New Year's Resolution: More open source participation

Another year almost gone, and in some ways, I’m not sure I have much to show for it. I have traversed light years in my internet travels, read about all sorts of strange and interesting people, and paid reasonably close attention to much of what has happened in open source, web development trends, light linux administration, new gadgets, you get the picture. I do not have a lot to show for all of this reading and watching. I can talk up a storm about technologies. I can spout absurd amounts of random facts about shit that does not matter, and I’m probably the guy you want at your table for trivia night, but I still feel as though I am missing ‘it’.

In my wanderings, I recently encountered Sebastian Marshall’s “What Separates a Generalist and a Dabbler?” post, which is sort of a thought experiment about how one can distinguish these traits. It’s a nice read, and while I’m not ready to commit to his logic or conclusion (I don’t mean to be critical, as he admits that the effort is just “…thinking on paper.”), the post did inspire me to question where I would categorize myself. I like to stay very informed, and I like to be more competent than necessary when it comes to, well, everything. This ends up spreading my capabilities quite thin, and results in a loss of substantial knowledge in any given area. I feel like SM’s Dabbler (haven’t really shipped anything…), and I want to feel more like SM’s Generalist. I guess it’s having something tangible to show for my time that I want, even if that tangible thing is just a bunch of 1s and 0s stored on a few spinning discs.

What to ship? Well, I have used and promoted open source software for as long as I have been aware of its existence. I talk the talk, and I have met with success when ‘selling’ open source software solutions to my employers. But I must admit, I have not really been walking the walk. I don’t mean to slight open source evangelists and promotors, they (we) are just as necessary as the developers and end-users. But I want to add my talents to the development side of the effort for a while - just to see what happens (or at least until I ‘ship’ something). The extent (to date) of my open source ‘walking’ has been logging a few dozen bugs for various projects, a couple of minor documentation updates, and a couple work weeks of forum postings and mailing list responses. Not terrible, but I know I can do better.

As I thought this over, I remembered something I read on Gabriel Weinberg’s blog (founder of - which you should be using.). Gabriel put out the call to help motivate a tithing movement to support Free Open Source Software. I think it’s a great idea - I just don’t have any money. What I do have (which didn’t occur to my upon my initial reading of GW’s post), is a lot of wasted time on the internet. So, my resolution is to cut down on my internet browsing, and fill it will mailing list/IRC/Forum participation, documentation updates, QA, and coding for a few open source projects that are important to me.

I plan to document my experiences with some of these projects, and offer any insight that I can to help others who are interested in getting involved open source. I’m planning to get much more involved in Habari (PHP - powering this blog) and GeoServer (Java - I use GeoServer in my usual geo-spatial stack). Because I have different levels of comfort in these technologies, and because the projects are run very differently, these two projects will offer a great way to look at some of the diversity that is possible in open source participation.

My techniques for getting started in the projects are something like Mel Chua’s 5 minutes of improv, but there will be a little twisting and mangling. Since I’m going for the long haul, I will need to use a few of MC’s points to get started, and then continue down the path they begin. My efforts will also be slightly different, as I had the benefit of being familiar with each project before making the decision to participate, so searching for project details at the high level was completed long ago. That said, I like MC’s way of making the effort so straight-forward, and I’m hoping to live up to that standard with my future posts on getting involved with these projects.

That’s where I am at the end of 2010. I’m taking baby steps here, and aiming to be an active participant in these efforts with submitted code, bugs, and documentation updates during 2011. Future posts on getting started in open source will likely compare my experience of similar activities, and how they proceed in the two distinct projects. I hope this way of dispensing my experiences will offer easy ingestion for users interested in different projects, as well as users with distinct skill sets. Hopefully the variances between the two projects will allow a good deal of data for each step along the way. Stay tuned for a ‘Getting started in open source participation’ article on exactly what I’m doing to get my foot in the door for these projects, and a little bit more about what I’m expecting in this effort.

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habari opensource geoserver teachingopensource