5 mins read
10 years ago my open source journey started with an email to a maintainer because I really wanted to use his library but could not figure out how to code myself out of a simple error. I was given a ton of grace and returned the favor of the maintainers' patience that unblocked me by shipping a few documentation pull requests to make sure future developers could benefit.
I have been involved in open source either directly or adjacently since that first PR. During my tenure in open source I kicked off the open source curriculum at a bootcamp where students would make legit contributions projects and learn from the experiences I lived through. Today the need for developers and bootcamps graduates looking for opportunities for contribution to open source projects has risen.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that there will be roughly 162,900 vacancies for software engineers over the decade between 2021 to 2031.
The challenge is that these opportunities can be hard to come by and we are now seeing the industry asking, “Should I contribute to open source to level up my resume?” I will answer that and more in this blog post, but first let’s break down this opportunity.
Based a recent Twitter thread, finding open source opportunities for the sake of leveling up one’s resume proved to be a hot topic. Thanks to the recent record number of layoffs in 2022 and 2023, I see a trend for more folks looking to make contributions. The 6-figure salary question is now, “Where are the best places to find good first issues?” I recently saw that due to some contributor frustration in normal subreddits, folks are considering making a subreddit to share insider knowledge to get contributions into open source.
In a previous post, I mentioned that good first issues do not exist and the best way to contribute is by creating an issue. I believe that contributors find more opportunities for contribution when they find a bug or issue for a project. They are in a better place to make a contribution than if one is handed to them.
As Dax says, “Contributing to oss is a side effect of using OSS.” If you are looking for the hand out or a good first issue, you are approaching the problem backwards. Opportunities in open source are the ones you make by using open source. Try your hand at using the project and challenge yourself to be a power user.
When chatting with JJ from the Next.js core team, I learned about his interest in the project during the early days. His curiosity was met with opportunity as he leveled up his own skills by taking the opportunity to work on the framework issues. This opportunity only presented itself thanks to his desire to learn more about React, JJ chose Next.js for every project while working on consulting projects.
His interest got noticed by the small core team and earned him a job via the DMs. JJ mentions that this experience was the one that earned him the job he has today, maintainer on the Next.js project at Vercel. Though past performance is a predictor of future growth, I chat with contributors and maintainers to learn the secret sauce for finding these opportunities. In this case, the opportunity to build a network from open source contributions.
Contributing to open source projects not only helps you level up your skills but also allows you to build a strong network within the developer community. As you work on various projects, you'll have the opportunity to collaborate with other developers, maintainers, and users. This collaboration fosters a sense of camaraderie and helps you establish connections with like-minded individuals.
By actively participating in discussions, submitting pull requests, and providing valuable feedback, you demonstrate your expertise and commitment to the project. This can lead to recognition within the community, which can open doors to new opportunities, such as speaking engagements, job offers, or even invitations to join other projects.
Moreover, your contributions to open source projects are visible to potential employers and collaborators, showcasing your skills and experience in a tangible way. This can help you stand out in the job market and make it easier for others to reach out to you for collaboration or mentorship.
Contributing to open source projects not only enhances your resume but also helps you build a strong network within the developer community, leading to new opportunities and connections that can propel your career forward.
Now back to the question at hand. If you are looking for a good first issue, then you have already missed out. The best contribution is the one who understands and lives to tell the story. When interviewing candidates for OpenSauced, I like to hear about the hard problems engineers face and hear stories about how they can persevere. OpenSauced is unique, we are open sourced and appreciate a good contribution story. But what is not unique is there are a bunch of engineers not doing open source and getting jobs. So if you want to leverage open source as your unfair advantage, make it an advantage by showing that you care about the success of the project and have a story to share.
If you are not interested enough to become a power user, my recommendation is submit the resume and leave the open source for others to contribute to.
But if you truly want to stand out in the hiring pool, stand out as a contributor. Try using open source projects with a critical eye for fixing problems for thousands of developers. Open source is not a necessity for getting a job, and should never be. Open source is an opportunity to try new things and approach new problems.
If you are interested in discovering opportunities in open source and properly highlight your success in open source, then I encourage you to try OpenSauced.
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