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Sentry Scouts: Open Source - A Recap

Sentry Scouts Meetups are organized by software developers for software developers, about the future of building and using software. Sign up for the next Sentry Scouts Meetup or enjoy a video of a past Meetup.

Or do both. Or do neither. Or simply become paralyzed by choice and take a nap.

Ah, January — it feels so long ago, right? Well, legend has it that January was not only the first month of 2018, but also the first month that hosted a Sentry Scouts Meetup. In case you aren’t familiar, Sentry Scouts are an opportunity for like-minded friends and professionals to swap stories around a campfire. Okay, it’s more of a “campfire”, but it gets the job done… We start with a panel of invited (and knowledgeable) guests, and then open it up to the rest of the scouts. Sounds fun, right? And it is.

Shameless plugs aside, the inaugural Sentry Scouts focused on experiences with open source, which makes perfect sense considering that Sentry has always been open source itself. We were joined by a knowledgeable panel:

Our panelists

Fortunately, we were also joined by a lovely audience who possessed a willingness to participate in a Q&A (and to eat s’mores).

Much like Sentry Scouts, open source projects are collaborations built on the foundation of understanding and community. Although many developers contribute to an open source project to “scratch your own itch,” as Nathan LeClaire from eloquently described, these communities are (hopefully) built on mutual exchanges of feedback and appreciation.

Throughout the night, panelists and audience members returned to one question: how can they begin contributing to Open Source projects?

There are a lot of open source meet-ups that you can go to. The hardest part is often getting started… The documentation isn’t always great about setting it up for your local development environment.

Franziska von der Goltz

You’ll Need Resources!

Unsurprisingly, there isn’t a 2018 Totally Official Expert’s Guide to Open Source that exists as required reading for interested developers. Such a book would be immediately forked by other authors, making it no longer the definitive and totally official guide.

Instead, panelists like Franziska von der Goltz of Bouyant encouraged folks to seek out learning opportunities, including those specifically geared toward set up and other best practices. “There are a lot of open source meet-ups that you can go to. The hardest part is often getting started… The documentation isn’t always great about setting it up for your local development environment.”

For the meet-up adverse and/or locationally challenged, other learning options are available! Developer Chloe Stamper spoke up from the audience to share her experience with First Timers Only — a website that generously compiles resources and labels the GitHub projects that would be suitable for folks just starting out with open source. Sometimes all you need is a little push to get started, even if it’s virtual.

You’ll Need Passion for… Something

While resources will definitely help you navigate uncharted territory, you should also locate the point at which open source intersects with your passion. Scott Chacon (Chatterbug) emphasized, “It’s important to find something that you’re interested in so that you learn while you’re doing it.” DeClaire followed suit by confirming that “the projects you use, you know really well. That’s a great entry point and a great way to get started.”

That passion can also be clarified and complimented by varied perspectives, reaffirming the collaborative foundation of open source. “Everyone comes from a different background,” explained Ali Finkelstein from Stellar. “The way you view a problem is going to be different than how someone else views a problem.”

You’ll Need to (Actually) Contribute

Perhaps the most encouraging piece of advice shared in the panel was that contributions can be small. Josh Dzielak, the Developer Relations Lead at Algolia, shared an anecdote where someone contributed a two-character change to an open source project that fixed a bug. Also, as Zac Sweers from Uber and Finkelstein both mentioned, contributions don’t always need to be code. Anyone can submit or help improve documentation, or even provide feedback about the project to its maintainers.

Everyone comes from a different background. The way you view a problem is going to be different than how someone else views a problem.

Ali Finkelstein

You’ll Need to Convince Your Boss (Maybe)

However simple it may seem to get started, one audience member (gently) reminded everyone that there are often obstacles that one may need to overcome, whether they be time or lack of buy-in from your manager. Chacon pointed out that the argument is probably easier to make when you point at large companies that are working on open source projects, like Microsoft. You can also emphasize the impact that working on open source projects might have on the company, including the ability to recruit, as Dzielak added.

As panelists and scouts swapped stories, it was clear that any and all contributions can lead to something meaningful, whether that be gaining a new best friend (those maintainers love all of the help!), participating in an active community, or even securing a new job. For real: we polled the audience to see if anyone had received a job offer after contributing to an open source project, and we had more than a few hands raised! And that’s not including developers here at Sentry, many of whom were contributors to Sentry before getting hired to work here.

Thanks to everyone who joined us for Sentry Scouts: Open Source. We hope to see you at the next Sentry Scouts Meetup — we’ll be the ones handing out hot chocolate and scout badges! In the meantime, check out our helpful resources, Exceptions Perceptions tutorials, and the many posts found on this very blog to learn more.

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See you at our next meetup! And also here, on the internet!

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