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      Hacktoberfest Contributor’s Guide: How To Find and Contribute to Open-Source Projects


      Introduction

      Contributing to open source software is not only a way to share your skill in a particular language or tech stack, it can be a rewarding practice to share your engineering knowledge and collaborate with the developer community. Although there’s a wide range of open source projects out there waiting for your expertise, knowing where to find them and how to contribute in a way that is meaningful to the project can sometimes prove to be a barrier for interested contributors.

      In this Hacktoberfest-flavored guide, we’ll share some tips and information that will aid in finding and contributing meaningfully to open source projects.

      Find a Project

      If you are new to engaging with the open source community, finding a new project to contribute to may feel daunting. Here’s a few resources and ideas to help you find a project you’d love to help thrive.

      What is Open Source?

      Open source software is software that’s freely available to use and modify, typically shared via a public repository hosting service like Github. Projects that follow the open source model usually thrive through contributions from the developer community, and may allow for redistribution depending on which open source license they have adopted.

      Most successful open source projects have transparent, well-delineated processes for maintenance and improvement, which helps to build a community around them. As a result, they benefit from regular contributions from end-users, who bring with them diverse perspectives to solutions that may otherwise be overlooked.

      To learn more in detail about open source, visit our tutorial series, An Introduction to Open Source.

      Consider Familiar Open Source Software

      After deciding to commit your time and talent to an open source project, it’s important to take a moment to consider your passions and the type of project that resonates with you. Considering that you may spend a number of hours contributing to a specific project, you want to select a project that is not only something you’d personally use, but have a deeper interest in beyond contributing for Hacktoberfest. Think about the software you use today and consider the following:

      • In what tech stack and language is the software written?
      • What are some things that could be improved when using the software?
      • Are there any bugs or visible errors that you have the technical proficiency to address?
      • Would you be willing to contribute to this software on an ongoing basis?

      These beginning considerations may lead you to discover that your favorite software is open source and waiting for your contribution. If that’s the case, be sure to dive into the CONTRIBUTING.MD file that typically delineates how to contribute before starting. This resource will usually introduce you to the codebase, conventions, and ways to gain support when contributing to the software.

      Beginner-Friendly Open Source Projects to Try

      If you’re just starting out, the idea of committing large amounts of code to an unfamiliar codebase could bring out the imposter syndrome that lies dormant in many of us. Luckily, each developer was a beginner once, and to foster appreciation and adoption of open source, there’s a wealth of publicly-available repositories shared by fellow developers that are beginner-friendly. Here’s a few that we suggest to browse:

      • Awesome For Beginners- A list of projects by programming language that are noted to be beginner-friendly.
      • Awesome for Non-Programmers- if you’re new to programming, here’s a list of projects that are language-agnostic and help foster learning.
      • Up For Grabs- A resource that lists projects with tasks curated for new contributors.
      • First Timers Only- A resource for beginning contributors that includes links to open source learning resources and links to beginner-friendly projects.
      • Habitica- A habit-forming app that gamifies life. This open source project has detailed documentation and many ways for programmers and non-programmers alike to contribute to the project.

      More resources for open source projects to try can be found on our Hacktoberfest Resources Page.

      Make a Contribution

      Identifying Meaningful Solutions for Open Source Projects

      After identifying an open source project to contribute to and diving into the resource material that the codebase offers, you may be wondering exactly what to contribute. While the way in which you contribute may vary by project, here’s some general ideas of contributions that are impactful and meaningful to the codebase and software you’re working on.

      Fix a Bug

      Bugs are small errors in code that may cause an annoyance, a blocker, or be debilitating to software. Bugs often produce unexpected results that cause incorrect responses or actions — for the sake of a software user’s experience, it’s imperative and important that a codebase is maintained to be bug-free (or as bug-free as possible).

      You can contribute your knowledge and expertise to ‘squash’ or solve the issue surrounding a bug. By working on bugs of varying priorities, your ability to strengthen a codebase by solving errors will grow, and you’ll have a meaningful contribution to add.

      Propose a Feature

      Open source projects benefit from a diversity of thought. Although software may have been developed by one or more engineers with an opinion of how their product can solve an existing problem, your personal experience and outlook on how to improve a project can be invaluable. Once you’re comfortable with a project’s codebase and understand how it works for end users, try to think of a new feature that could be useful or improve the user’s experience and create an issue to propose it to the project maintainers. It is important to have this conversation before investing time in writing code, since sometimes your idea might not coincide with the project’s roadmap. With a positive response, it’s time to implement your idea and bring that feature to production.

      Write Some Documentation

      While there may be a wealth of technical contributions that can be made to a codebase, writing good documentation is a contribution that is often overlooked. If you’re linguistically-inclined or speak a language other than the one reflected in the initial documentation, consider making a contribution. Contributions in documentation can revolve around providing editing help to an existing doc or authoring new pages within the documentation. Refer to your project’s contribution guidelines to learn more about how to contribute this and other non-technical help.

      Submit Your PR

      Submitting Your Pull Request via Github

      After you’ve made a meaningful contribution to an open source project’s codebase, it’s time to submit your pull request. We’ve created a helpful video that walks you through this process via Github, that can be found here.

      Video: How to Submit Your First PR

      Sharing your expertise with an open source project is a rewarding experience that allows you to practice your talent, collaborate with and learn from others, and give back to the developer community. While it may initially seem daunting to find your place within the open source community, finding a project that speaks to your passions and contributing meaningfully to its codebase is a great way to start.

      For Hacktoberfest, while making four (4) meaningful contributions to open source projects will qualify you for prizes, we hope that you’ll continue to enjoy the benefits of contributing to the open source community well beyond the event. For more information or to learn more about open source, Git, or Github, you can visit the Hacktoberfest resources page. Happy hacking!



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      How To Probe the Depths of Nautically-Themed Open-Source Projects Using Moby Dick


      Introduction

      Despite being a commercial failure after its first publication, Herman Melville’s allegorical adventure novel Moby-Dick; or, The Whale is today one of the most popular and influential novels in the American canon. Artists as diverse as William Faulkner, Ralph Ellison, and Bob Dylan have acknowledged the novel’s impact on their work, and one can spot references to it in films, television, music, and, of course, open-source projects.

      In this article, we will analyze several nautically-themed open-source projects and how they pay tribute to Moby-Dick.

      Warning: While it isn’t necessary that you read Moby-Dick prior to reading this article, this article does contain a few spoilers. If you haven’t read the novel but would like to, you may want to hold off from reading this article until you’ve finished it.

      Prerequisites

      To follow along with this tutorial, you’ll need:

      • Familiarity with 19th-century literature.
      • An appreciation for nautical puns.
      • An adventurous disposition. For example, whenever you find yourself growing grim about the mouth, you account it high time to get to sea as soon as you can.

      Docker

      Docker logo

      Docker is an open-source program that performs operating system-level virtualization, also known as containerization. The influence of Moby-Dick is obvious with this project: Docker’s logo and mascot is a whale affectionately known as Moby Dock. However, there are some substantial differences between Moby Dick and Moby Dock.

      First, Moby Dock’s species isn’t immediately obvious. It’s clear from the beginning of the novel that Moby Dick is a sperm whale, and while it’s possible that Moby Dock is a sperm whale as well, there are several clues that suggest otherwise:

      • The head: Sperm whales have distinctively large, block-shaped heads. Moby Dock, however, has a flat forehead with a snout that slopes smoothly downward to its jaw, which is more suggestive of a right whale or bowhead whale.
      • The blowhole: Moby Dock is always seen from its left side. As any whaler worth their salt knows, a sperm whale’s blowhole always skews slightly to the left side of its head. No blowhole is visible in any known images of Moby Dock, another clue that it isn’t a sperm whale.
      • The fins: Moby Dock doesn’t seem to have any pectoral fins. All sperm whales are born with pectoral fins, adding another strike to the “Moby Dock is a sperm whale” theory. That said, all whales have pectoral fins, so this begs the question of whether or not Moby Dock is a whale at all.

      Another important difference between these Mobys is that Moby Dock is helpfully carrying a few stacks of containers; Moby Dick would never be so accommodating. In fact, one can easily imagine Moby Dick going out of his way to knock over such a neatly organized pile of shipping containers. Perhaps Moby Dock is meant to be seen as a warmer, friendlier cousin of Moby Dick. After all, it’s probably bad marketing to associate one’s product with a ferocious leviathan bent on destroying everything in its path.

      OpenFaaS

      OpenFaaS logo

      OpenFaaS is an open-source project that aims to make serverless functions simple through the use of Docker containers, allowing users to run complex infrastructures with far greater flexibility and without the fear of vendor lock-in.

      The OpenFaaS logo focuses entirely on a whale’s tail, which is significant because Melville dedicates an entire chapter to describing the tails of sperm whales. In it, Ishmael reveals his deep appreciation of whales’ tails:

      Such is the subtle elasticity of [the tail], that whether wielded in sport, or in earnest, or in anger, whatever be the mood it be in, its flexions are invariably marked by exceeding grace. Therein no fairy’s arm can transcend it.

      The OpenFaaS whale is shown to be peaking its flukes, presumably as it is about to dive. In the same chapter, Ishmael opines that “excepting the sublime breach…this peaking of the whale’s flukes is perhaps the grandest sight to be seen in all animated nature.” Perhaps the OpenFaaS team chose a whale’s tail as their logo to convey the grace and power that OpenFaaS brings to managing functions. It could even be that the whale is “diving in” to the realm of functions as a service.

      Because OpenFaaS is closely related to Docker, it’s obvious why the project’s logo also features a whale. However, are these supposed to be the same whale? Let us not forget that Moby Dick was believed to be “ubiquitous”, with sailors swearing up and down that they had encountered him “in opposite latitudes at one and the same instant of time.” This may be a clue that Moby Dock and the OpenFaaS whale are indeed one and the same.

      Perhaps in choosing this logo the OpenFaaS team was trying to signal their hope that the framework would become ubiquitous in future software projects. Interestingly, while an omnipresent whale may strike fear in the hearts of whalers, software is generally seen as safer and more secure if it’s widely used. The OpenFaaS team should be thankful that coders are generally less superstitious than whalers.

      Kubernetes

      Kubernetes logo

      Kubernetes is an open-source container orchestration system that helps to automate the deployment, scaling, and management of applications. The name “Kubernetes” comes from the Greek word “κυβερνήτης,” which translates to English as “captain” or “helmsman.” Appropriately, its logo consists of a ship’s wheel, or helm, conveying the control and steadiness required to manage complex container orchestration with ease.

      Curiously, the Pequod doesn’t have a wheel; instead, it has a tiller made out of a whale’s jawbone. This is seen by some readers as underscoring the shared histories of Captain Ahab and the ship, as Ahab lost his leg to the great white whale and replaced it with a whalebone prosthesis.

      Though a helm or tiller can convey steadiness and control, as the Kubernetes logo designers intended, Moby-Dick shows us the deeper questions that the project maintainers might have brushed aside. Who is at the helm when it comes to Kubernetes? Even more, who is at the helm in our everyday lives? Do we drive software, or does software drive us? Of all these things the helm is the symbol.

      MySQL

      MySQL logo

      MySQL is the world’s most widely deployed open-source database management system (DBMS). MySQL’s logo features the outline of a dolphin, affectionately known as Sakila.

      While dolphins aren’t prominently featured in the plot of Moby-Dick, Melville discusses them at length in one of the books famous pseudoscientific asides. In Chapter 32, “Cetology,” Ishmael refers to dolphins as “Huzza Porpoises,” so called because sailors see them as an omen of good luck:

      Their appearance is generally hailed with delight by the mariner…. If you yourself can withstand three cheers at beholding these vivacious fish, then heaven help ye; the spirit of godly gamesomeness is not in ye.

      Mayhaps the MySQL developers chose a dolphin to represent their DBMS to impart this same sense of hopeful joy to those who use it. By associating the database with a dolphin, they hope users will see it as being similarly fast, agile, and fun-loving. After all, who doesn’t have fun running correlated subqueries?

      MariaDB

      MariaDB logo

      MariaDB is a community-supported fork of MySQL, as indicated by its similarly nautical logo. Both the MariaDB and MySQL logos include the respective RDBMS’s name and feature an aquatic animal: in MariaDB’s case, this animal is a pinniped.

      Interestingly, there’s some confusion about what kind of animal is depicted in the MariaDB logo. According to the project’s trademarks page, the animal in the logo is a sea lion. However, some members of the MariaDB community see it as a seal. MariaDB’s official sources are fairly consistent in referring to their mascot as a sea lion, though not always. Certainly, the mascot’s shape does seem to more closely resemble that of a sea lion, but it’s also missing the telltale ears which would distinguish it as such.

      The idea that human perception is inherently biased and unreliable runs as a theme throughout the novel. Perhaps by keeping the pinniped’s species vague, the MariaDB team is making a Melvillian comment on how truth isn’t always obvious and, in some cases, can never be known for certain. Is it a seal or a sea lion? Is Moby Dick real or imagined? Is Vim or Emacs the superior text editor? Riddles like these abound throughout the world we live in, which, like a magician’s glass, to each and every man in turn but mirrors back his own mysterious self. Great pains, small gains for those who ask the world to solve them.

      Of course, it’s also possible that the logo is simply meant to represent a sea lion. Perhaps when the MariaDB team asked the designer to draw ears, they responded “I would prefer not to.”

      Conclusion

      Clearly, Melville’s influence extends far beyond the realm of literature, and well into the world of open-source technology. As this article has highlighted, these five projects (and likely many more) pay homage to his great whaling tale through subtle references in their names and logos, as well as how they challenge our perceptions of truth and human nature.

      We hope that by reading this article, you’ll go on to create your own Melville-inspired, nautically-themed, open-source project. Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

      • Ishmael: an application that turns any server process into an orphan process.
      • Starbuck: An uptime monitor that swears it will keep everything under control, but in the end just gives up and lets the system crash.
      • Stubb: A program that purports to do lots of important work, but really just takes credit for work done by other applications.

      Note: Some readers may be wondering why this article hasn’t yet mentioned DigitalOcean’s own Sammy the Shark. The simple reason is that Sammy has little in common with the sharks depicted in Moby-Dick. Throughout the novel, sharks are depicted as ravenous beasts dominated by instinct. Melville’s sharks eat anything and everything in their path, and are violent, dangerous creatures who pose a serious risk to the crew of the Pequod (though not as great a risk as whales, apparently).

      Clearly, Melville never encountered a shark like Sammy. After all, Sammy is a vegetarian, and a very friendly one at that!





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