A Beginner's Guide to Contributing to Open Source Projects

A Beginner's Guide to Contributing to Open Source Projects

A quick guide on contributing to open source projects!


Embarking on the journey of contributing to open-source projects can be daunting, especially for those new to software development or technology in general. As someone who has recently navigated this terrain, I understand the challenges and uncertainties that come with taking those first steps. In this guide, I'll share my experiences and valuable insights on how to kickstart your journey into the world of open source.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Before diving into the specifics of contributing to open source, it's essential to address imposter syndrome, a common hurdle for many beginners. Imposter syndrome often creeps in when we venture into unfamiliar territory, pushing us out of our comfort zones. Despite harboring a desire to contribute to open source, I hesitated to take the plunge until I challenged myself earlier back in 2022.

Step 1: Identify Your Passion

The first step in contributing to open source is identifying your passion and interests within the vast landscape of technology. Whether it's cybersecurity, web development, or machine learning, pinpointing your passion will guide you in selecting projects aligned with your expertise and aspirations. Here are two questions that I think you should consider:

  • What am I passionate about in the realm of technology?
  • Do I currently use or plan to use specific tools or frameworks in my personal or professional projects?

Answering these questions will help you narrow down your search for suitable open-source projects on platforms like GitHub.

Step 2: Understand the Project's History

Before making your first contribution, take the time to familiarize yourself with the project's history, goals, and community. Dive into documentation available on the project's webpage or repository, watch tutorials or YouTube videos, and get to know the project's founders and contributors. Understanding the project's mission and vision is crucial for becoming an effective contributor.

Step 3: Assess Project Activity

When selecting a project to contribute to, it's essential to gauge its activity level and responsiveness to contributions. Examining the project's pull request (PR) and merge history provides valuable insights into its vitality.

Active Project Example: Open Policy Agent (OPA)

OPA Policy Agent Project Ooverview

Open Policy Agent (OPA) serves as a prime example of an active project with a vibrant community and robust development activity. The project's GitHub repository showcases frequent commits and releases, indicative of ongoing maintenance and engagement from contributors.

OPA Good Commit History

Dead Project Example: PACU

Insert Figure 3: Pacu Commits and Release History

On the other hand, projects with minimal recent activity may indicate a stagnant or "dead" status, making them less conducive to new contributions. Pacu, for instance, exhibits signs of stagnation with infrequent releases and sparse commit history.

Insert Figure 4: Commit History of Pacu

In such cases, it's advisable to seek out more active projects to maximize your contribution potential.

Insert Figure 5: Filtered 'Good First Issues'

Step 4: Read Contributing Guidelines

Before making any contributions, familiarize yourself with the project's contributing guidelines. These guidelines outline the project's standards, workflows, and best practices for submitting contributions. Ignoring or neglecting these guidelines can lead to delays and complications in the contribution process.

Step 5: Don't Hesitate to Seek Help

One of the most valuable resources in the open-source community is the willingness of contributors and maintainers to offer assistance and guidance. Don't hesitate to reach out for help, clarification, or feedback when navigating the contribution process. Engaging with the project's community through communication channels like Slack or Discord fosters collaboration and enhances the learning experience.

Ready to Contribute?

Armed with these lessons and insights, you're now equipped to embark on your journey of contributing to open source. One thing I want to add:

Contributing to open source doesn't always require writing code.

Documentation, for instance, plays a crucial role in the success of open-source projects and often requires updates or enhancements. If you're not comfortable with coding initially, consider exploring documentation-related tasks tagged as "good first issues."

Remember, every contribution, big or small, makes a difference in advancing open-source projects and enriching the broader developer community.

OPA Release Annoucement Example


Contributing to open source is not just about writing code; it's about collaboration, learning, and making a meaningful impact. By embracing your passions, understanding project dynamics, and leveraging available resources, you can confidently take your first steps into the world of open source. I hope this guide has provided you with valuable insights and encouragement as you embark on your open-source journey. Happy contributing!

*Disclaimer: This blog post reflects my personal experiences and opinions.*