Much ado about scripting, Linux & Eclipse: card subject to change


HOWTO: Becoming an open source project committer

The Tweetosphere/blogosphere has been buzzing with discussions about what one needs to do to be a committer @

I got my rights by working for IBM and being handed the keys to the Porsche when I started working at the Toronto Lab as a member of the EMF team, oh so many lunar eclipses ago. No longer with IBM, I'll retain my committerships until I manually ask to be removed, or they claw 'em from my cold dead hands. After all, what's a revised patch but a 2nd Amendment? (Aside: seriously, people, it's 2009. You don't need a gun. There's no Imperial Army coming to steal your land. LET IT GO.)

For most committers, however, you can't just be appointed to the job; you have to earn it. So, here are my tips for getting on *my* project, the Athena Common Build.

  1. Easiest way to get on the project: be invited by someone already on the team by personal recommendation (see criteria below). Others can +1/-1 the suggestion based on the criteria below, but in my experience with other projects, no one ever vetoes a nomination. (I've seen it once, and it only delayed that person's committership by about a month.) So cozy up to the existing committers, and you're in. Why is this? Because it's OPEN source, and how can you be open if you exclude people who want to contribute?
  2. The nominee must use the project at least weekly, if not daily. For Athena, this means you have to be actively writing Ant scripts, doing builds, or at least be active in PDE or p2 development. Why is this important?
    a) I don't want "dump and run" code which I'll then have to maintain, and
    b) if you're not a user, you can't intelligently decide what pains exist and which are important to solve
  3. I'd like to see two accepted patches to prove you've got the technical skill, and that you're willing to thrown down and help with existing known issues - see 2 (b) above.
  4. If you're not technical (or not *yet* technical), then you need demonstrated skills or commitment, or have worked in a related field with someone mutually known who can vouch for you.
So, what constitutes "commitment?" Lots of things...
  • show up to meetings
  • comment on or write bugs, blogs, wiki, articles, recipes, HOWTOs, newsgroup, mailing list, IRC
  • submits patches or test cases
  • help triage bugs
  • mentor students (GSoc or other)
  • runs contests, does viral marketing, etc.

Now, of course, these items are not all mesaurable, but if people know you're involved, and you'd like to be a committer, you'll likely be voted in. (Many people trying out Athena may have noticed I've offered them committer rights in exchange for code or doc contributions. So far, no takers, but the offer stands.)

Frankly, I'd rather have more people as committers who do little to the code base but who have the power to do so when needed. For example, (if the data is accurate) Kim's only committed 48 LOC in the past 9 months, compared to my 80,000 LOC (seriously, that can't be right) - but what she, Andrew and Andrew have done has been invaluable. And, often much more valuable, they've all helped out with with advice in bugs. Thanks!

Good planning trumps code any day.

Continued in part 2


Don said...

Thank you for the overview, Nick. I am interested in becoming a contributor to an open source project, perhaps a committer one day. I would like to contribute to a new project, perhaps the Scala project for example. There are a couple more I could be interested in as well.

Would you be kind enough to give me some tips on how to begin, particularly as I doubt my contribution to Scala (for an example) isn't likely to have much to do with my day job for a while?

So I'd like to start as a humble contributor in a way, then perhaps scale up into something more valuable.

Thank you for writing this.

Don Stadler

nickb said...

Talk to the project lead(s). Post to newgroups/forums. Answer questions. Blog. Test. Report bugs. Submit patches. Basically, just roll up your sleeves, make your intentions known, and pitch in.

The existing committers will be able to give you SPECIFIC guidance re: what they'd like to see you do.