accepted. Mind Blown. I never thought I’d make it that far, but I did. I wouldn’t have achieved any of that without help.
I made a couple more PRs using the same repository and Hacktoberfest 2020 is now in the bag. But, I don’t feel as elated as I thought I would. I haven’t been able to put my finger on why, after all, Hacktoberfest has been incredible for my learning. I used it as an opportunity to learn more about the fork-ing, the cloning, the Docker-ing, the PR-ing, the rebasing-of-the-upstream-repo-ing. I probably made too many verbs there, sorry. That was all new to me, and I loved and am grateful for it. I’m annoyed that I waited until Hacktoberfest to do it mind you. I learned so much stuff and, best of all, I’m now a maintainer to that repository. What a fricking honour; I intend to continue to grow and contribute to it outside of the fence of Hacktoberfest.
I was asked on this session what I would tell my younger self next time around for Hacktoberfest. This is my answer (now I’m not under the pressure of a YouTube live stream!):
Do not wait until “Preptember” to get ready to contribute to Open Source Software. Do it all year round if you want to.
Do not wait until “Hacktober” to offer to contribute to Open Source Software. It was a catalyst for me, yes, absolutely, but I regret waiting.
Do not give it all up in “Postvember” (I’m struggling here). Give back. I intend to.
Do attend meetups throughout the year and get to know people. They will be your guiding light throughout the process.
Find people who are passionate about it, get to know them and ask them how you can help.
Do share your story and your experience. It might help others.