My First Hacktoberfest (2020)

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

Hacktoberfest Controversy

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.

My Experience

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 Nots

  • 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.